I am not sure if I’ve ever met a person who didn’t like fried chicken. Not everyone loves fried chicken, but most will chow down if it’s at a cook-out or Sunday dinner. That being said, you need a go-to recipe. I am by no means saying this is the best recipe, but it is a great go-to recipe if you need it in a pinch. Step one is to understand fried chicken. Any recipe can turn out badly if you don’t approach it in the correct way. There are just a few factors to consider before diving into this effort.
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You don’t want to fry chicken without planning. Many recipes will call for marinating the chicken first. This will help with three things: flavor, tenderness and moisture. The reason that buttermilk is used in so many recipes (other than trying to find a way to get rid of your buttermilk once you had made your butter on the farm in the 1930s) is that the high acidity helps tenderize the chicken. The acid also helps balance some of the fat from frying.
When to add the salt is important to the planning. This recipe allows for a marinating time of 4 to 24 hours. However, a salted marinade shouldn’t be used for 24 hours. For a short marination (4 hours), I would add the salt, soy, Worcestershire, fish sauce or whatever other sodium-rich substance you have, for the full 4 hours. In longer marinades (12 to 24 hours), the salt would be counterproductive and start to pull moisture out of the meat. In longer marinades, it works better to add the salt just before breading.
Spice, acid and herbs add flavor, use a little or a lot. This recipe has acid built in with the buttermilk. I like adding some mustard to add a little more acid as well as some kick. To add a little extra kick, I like a little hot sauce. It distributes well into the marinade and depending on the hot sauce, you can change the heat and flavor profile (Tabasco, Franks, Sriracha, Crystal or your hot sauce of choice), cayenne, chipotle powder, black pepper or other ground spice will also add great flavor. I also like a lot of chives, it also happens to be something I have growing most of the time, the same goes for thyme. However I add a much smaller amount.
If you feel inclined, add rosemary, tarragon, oregano, parsley or sage. Even things that may seem a little off the beaten path like cilantro, mint, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass or other out-of-the-ordinary herbs may bring a unique flavor. Just take into consideration the texture of the herb. Some might take more than a simple mincing to add to the marinade or might work great just being smashed (garlic) and added, to be removed before cooking.
Dredge, Bread or Batter
What kind of crust suits your tastes? You need a crust, it helps protect the chicken while also helping keep moisture in and absorbing just enough fat. When cooked correctly, a crispy surface will create just the right contrast to the juicy inside.
Dredging is the easiest, the natural moisture from the chicken mixed with moisture from the marinade will easily pick up enough flour to make a crust. This creates a firm crust that helps showcase the chicken, not overpower it. You start out with the same process of coating the outside with flour and then go into an egg wash to cover the flour (1 cup milk, 1 egg). Then the chicken is ready to go into the breadcrumbs. This creates a thicker crunchy crust and is known as the Standard Breading Procedure. It can be used on almost any product to bread before frying.
Batter is the other option, it can range from thin and crispy to thick and bready depending on your preference. Try replacing the water with carbonated water for an airy crispy texture.
Pan Fry versus Deep Fry
How you fry depends on the size of the pans you have, as well as how much oil you have on hand. To pan fry, you will only need a pan that is about as deep as the chicken and just enough oil to come about halfway up the side of the chicken (make sure to take the displacement of the chicken into consideration). With deep frying, you will need a pan that is at least twice the height of the chicken. You want to be able to fully submerge the chicken in the hot oil. The typical range to fry is 325 to 365 degrees, if the temperature is lower than that, the food cooks too slowly and the breading can get oil logged. If the temperature is higher than 365 degrees, the product can cook too fast, leaving the outside overly browned and the inside undercooked. Smaller pieces of fried chicken will cook well at 350 degrees. Larger pieces need to cook closer to 325 degrees in order to cook evenly.