Fried Chicken Perfected

Fried chicken is my mom’s desert island meal.  And it’s mine.  And I am guessing most of yours.  However, good fried chicken can be really hard to find, and bad fried chicken is just sad.  When I was a little kid we would make a once a year pilgrimage to this place called chicken.gifFontaine’s.  It was a depressing sort of place with zero natural light, right off of a highway but they served hands down the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.  All the meals came with old school sides like mashed potatoes with a giant dent in the middle flowing with butter.  Best of all they used to serve hamburger buns, slathered with butter, cooked on the griddle, as their “bread service.”  Writing this out now it sounds sort of gross, but I am telling you it was amazing.  Fontaine’s had been serving fried chicken (not something that is particularly easy to find in Boston) since 1952 so generations of families, including mine, got very attached.  Fontaine’s sadly closed about 10 years ago taking with it their incredible neon sign and life altering fried chicken.

Once I moved to DC I figured finding good fried chicken would be easy but alas the best fried chicken is usually made by people’s grandmothers and not in restaurants.  I do love the version at Central but it’s distinctly high end, not exactly Fontaine’s.  Levi’s Port Cafe (RIP) in SE used to crank out great fried chicken but it is no longer.  So I realized that meant I was just going to have to satisfy my cravings myself.  Years (seriously) of trying different methods and recipes have finally culminated in Fried Chicken Perfected.  I almost cried it was so great (and I am pretty sure Patrick and our friend Jon did too).  My research paid off as I combined many different tips from famous chefs (Thomas Keller) to my friend Kevin’s mom’s Oklahoma Ladies Club Cookbook.  First you brine – this ensures juicy chicken and is key for those who are afraid of overcooked chicken.  Even if you leave the meat in for longer than you need to it won’t dry out.  Second you give them chickies a buttermilk bath – the buttermilk helps the coating stick to the chicken but also imparts a tangy flavor and further tenderizes the meat.  Finally you keep it simple – the coating is flour and flavor and that’s it.  Here I used Old Bay Hot because it includes garlic, onion and paprika flavor with heat and well because I went to school in Maryland where Old Bay is required eating.

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If you are afraid of deep frying you are not alone – I actually sort of dread it – but this chicken makes it worth it.  It takes a lot of oil that ends up getting thrown away and can be mightily intimidating.  That’s why I am giving you a full proof recipe to totally make it worth it.  Also make a whole bunch once you are taking the time.  The leftovers are delicious cold and or reheated in the oven (you lose some crispness but it’s still delicious).  So if you know a fried chicken fan show them some love and make this.  It’s so good alongside my classic cole slaw, the over the top mashed potatoes or as I served it last with my smoked gouda mac and cheese.  Damn, now I want fried chicken…

Fried Chicken Perfected (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Fontaine’s
Special Equipment:  a large deep pan, large stock pot, candy thermometer and meat thermometer, cookie sheet and cooling rack, skimmer (optional)

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 ounces of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • several pounds of bone in skin on chicken parts – I used 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4 breasts cut in half, but there is enough brine and coating to do at least 4 more pieces
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 5 tablespoons Old Bay Hot (or regular Old Bay, or dash of cayenne and garlic powder)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 quarts vegetable oil
  • sea salt for sprinkling

In a large stock pot combine the water, lemon, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, salt, peppercorns and sugar.  Bring to a boil and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

DSC04017

Allow to fully cool and then refrigerate for at least an hour until cold before adding the chicken (the brine can be made a day in advance).  Once the brine is cold, add the chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate overnight.  About 30 minutes before you are ready to start frying take the chicken pieces out of the brine and rinse them off (this is to get rid of any peppercorns stuck to the pieces and ensure it’s not too salty).  Put the buttermilk, along with some salt and pepper, into a large bowl and submerge the chicken pieces.  Let them hang out in the buttermilk bath for at least a half hour while you heat the oil.

DSC04036

In a large deep pot (I use my large Calphalon dutch oven) carefully pour in the oil.  I like to buy my oil from Costco since this uses so much.  If you want to use less oil, then fry in a stock pot that isn’t as wide – only downside there is that you can only fry one or two pieces at a time.  Clip your candy thermometer to the side, turn the heat to medium high and wait until you reach 375 degrees before cooking.  While the oil heats and the chicken soaks in the buttermilk, you need to prepare the coating.  In another large bowl mix the flour with the Old Bay Hot.  Since there is a lot of salt and pepper in that seasoning there is no need to add more, if you are skipping the Old Bay (don’t!) add lots of salt and pepper.  Also set out a cookie sheet lined with a cooling rack (if you have one, paper towels if you don’t) to have a place for the chicken to land when it’s done frying.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Once the oil has reached 375 degrees it is time to start frying.  Make sure to wear an apron and be careful because once the chicken is in the pan, the oil can start spitting.  Using tongs take the chicken out of the buttermilk, let it drip off, and then put it in the flour.  Make sure each piece is totally coated in the flour and that you have shaken off all the excess (a process called dredging).  Don’t dredge your chicken early or else it will get gummy, just do it a piece at a time and once the piece is ready add it to the oil carefully.  You only want to add a couple pieces at a time, in my pan I could fit about 4, so that they have room to fry and that you don’t bring down the temperature.  Once you have the right amount in the pan, monitor the temperature, you can turn up the heat if needed.  Larger pieces can take up to about 20 minutes, smaller more like 15.  Since you have brined the chicken it,s ok to leave all of the pieces in for the longer time frame.  Using a skimmer or tongs flip the pieces in the oil occasionally to make sure they are browning on all sides.  Do not walk away from this project!  Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp if you would like – once the pieces are done remove them to the cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.

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I then put the pieces into the preheated oven to keep them warm while cooking the rest.  Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of chicken you are frying it should take about 2 to 3 batches.  Serve the chicken hot and get ready for praise and adoration.

P.S. About that oil…I cover the pan and let it cool on the stove-top overnight.  I then just CAREFULLY pour the cooled oil back into the bottle, cap it and throw it away.

Fried Chicken Perfected

Special Equipment:  a large deep pan, large stock pot, candy thermometer and meat thermometer, cookie sheet and cooling rack, skimmer (optional)

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 ounces of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • several pounds of bone in skin on chicken parts – I used 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4 breasts cut in half but there is enough brine and coating to do at least 4 more pieces
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 5 tablespoons Old Bay Hot (or regular Old Bay, or dash of cayenne and garlic powder)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 quarts vegetable oil
  • sea salt for sprinkling

In a large stock pot combine the water, lemon, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, salt, peppercorns and sugar.  Bring to a boil and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Allow to fully cool and then refrigerate for at least an hour until cold before adding the chicken (the brine can be made a day in advance).  Once the brine is cold, add the chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate overnight.  About 30 minutes before you are ready to start frying take the chicken pieces out of the brine and rinse them off (this is to get rid of any peppercorns stuck to the pieces and ensure it’s not too salty).  Put the buttermilk, along with some salt and pepper, into a large bowl and submerge the chicken pieces.  Let them hang out in the buttermilk bath for at least a half hour while you heat the oil.

In a large deep pot (I use my large Calphalon dutch oven) carefully pour in the oil.  I like to buy my oil from Costco since this uses so much.  If you want to use less oil, then fry in a stock pot that isn’t as wide – only downside there is that you can only fry one or two pieces at a time.  Clip your candy thermometer to the side, turn the heat to medium high and wait until you reach 375 degrees before cooking.  While the oil heats and the chicken soaks in the buttermilk, you need to prepare the coating.  In another large bowl mix the flour with the Old Bay Hot.  Since there is a lot of salt and pepper in that seasoning there is no need to add more, if you are skipping the Old Bay (don’t!) add lots of salt and pepper.  Also set out a cookie sheet lined with a cooling rack (if you have one, paper towels if you don’t) to have a place for the chicken to land when it’s done frying.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Once the oil has reached 375 degrees it is time to start frying.  Make sure to wear an apron and be careful because once the chicken is in the pan, the oil can start spitting.  Using tongs take the chicken out of the buttermilk, let it drip off, and then put it in the flour.  Make sure each piece is totally coated in the flour and that you have shaken off all the excess (a process called dredging).  Don’t dredge your chicken early or else it will get gummy, just do it a piece at a time and once the piece is ready add it to the oil carefully.  You only want to add a couple pieces at a time, in my pan I could fit about 4, so that they have room to fry and that you don’t bring down the temperature.  Once you have the right amount in the pan, monitor the temperature, you can turn up the heat if needed.  Larger pieces can take up to about 20 minutes, smaller more like 15.  Since you have brined the chicken it,s ok to leave all of the pieces in for the longer time frame.  Using a skimmer or tongs flip the pieces in the oil occasionally to make sure they are browning on all sides.  Do not walk away from this project!  Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp if you would like – once the pieces are done remove them to the cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.

I then put the pieces into the preheated oven to keep them warm while cooking the rest.  Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of chicken you are frying it should take about 2 to 3 batches.  Serve the chicken hot and get ready for praise and adoration.

P.S. About that oil…I cover the pan and let it cool on the stove-top overnight.  I then just CAREFULLY pour the cooled oil back into the bottle, cap it and throw it away.

 

 

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