As a Southern girl (even one who didn’t spend her whole upbringing in the South), fried chicken has certainly been a part of my life’s narrative. I remember my mom making fried chicken breasts in her trusty countertop electric skillet. I love getting buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken to take out to the lake for summer weekends. And of course there is always fried chicken at church suppers – even if some folks just buy it and bring it. It’s a part of the fabric of Southern culture – a part that I had never actually attempted to make until last week. As with all things I want to cook, I did my research. I read plenty of recipes, asked folks about their preferred frying medium (Crisco, peanut oil, canola oil?), and thought over various marinades (buttermilk, sweet tea, standard brine?). Now all that stood between me and homemade fried chicken was, well, me!
As noted in yesterday’s post about Potato and Beet Hash, my reason for finally tackling fried chicken is that I got a new waffle iron. See, I’d been dreaming about Fried Chicken and Waffles for months. Though I’d had plenty of fried chicken in my life, I’d really only had chicken and waffles two or three times. Each time it was amazing and left me wanting more. The salty chicken and sweet syrup on waffles mingle and become something extraordinary. I had to have it. The Boys weren’t too upset about the leftovers either.
Note on waffles: I’m not going to post some amazing waffle recipe here since I’m pretty much a waffle novice. I used a scratch recipe for buttermilk waffles that I found online and followed the instructions that came with the waffle iron. They were good, but not as crispy as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll probably turn up the heat and see how that goes. If anyone has any waffle tips, let me know!
There’s tons of fried chicken wisdom out there – between your cookbooks, online recipes, and friends and family – and I was definitely daunted by all of it. Frankly, most of it is contradictory. I’ve come to the conclusion that making fried chicken is less a science than an art. Maybe someone out there has a fool-proof method with exact cooking times and temperatures (actually, I’m know someone does), but I’m not sure that I ever really want to do it that way. Stopwatches and thermometers really aren’t my thing. Someday I’ll stumble upon a recipe that I just cannot make without those things, but today is not that day. There are, however, a couple of tips which seemed pretty ubiquitous and are worth mentioning here:
– You’ll know the oil is ready when you toss a tiny bit of flour in it and it sizzles.
– The oil is too hot if it starts smoking. You definitely don’t want this.
– Keep a lid for the pan handy, just in case of fires. Small chance this happens, but you know, better safe than sorry.
– When you add the chicken to the oil the temperature will drop significantly. Turn the heat up for a minute or two, but then turn it back down so that the outside doesn’t burn before the inside is done.
– Keep a sheet pan with a wire rack handy for when you want to take the chicken out of the oil. I kept the oven on warm and stuck the chicken in there while the other batch cooked.
– Cook the chicken in at least two batches. It’ll take forever if you try to do it all at once, even if you do have a huge pan.
Okay, that’s the extent of the wisdom worth repeating. Happy frying!
Fried Chicken with Giblet Gravy
for chicken marinade
1 whole chicken, cut up into parts
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3-4 cups low-fat buttermilk
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
Place chicken pieces in a large bowl (big enough to hold the chicken and the buttermilk) and season with salt and pepper, and a generous sprinkling of cayenne and paprika. Add the Dijon mustard, sliced onion, and bay leaf, the pour in the buttermilk until the chicken is almost completely covered. Use tongs to move the chicken around to spread out the seasonings and make sure every piece is covered with buttermilk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 1-2 hours. I’d say that you could put it in the fridge overnight, which would make it totally delicious, but if you’re planning to do that go easy on the salt. When chicken brines and marinades for a long time it might become too salty.
2-3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry ground mustard
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
3 sticks butter-flavored Crisco
Prepare a shallow dish, like a small baking dish or pie plate, with the flour and seasonings. Set it on the counter next to a sheet pan with a wire rack on top of it (because I don’t have enough room to store nifty things like wire racks, I actually use the ones from my toaster oven, which fit perfectly on a small sheet pan). Take the bowl of chicken out of the fridge and put it on the other side of the flour so that you have a little assembly line.
Next get out your frying pan and put it over medium heat. You want something that is large enough to fry about half of the chicken at one time. It doesn’t need to be too deep, but it does help to have a lid (just in case of fire – you should put the lid on immediately and turn off all heat). Add two of the three sticks of Crisco and watch them melt into beautiful yellow deliciousness. When the oil is ready it will shimmer slightly and sizzle when you toss a little bit of flour in it. You don’t want it to get to the point where it’s smoking, so be careful to watch it.
While the oil is heating up, start dredging your chicken in the flour. Use a pair of tongs to pull the chicken out of the bowl, shake off the excess buttermilk, then toss it in the flour until it is thoroughly coated. Shake it gently to get rid of excess flour and then set it on the wire rack. You want to do this in two batches right before you fry it. If you dredge too soon the flour on the chicken will become gooey. When you’re done dredging the first half batch, quickly dredge each piece again, shake off flour, and gently lay it in the hot oil. Turn the heat up slightly for 1 minute to account for the fact that the cold chicken will take the temperature down slightly, then return it to medium heat (or whatever level your stove had the oil ready at).
Leave the chicken alone while it bubbles away in the oil. Resisting the temptation to pick it up and check the progress of its golden brown crust is probably the toughest part of this whole endeavor. If you handle the chicken too much the crust will come off, and that’s just no fun!! When it looks like the crust is getting nice and light golden, turn the chicken over with the tongs and cook the other side. I tried to use a meat thermometer to determine whether the chicken was cooked, but honestly I think the hot oil around it made the effort useless. When it looks like the chicken is nice and golden (maybe 12 to 14 minutes total cooking time), remove it to another baking sheet and wire rack. Place in the oven on warm while you work on the other batch of chicken.
Add another stick of Crisco to the pan and repeat the process for the second half of the chicken. Set it in the oven with its friends while you get the rest of the meal ready.
for giblet gravy
1 package of giblets and chicken neck (usually comes packaged with the chicken)
2 ½ cups chicken stock/broth, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
You can start making the gravy before you fry the chicken and let it simmer throughout the process. Then you can finish it while you make the waffles.
Heat chicken stock or broth in a saucepan and add the chicken neck and all of the giblets. Let them simmer for 20-30 minutes (or longer), covered so that the stock doesn’t reduce too much and become too salty. Once everything has simmered for a while, remove the neck and giblets. You can discard the neck – it has already imparted its flavor to the stock. Roughly chop up the giblets and then put them in a blender or food processor. Add the hot stock and then blend the whole mixture until it’s as smooth as it’s going to get. Let it sit in the blender for just a minute while you make a roux in the saucepan. Melt the butter and sprinkle flour on top. Stir together until it forms a paste and cook on low heat for about 2 minutes until it starts to get slightly golden. Strain the stock/giblet mixture into a container that’s easy to pour from (to get all of the little giblet bits out) and then slowly whisk the liquid into the roux. If you add it all at once the gravy will get lumpy. When the mixture is smooth, let it simmer on low and thicken, stirring every minute or so, until you’re ready to serve.
Note: the reason I make the giblet gravy and then strain them out is that I have always really disliked the pieces in the gravy. In my book, gravy should be smooth. However, the giblets do impart that true down-home flavor, so you can’t leave them out entirely. Doing it this way enables me to get that great flavor without the texture issue. Win, win!
Serve your fried chicken with homemade waffles, Potato and Beet Hash, gravy, and maple syrup. My preferred method of consumption is to pour the gravy on the chicken and the syrup on the waffles, then get a bit of each in every bite. It really is a transcendent experience!