By Emma Waverman and Eshun Mott
From French fries to samosas, hot oil is the secret to many addictive foods. And fried chicken is no exception, ranking up there with the ultimate in deliciously greasy pig-out meals.
While we may think of fried chicken as a distinctly American Southern classic, many cultures have a tradition of battering up poultry and slinging it into hot oil, including Vietnam’s Ga Xao, Italy’s pollo fritto and Austria’s Viennese fried chicken (Wiener Backhendl).
But it was the Scots who brought fried chicken to the United States and the American slaves who popularized it. Slaves were allowed to keep cheap sources of meat, such as chicken, for their meals and they found that frying it in the Scottish manner, but adding their own spices and seasonings, enhanced the flavour of the tough birds.
We can thank the Colonel (yes, that one) for bringing fried chicken up north and into the modern diet. In 1930, Harland Sanders started frying up chickens on two cast-iron pans in Kentucky. By 1964, Colonel Sanders had more than 600 franchises and shortly after sold the company for $2 million.
In 2006, KFC reported to serve more than a billion pieces of fried chicken, using the Colonel’s secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.On the other end of the dining spectrum, you have Thomas Keller of the famed high-end French Laundry Café and Ad Hoc. He serves a complicated two-day fried chicken that his diners won’t let him take off the menu.
So it seems fried chicken appeals to fast-food lovers and foodies alike. But, luckily, you don’t have to venture out for delicious fried chicken. It’s not hard to make at home and it’s worth it! Just don’t nibble off all the crispy bits before it gets to the table, like we did!
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Great fried chicken is all about the little details. Soaking the chicken pieces in buttermilk overnight keeps it amazingly juicy through a long frying process. A cast-iron pan is essential and a 12-inch pan is the minimum size you need to cook a whole chicken at once, otherwise cook the chicken in batches and keep it on a rack at room temperature. And you must watch the temperature of the oil—a candy/frying thermometer is helpful here—because while the coating on the chicken can get quite dark brown, the chicken inside may not be fully cooked inside. A tangy coleslaw makes a nice accompaniment.
Ingredients (Serves 3-4)
- 1 3-lb chicken, cut into 8 bone-in pieces (drumsticks, thighs, wings and 2 breasts halved)
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cayenne
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour Vegetable oil for frying
- Combine chicken and buttermilk in a sealable plastic bag squeezing out air so that chicken is fully submerged, and place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. Remove from fridge, allow to come to room temperature, and drain buttermilk.
- Combine paprika, salt, cayenne, black pepper and thyme in a small bowl. Lay chicken pieces out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle over half of the spice mixture, then turn chicken and coat with the rest of the spices.
- Put flour in a bowl or plastic bag and season well with salt. Add chicken pieces one at a time and toss to coat.
- Pour about ½ inch of oil into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and heat over high heat. When the oil has reached 350°F, add chicken pieces to the pan in a single layer—the oil should now reach 2/3 of the way up the chicken pieces. The oil temperature will drop quite dramatically for a few minutes, but when it has heated back up adjust your burner temperature so that the oil stays between 325 and 350°F.
- Fry chicken for 8 to 10 minutes a side or until skin is dark and crisp and meat is cooked through (you may need to insert the point of a sharp knife into chicken to see that juices run clear). Serve hot or place on a rack to cool and serve at room temperature.
Emma Waverman and Eshun Mott are longtime food writers and recipe developers who penned a column for Outpost magazine, and co-authored the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them. You can find Emma regularly at Here and Now on CBC Radio One.