Yesterday was Jake’s birthday — Happy Birthday, Mr. Wilson! — and to celebrate I made him a big batch of fried chicken from one of our own pasture raised birds. If you look up the phrase “delicious decadence” in the dictionary you will find a picture of us snarfing down this chicken last night, it was that good. I served it with a yummy Mexican inspired sweet potato salad (more about that in another post) and our favorite bourbon cocktail, the Lexington Lemonade.
Fried chicken is one of those recipes, like French fries and waffles, that seems like it should be easy to pull off but is actually quite technical. You know what I mean: You bite into a piece of fried chicken and it’s all greasy and wet inside and the outside coating is rubbery? Or when you munch a French fry or waffle or pancakes and it’s soggy through and through? Buzz kill!
For deceptively technical recipes such as those, Jake and I refer to the chef nerds at Cook’s Illustrated because we know that CI recipes have been tested, retested and tested again (and then beat up and tested one more time because they’re so brutal and unsparing like that) so you know when you make it, it’s going to turn out the way it’s supposed to with the dishes unique characteristics intact. In this case, fried chicken that is moist and juicy on the inside, crispy and non-greasy on the outside.
One note about this recipe: It contains a ton of salt. The salt brines the chicken before it’s fried to ensure the meat remains tender and juicy. Because it contains so much salt, it’s important to adhere to the 2 to 3 hour brining time. Any longer than that, the salt soaks into the meat, making it way too salty. (I’ve done that before and it’s kinda scary how deep the salt can penetrate the meat.)
Another note: This isn’t one of those “dinner in a hurry” meals. Superior fried chicken takes time! I started this chicken the night before.
Cook’s Illustrated Fried Chicken
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2-3 medium heads garlic, cloves separated and (mostly) peeled (it’s a pain to peel 3 heads of garlic, so don’t kill yourself here!)
- 3 bay leaves , crumbled
- 8 cups buttermilk, divided
- 1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), giblets discarded, cut into 12 pieces (see my tutorial here)
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3–4 cups peanut oil
1. In large zipper-lock plastic bag, combine salt, sugar, paprika, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. With rubber mallet or flat meat pounder, smash garlic into salt and spice mixture thoroughly. Pour mixture into large plastic container or nonreactive stockpot. Add 7 cups buttermilk and stir until salt is completely dissolved. Immerse chicken and refrigerate until fully seasoned, 2 to 3 hours. Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and shake off excess; place in single layer on large wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 2 hours. (After 2 hours, chicken can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 6 hours longer.)
2. Measure flour into large shallow dish. Beat egg, baking powder, and baking soda in medium bowl; stir in remaining 1 cup buttermilk (mixture will bubble and foam). Working in batches of 3, drop chicken pieces in flour and shake pan to coat. Shake excess flour from each piece, then, using tongs, dip chicken pieces into egg mixture, turning to coat well and allowing excess to drip off. Coat chicken pieces with flour again, shake off excess, and return to wire rack.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position, set second wire rack over second rimmed baking sheet, and place on oven rack; heat oven to 200 degrees. Line large plate with double layer paper towels. Meanwhile, heat oil (oil should have 2 1/2-inch depth in pan) to 375 degrees over medium-high heat in large 8-quart cast-iron Dutch oven with a diameter of about 12 inches. Place half of chicken pieces skin-side down in oil, cover, reduce heat to medium, and fry until deep golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes; after about 3 minutes, lift chicken pieces with tongs to check for even browning; rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others. (Spot-check oil temperature; after first 6 minutes of frying, oil should be about 325 degrees. Adjust burner if necessary.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to fry, uncovered, until chicken pieces are deep golden brown on second side, 6 to 8 minutes longer. Using tongs, transfer chicken to paper towel–lined plate; let stand 2 minutes to drain, then transfer to rack in warm oven. Replace paper towel–lining on plate. Return oil to 375 degrees and fry remaining pieces, transferring pieces to paper towel–lined plate to drain, then transferring to wire rack with other chicken pieces. Cool chicken pieces on wire rack about 5 minutes and serve.