Dave never requests that I make specific meals. So a few weeks ago when he asked, really nicely, if I would pretty please sometime when I’m not really stressed out and maybe after the semester’s over and my life calms down please pretty please take a stab at making some fried chicken? – of course, I said yes. I would attempt, for the first time in my life, making fried chicken.
I’ve always been sort of terrified of frying things. It just seems like a generally bad idea. I’m accident prone, so big vats of hot grease on a gas flame are probably not what I need to be dealing with on a regular basis. We all know it’s unhealthy. And it makes the kitchen (or entire house, if you live in a small house like we do) smell like old grease, which is gross. And what, exactly, do you do with all that leftover grease? Is it worth the effort, setting up and cleaning up, for fried deliciousness?
As it turns out, sometimes the answer is yes. Like tonight. When I made fried chicken.
I’ve been thinking about how I’d approach this for several weeks. I’ve researched recipes. I’ve talked about it all week and asked for pointers from anyone who’d share them. I even called my mom tonight for one last perspective on the correct cooking of fried chicken. She had lots of advice for me regarding her strategy for good fried chicken, and as usual, I ignored most of it. But the one piece of advice I took – make sure to salt the chicken before you dredge it in your seasoned flour – I think was what set this fried chicken over the edge in the deliciousness category. It was salty, crispy, and flavorful. My pan was too small for the entire batch of chicken, so as I was waiting on batch 2 to finish up, I “taste tested” a wing that had just finished cooking. One bite led me to basically attack the chicken wing like I hadn’t eaten in 2 weeks. I’m not gonna lie – I did a little happy dance while I was chowing down. It may have been because my expectations were set so low for this adventure – you never know with frying things; it’s tricky – but the fact that it tasted better than decent made me really excited.
Before I began, though, I had to decide whether I was purchasing pre-butchered chicken, or if I was going to woman up and just hack a whole chicken into pieces myself. I know how to correctly carve poultry once it’s cooked, but something about trying it pre-cooked was intimidating. I did it anyway, after watching this super helpful video about 5 times to memorize the process. Buying a whole chicken is much cheaper than buying its individual parts, and it’s strangely rewarding to say you hacked up a chicken into 8 parts all by yourself.
Regardless of how you obtain your chicken parts for frying, here’s the recipe.
Obtain 8 pieces of chicken (breasts, thighs, wings, legs). Prepare a marinade of about 1 cup buttermilk, 2 teaspoons salt, and about 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper. Soak the chicken in the buttermilk mixture for at least 3 hours.
Prepare the flour for dredging while the chicken marinates. I used 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, about 1/2 tablespoon of paprika, and a dash of chili powder.
Heat up some vegetable oil in a heavy skillet (I used a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great-grandmother, Mama Mable, and was passed down to me from my grandmother Shirley… wonder just how many chickens have been fried up in that thing?).
You’ll need enough oil to come up at least 2/3 of the way to the top. Heat it to 325 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature as you’re cooking – keep the oil somewhere between 325 – 350 by adjusting the heat. This is an important step to ensure you don’t over-brown the skin before the inside cooks through.
While your oil is heating, prepare the chicken for frying. Remove the pieces from the buttermilk mixture. Liberally dust them with salt. Dredge in the previously prepared flour mixture. Place pieces one at a time into the hot oil. Cook for 5 minutes on each side, turn the pieces over, cook another 5 minutes, and repeat the process once so that the chicken cooks approximately 20 minutes or until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of about 160 (use a meat thermometer!). It helps if your chicken pieces are all about the same size to ensure even cooking.
I served my chicken with biscuits, mashed potatoes, and green beans.