Monday, June 29, 2009

Chicken Fried

I swear I have Southern blood running through my veins or must have been Southern in a previous life because their food calls to me at every turn. Buttermilk biscuits, Coke A Cola cake, butterbeans, peaches, pecans... I am drooling all over my keyboard! I have never been better fed outside my Grandma's kitchen than when I was down South. Maybe it's the food, which always seems to be prepared by loving hands or maybe it's the people, some of the kindest on Earth but the South has called to me since I was in my early twenties. It's no wonder then that I am crazy-go-nuts for things like pulled pork, Chicken-n-Dumplings and of course, fried chicken.

Poor fried chicken. So well loved, so misunderstood. Too often (and needlessly) greasy, flavorless and soggy. IMHO, there's almost nothing that screams "It's Summertime!" as much as plate of fried chicken, really good potato salad and a tall glass of frosty cold iced tea with a big hunk of lemon! And no, I'm not talking KFC or any of the other (sadly misguided) restaurants that claim to offer "real" or "authentic" Southern Fried Chicken. I'm talking straight from your own kitchen yummy goodness and all you really need is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or a turkey fryer setup if you've got a crowd) and if you're really lucky someone to do the actual frying like I have. A testament to the excellence of my particular version of Fried Chicken is that there was none left to photograph at the BBQ so you'll just have to trust me that it looks as awesome as it sounds and tastes!

Good fried chicken takes time but is in no way time consuming! I start the day before (or in the case of the BBQ my dear friend started the day before) by cutting up and washing all the chicken pieces. For regular fried chicken the pieces go into plain old buttermilk, for the spicy version they went into buttermilk that had a few tablespoons of this really cool chicken seasoning we found in its own grinder at BJ's. If you don't have really cool seasoning in its own grinder you can pretty much put anything your would like in the buttermilk; salt and pepper, garlic powder, a few shots of hot sauce... you get the idea. But remember that whatever you use is going to actually permeate the flesh of the chicken so once it's in there, it's in there. Now put the chicken in the fridge and walk away. Just walk away and leave it alone for 24-36 hours. If you are marinating the chicken in bags you can flip them over to make sure the buttermilk is hitting all parts of the chicken but that's it.

No less than one hour before you're going to fry it's time to put the coating on the chicken. I fill up my largest bowl with a few cups of flour seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, celery salt or whatever I have around (if I've made spicy chicken I'll put the same spice in the four) and setup a sheet pan with waxed paper. Going one or two pieces at a time I dredge the buttermilk soaked chicken in the flour until it is well coated and then set the pieces on the sheet pan. Once the last piece is done clean yourself up and set up for frying. Leave the pan on the counter, nothing is going to happen to it, the chicken is not going to spoil. Just leave it alone and in about an hour your dry four coating will have turned into a yummy wet batter!

I like to fry in peanut oil or a peanut oil blend. If I'm only doing a bit of chicken I will cook three or four pieces at a time (don't crowd the pan) in my cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side. If we're lucky enough to be deep frying, heat the oil to 350* and depending on how many pieces you put in it takes about 12 minutes a batch. I put a cooling rack over a sheet pan to drain the chicken a bit before serving. And that's it. No fuss, little muss and really, really good fried chicken!


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