If you want me to learn something, let me do it. Experiential learning is my best teacher.
That may be one of the reasons I am such a fan of Mario Batali. At one point in his culinary teaching he went to Italy to learn to cook Italian food. He didn’t attend some culinary school for the experience, however. Nope. Instead, he lived in a small town and cooked along the people there. He embedded himself in the community, culture and cuisine.
When I moved down to North Carolina I discovered Carolina barbecue (be still my heart) and stood by experienced barbecuers until I had the method down. Collard greens? A little lady named Maxine showed me her tried-and-true (and delicious) method for making them and I was right there next to her while she did it.
Fried chicken has continued to elude me, however. I’ve had conversation after conversation with people about making it and am always told the same thing; “Oh, I can’t make it like my Momma can. If you want to learn to make good fried chicken, you need to go find yourself a southern Momma and stand by her side.”
I’ve lived down here for over fifteen years now and that still hasn’t happened. It’s really hard to find someone that thinks they make excellent fried chicken and is willing to share their secret with you.
So, it’s with an overwhelming amount of joy that I show you those perfectly fried chicken legs. Do you see those? I made them. Without anyone’s help.
Well, maybe with a little help from my friends at America’s Test Kitchen.
You have to read the article that goes along with this recipe to understand why the chicken is fried, then baked. It has to do with using less oil, water being converted to steam, dehydration, etc. It’s fascinating and makes sense. I think the recipe is mis-titled though. It’s not necessarily ‘easier’ fried chicken, because frying, then baking adds a step. It is a more frugal and less fattening way of frying chicken though.
There’s a big debate between chicken fryers as to whether the pieces need to be soaked in buttermilk prior to frying. I don’t know which is better, but this version soaks and it works. With hot sauce, garlic powder and cayenne added to the buttermilk, you can just imagine the amount of flavor that seeps into the meat over time.
Where this recipe veers away from others I’ve tried is in the coating. In addition to the seasoning added to the flour, a bit more buttermilk is as well. Just a bit. This gives it some moisture, so it’s easier to press it onto the pieces, giving a more uniform coating.
With under two cups of oil used to fry the chicken, I’m a happy camper. It’s always felt pretty wasteful to throw out three cups of oil after one meal. Not the case here. After browning the chicken in the skillet, it got put on the rack and into the oven to finish cooking.
I let my chicken soak for a full 24 hours to get the maximum flavor infusion. I also used my 12-inch straight sided skillet and couldn’t fit all the pieces in so had to do two batches. My chicken baked for the full 20 minutes.
Hubby took one bite of this and said, “You finally did it.” He’s been well aware of my quest to make perfect fried chicken (how could he not be?).
I really did finally do it. You can tell that just by looking at it. The crust is very crispy and crunchy. It has a tremendous amount of flavor. It’s very, very juicy. It’s just freakin’ awesome. No other words for it.
Both of those legs were devoured by Dudette. She didn’t even mind the heat from the hot sauce and cayenne.
I would buy this magazine for this one single recipe. The chicken is that good.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
- 1¼ cups buttermilk
- Salt and pepper
- Hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and drumsticks, or mix, breasts cut in half), trimmed
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1¾ cups peanut or vegetable oil
- Whisk 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, dash hot sauce, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and pinch cayenne together in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 2 teaspoons pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, remaining ¾ teaspoon garlic powder, remaining ¾ teaspoon paprika, and remaining cayenne together in a bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk and mix with fingers until combined and small clumps form.
- Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto pieces to form thick, even coating. Place dredged chicken on large plate, skin side up.
- Heat oil in 11-inch straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Carefully place chicken pieces in pan, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Carefully flip and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, 2-4 minutes longer.
- Transfer chicken to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Bake chicken until the breasts register 160 degrees and the leg/thighs register 175 degrees, 15-20 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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