Food Sunday: Fried Chicken
I have always loved fried chicken, as far back as I can remember. It was a family staple as well as a family specialty. I learned to make it by watching my father fry chicken and he did a pretty awesome job of it (though he was the first to admit that as good as he was, his sisters were both that much better at it than he). I assume that he learned the tricks from my grandparents, who ran a roadside restaurant for years.
For the record, this is how I make it most times. It is to my taste and what works for me. Obviously, other people have ways of frying that differ from me and that’s all right.
Growing up, Dad would usually make a whole fryer. Now a quick check of der Google or YouTube brings up a variety of videos on how to cut up a whole chicken so you can find the one you like and learn from it. The way Dad did it (and I do it when I fry a whole chicken) winds up with two legs (drumsticks), two thighs, two wings, two back pieces, two breast pieces (keeping the wish bone intact of course), and the giblets (neck, gizzard, liver, heart, and "skin").
With all that being said, since I prefer the legs and wings, I usually just purchase a small package of one or the other or both. After all, why I should I purchase one item that would have leftovers pieces that I might not care for as much when I can have what I prefer as leftovers for later (and believe me, cold fried chicken pieces can feed me for a couple of days). This may seem a bit counter intuitive but I will purchase legs that are not the super size. The smaller legs are just easier to fry and have consistent than the larger ones. This is one of those things the big processing companies don’t seem to understand. . . .
The first thing I do after I get the chicken home is wash it off. This is just good, basic, sanitary action. For the legs, I just wash the pieces off while if I have gotten wings, I tuck the tips behind the little wing drumstick, creating a triangle.
As I wash the pieces off, I put them in a pan with salt water to soak over night (if possible). I probably add 3 or 4 tablespoons of salt to the pan before adding the water. I don’t know all the chemistry behind why and how this works but one of the primary affects is that the salt helps to draw out the blood. One of the things a lot of folks don’t like about fried chicken is how blood (or marrow) seeps out of the bone during the frying. The only time I have that problem is if I started with frozen chicken pieces or fry before the chicken has had a chance to soak for a few hours. This is also a good idea for most any type of small game (rabbit, squirrel, frog legs, etc).
After soaking the chicken over night in salt water, I’m now ready to actually fry it. I use:
My well seasoned #10 iron skillet
Salt and Pepper
Tongs and a two tine serving fork
I usually wipe the skillet out with a paper towel then pour a tablespoon or so of oil and use a second paper towel to spread it around the inside just to make sure before I start. I then pour in Canola oil until the oil is roughly a half inch deep. I switched over to canola oil years ago as a concession to health rather than using Crisco, which was what I used way back when.
In a mixing bowl, I put flour plus salt and black pepper and mix it all together, spreading the salt and pepper throughout. Occasionally I might add some paprika but most times just stick to the very basic salt and pepper. I don’t use exact measurements on the salt and pepper, preferring to just guesstimate. If I had to specify a measurement though, it would be two cups flour, two plus tablespoons of salt and three plus tablespoons of pepper (I like it a bit peppery).
I turn the heat on high to heat the oil (preferably to a point just prior to the oil starting to smoke). I learned using electric ranges but it is the same whether electric range or gas operated – just that the gas operated is going to heat up that much faster than electric. A good test of the oil readiness is to get your fingers wet and flick the water across the oil. If it pops and crackles, the oil is nearly there.
I turn the heat down to medium/medium high. I then take the chicken direct from the pan it has been soaking in over night, piece by piece and coat the pieces in the salt and pepper flour. Some folks like to dry the chicken off first then dip it in buttermilk or a milk and egg batter but I find the resulting crust is a bit much for my taste (but will use both methods next week with a description of chicken fried steak or pork chops). Just the simple mix in the flour on the wet chicken provides what I find a nice crust that allows the chicken to shine.
Place the flour coated chicken pieces skin side down. That is, the areas where the chicken has been cut are visible. The oil will be popping and a tan color. I can usually get six leg pieces in the skillet at a time(alternating them so that the meaty part of one piece is next to the skinny part of the next piece with four pieces then the last two piece at the "top" of the skillet arranged the same way.
The chicken should fry on the first side for roughly 12 to 15 minutes. I can’t give a more exact time as I watch and listen to the oil more than I actually time things. The oil slows down on the popping and the color turns from tan to a darker brown as it does so. I take the tong and fork and turn the pieces and the shade of the oil returns to the tan and the popping picks up again. I turn the heat down to medium/medium low for another fifteen minutes or so
Once the second side has pretty much stopped with the popping oil and it looks brown (the oil that is), I take my two tine serving fork and poke the legs in the meaty part with the tines straddling the bone (using the tongs to steady the pieces while I poke). I then turn the chicken one more time and this allows the chicken fat to cook off.
I take the pieces out one at a time, letting the oil drip off for a few seconds on each piece before placing them on a plate with paper towels. With any luck at all, the chicken should not look greasy, will have a nice little crust, and be a nice golden brown in shade.
A final note. When you fry chicken, just as with most other fried foods, there is going to be grease splatter. This is a reality. Even if you have and use a "splatter shield" there is still going to be splatter and splashing. The best you can usually hope for is to avoid getting it on you but even then, even when you are prepared for the idea that the grease will splatter, it will catch you by surprise. So it’s probably a good idea not to wear shorts or a business suit or dress clothes when you are frying chicken. You can wear an apron but what happens then is the splash goes to the areas not covered by the apron.
And because I can:
[Photo: Fried chicken dinner – dakine01’s probably looks even yummier. (source: wonggawei via Flickr)]