Updated: Jan 11
I haven't yet met someone who doesn't enjoy chowing down on Southern cuisine. I have, however, met plenty of people who don't enjoy making Southern dishes, and with good reason. The heirloom cast-iron pots, inexplicably flaky biscuits, and generations-old family recipes that include directions like 'stir just enough, but not too much' or 'cook until brown' can leave you feeling like you need to be a mystic to make a gravy.
Fried chicken absolutely falls into that category. Fears of under-cooked meat or soggy, greasy crust can be nerve-wracking while you're still in line at the grocery. Here's the thing, though- that grandma who's won 27 county championships for her fried chicken didn't master anything in a day. She's practiced her technique for years. Below are five solid tips to jumpstart you down a life-long path to fried fowl heaven. The practice part, my dear, is up to you.
1. Don't Whine if You Skip the Brine
Especially important if you're frying bone-in chicken, brining or marinading ensures deep flavor and insane juiciness. You don't have to do a brine bath, either. It's as easy as rubbing a 4:1 ratio of salt and sugar on your chicken or slathering a marinade all over and letting it sit in the fridge for a few hours.
2. Let it Be
It's so disappointing when you take your first bite of a beautiful piece of fried chicken only to have half of the crust fall off. It's also super easy to avoid! Once you've coated your chicken with seasoned flour, let it rest on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes (an hour or more is even better). This allows the flour to absorb the moisture on the surface of the chicken and become one with the skin.
3. Cut 'em Down to Size
Take a lot of the guesswork out of the frying process by frying according to size. Wings will take the least amount of time, usually ready around 8-10 minutes. Legs and thighs are usually done at 10-12 minutes. Since the breast is so much larger and leaner than the other pieces, I like to cut them in half before brining or marinading, which will finish around the 10 minute mark.
4. Bubble, Bubble
If the marinade is the key to flavor, the oil you fry in is the key to texture. Choose something high-heat: peanut, avocado, and canola oil have a high smoke point and are reusable (click here for a great article on storing oil). Some more helpful hints:
- Use your heaviest pot to evenly distribute heat
- Fill your pot 2/3 of the way with oil. The more oil you have in the pot, the more even the temperature will be. Just don't overfill or you'll have a lot of splatter to deal with!
- An inexpensive deep fry thermometer with a pot clip and a long prong is a safety godsend and usually under $15.
When you're ready to fry, heat your oil over medium-high heat (a 6 or 7 out of ten) until the oil is 350° . The oil will cool off when you start adding the chicken. Resist the urge to turn up the heat or you'll end up with a burnt crust and raw middle!
5. Runway Ready
If you're going to take the time to dress up your chicken with a punchy marinade and bedazzle it with a bath in hot oil, make sure there's runway ready to keep that crunch! Another clean wire rack will allow extra oil to drip away, keeping the crust crunchy. Don't have two wire racks? Use your oven's racks, washing well before returning to the oven. Fight the urge to line with paper towels- they'll just hold the oil next to the crust and soggy everything up. If you must, use plain brown kitchen paper, or even slices of stale sandwich bread, which will wick away excess oil.
The marinade I've included is worth pulling out all the spices you have in your cabinet. Smokey, tangy,not too spicy and just a little sweet, you'll find yourself daydreaming about it for the rest of the week.
Happy eating, y'all!
Caribbean Lime Fried Chicken
For the fried chicken :
2 lb chicken boneless thighs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt
1 t pepper
Limes cut into wedges for serving
2 quarts peanut or canola oil, for frying
For the marinade:
2 limes, juiced
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t paprika
1 t chili powder
1 t black pepper
1 t salt
1 t ground cumin
1 t brown sugar
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Marinade the chicken:
1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large plastic bag or bowl.
2. Cut each thigh into 4 pieces. Add to marinade, completely coating each pieces. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
When you're ready to fry:
3. In a large, deep dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat oil to 350 °
4. In a large, clean zip-top bag, combine remaining ingredients. Add chicken pieces a few at a time. Toss in flour mixture then transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Repeat until all pieces are coated. Let the chicken rest for at least 20 minutes to set the crust.
5. Set up a place for your cooked chicken- either another wire rack or a lot of brown kitchen paper set over a baking sheet.
6. Add chicken pieces to hot oil one at a time, taking care to not crowd the pan. Fry, flipping occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until the pieces float to the top and are golden brown. Transfer to clean rack or paper, sprinkle with a little salt.
7. Serve with hot sauce and lime wedges.