30 by 30: Fried Chicken

June 3, 2011 · 24 comments

in 30 by 30,chicken/poultry


I have a very important question: How the hell do you keep oil at a consistent temperature when frying?  What’s your secret?

Frying and I are not friends. Many, many years ago, I was trying to impress Tom (my boyfriend, at the time) by making homemade french fries. I’ll spare you the details, but the short version is that somewhere between me flippantly stating that making homemade fries was “no big deal at all, really!” and salivating over the thought of eating some, I managed to burn myself. Badly.

OIL EVERYWHERE. (And expletives everywhere too, I’m sure.)

I still have the scar on my wrist to prove it (although, it seems I burn myself so often these days—don’t ask why—that it just blends right in).

I tried my hand at frying several years later, in the form of loukoumades (Greek doughnuts) and they turned out pretty well. At the time, I didn’t have a candy thermometer so I didn’t bother testing the oil temperature and just used a wooden spoon, knowing that when it bubbled around the edges the oil was ready (a trick I no doubt learned from some Food Network chef along the way). Some were a little soggy (the oil not being hot enough, I’m sure), but they get covered in honey syrup, anyway, so it worked out well.

Now, about 4 years after that, I decided to give frying another shot, in light of my 30×30 list.  I figured nearly a decade had passed since my first frying experience and I had absorbed so much culinary knowledge in that time that I was surely invincible. Plus, I had acquired a candy thermometer at some point, so now I could keep the oil temperature regulated.

Not so.

The first time I made this fried chicken (yes, I made it twice), the outside burned by the time the inside cooked. It wasn’t terrible or anything, surely edible and not charred, but not perfect. After I added the chicken the oil temperature went down (naturally), but then it shot back up and there was just no stopping that stuff. I tried turning down the burners and nothing.

So the second time I made this, I turned the burner down almost right after adding the chicken, even though I felt weird doing that considering I knew the temp was going to go down on its own. It dropped, of course, and then it took foreeeeeeever to come back up. When it did I was able to keep it consistent for a while (yay!) and then back to the needle on the thermometer shooting up to where it didn’t belong.

Thankfully, I used drumsticks exclusively this time since they take less time to cook, which meant less risk of an undercooked center with overcooked breading. So, somehow, they managed to still turn out well. Don’t ask me how. The breading was nice and crisp, with just a little kick from the cayenne, and the inside was so juicy, moist, and flavorful.

I don’t see a lot of frying in my future (which is a good thing, no doubt), but I ask you, short of getting one of those deep fryer contraptions, how does one regulate oil temp?

Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Adapted from Food & Wine (originally seen on Oishii)

3 cups buttermilk
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 lbs. chicken thighs, wings or drumsticks
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
neutral oil for frying (vegetable, peanut, canola, etc.)

In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk with the salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the chicken and stir to coat.  Refrigerate for 4 hours (longer is fine).

In a large shallow bowl or pan, or a resealable plastic bag, mix the flour with the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne and mix to combine.

Set a rack on a baking sheet.

Working with one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the buttermilk soak, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, pressing so it adheres all over. Transfer the coated chicken to the rack and let stand for 30 minutes.

Set another rack over a baking sheet; line with paper towels.

In a deep skillet (I used cast iron), heat 1″ of oil to 350°.   Fry the chicken in batches at 315°, turning once, until golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each piece registers 160°, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the paper-lined rack and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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