30 by 30: Fried Chicken

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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.

30 by 30: Fried Chicken

  • I wish I could help ya! I am scared to death of frying, but I’m going to attempt it soon so I hope some one comments and helps you out!

  • The chicken looks very good…seems like your experience helped you out. I would buy a candy thermometer that will also work well in oil.

    • elly

      Peter, I have one. That’s how I knew the temp wasn’t staying regulated!

  • I am totally with you. I hate frying and I save my consumption of fried goodies for the restaurant pros. It never seems worth the effort to fry at home, and I can’t ever get over using and throwing away that much oil! At least you gave it a try, though!

  • When frying chicken I use s deep fryer and use a lot more oil. And when you use more oil, you don’t have to turn the chicken and my mother (who makes the best fried chicken) always tells me to leave the chicken undisturbed so you don’t further mess with the temp. when you put cooking utensils in there. I’ve just watched my mother a ton and I think you just keep practicing until it works.

    @Caitlin – my mom also told me to save the oil and reuse it a couple of times because that will give the chicken a nice golden color. It’s worked for her and you feel like you got your money worth.

  • I’ve been doing pretty good sticking with grilled chicken rather then having fried chicken but once every other month or so I’ll treat myself to fried chicken and this looks really good.

  • I suck at frying, so I have no advice for you. (Please don’t tell my family in Oklahoma.) The chicken looks delicious, though!

  • I’m in the same camp as @dyan regarding using more oil. We use our dutch oven, about 1/3 full. Our temp would drop and rise outside of what we wanted, but typically never to such an extreme it was soggy or burned. We followed Thomas Keller’s recipe from Ad Hoc, which had different temps for the dark vs white meat, though I don’t remember what they were. It’s a great recipe to try though, and had amazing flavor.

  • I don’t know about regulating oil for frying chicken, but I do know that I get a delish fried-style chicken by partially frying then baking it. I use the Cooks Illustrated recipe, which was in an issue from some time in the past few months. Sorry…don’t recall exactly which one! Anyhow, it’s a fabulous recipe.

  • Ivy

    I’ve never made fried chicken before but it looks delicious. I’ve never used a thermometre in my life neither in baking, cooking, candy making etc. People used to fry before thermometres were invented and it’s only a matter of experience.

  • Well, I wish I had an answer for you. But since we’re being honest here…I’ve actually never deep fried anything ever.

    Those drumsticks up there look absolutely perfect to me! Gorgeous color!

  • Greg

    I think frying, like so many other cooking techniques, takes practice. You’ve got to do it a few times to get familiar with your cooking pot, your stove, and the ingredients. I’ve learned to start my oil about 25º higher than I want my cooking temp to be to allow for the drop when I put the chicken in the pot, and to turn my burner to high to raise the temp back up. As it approaches the right temp, I back it down to medium. Also, using a cast iron dutch oven filled half way up helps mediate the swings in temp, too. Having your food at room temp also helps.

    For foods that cook in just a couple minutes, like calamari or beignets, all this isn’t necessary. Just don’t overload the pot, but cook in batches.

  • It’s at times like these that I wish I had a deep fat fryer Elly. I would love some fried chicken with some homemade fries.

  • O MY CUPCAKES!!!
    This is the recipe to beat all recipes when it comes to fried chicken. I would have never thought to put it in the fridge, definitely gonna try this one, thanks, and blessings, redraven.

  • I love deep fried food!!! Sadly I lack the skillage and deep fryer to deep fry things into crispy and greasy goodness. So I can’t help you with your temperature problem.

    Your fried chicken looks delicious, it looks nice and crispy. I’m sure with practice you will get better at frying!

  • I’m with you on the frying technique Elly…it brings me the most pain in the kitchen. A dedicated deep fryer that keeps the temperature constant would be a sure way to achieve success…nevertheless, I love the recipe for the fried chicken you provided today. Looks delish!

  • Suze

    Are you using an electric stove? It is much easier with gas (not that I am an expert, I don’t fry much). It is much harder to make adjustments with electric.

  • elly

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. It looks like adding more oil is the way to go, so I’ll try that next time (even if it means I can’t use my beloved cast iron skillet). And yep, I am using gas!

  • The only chicken I’ve fried is wings, which doesn’t really count. I do deep frying in a propane-fueled ginormous wok. I adjust the propane level to keep the oil at a consistent temp. It is a little easier to regulate, since the reaction time when adjusting the flame is instant.

  • I cheat and have a fryer that keeps the temp constant 🙂 I’ve never made fried chicken though – your picture is making my mouth water!

  • Mike

    I’ve traveled the world and seen chicken fried in just about anything that can hold oil and be put over a fire. After 30 years on the road I settled on just a plain ole fry-daddy. Easy to use, easy to clean and chicken most of the time will float on top of oil when done. The newer ones come with a thremostat to regulate the tempature. On the other hand my son works in the oil fields near Odessa, Texas and they use a big round disk off of a old tractor impliment on a 55 gallon drum filled with burning mesquite wood. They just load up the drum with wood set it on fire and when it is coals they put the disk on it, fill the disk with vegetable oil and throw the chicken in when the oil gets hot. Primitive but when your job is outdoors, in the desert, 100 miles from nowhere, well it works.

  • Instead of soaking my chicken, I actually poach it over low heat in milk before coating and frying it. That ensures the meat is cooked through and incredibly tender and lets the focus of the frying be on the skin. I think I got this method from Nigella Lawson’s TV show years ago. It’s never failed.

    • elly

      thanks, I’ll give it a try next time!