Learning how to make fried chicken is a deeply personal mission. This is the sort of recipe that’s passed down from generation to generation, with minute nuances added along the way that will help make this dish truly yours. Of course, if that heritage isn’t there, you have to start from somewhere. That’s where we come in.
For me, this recipe reflects what my grandmother was taught to make back in the 1930s by her grandmothers. Is it right? Or universal? No. It’s simply what I know. That’s the wonder of fried chicken. It feels very straightforward yet there’s a lot of space for variation and nuance. I like dry brining, buttermilk soaking, dry coating, and then shallow frying in an old wok (my grandmother used an old cast iron skillet). Some folks don’t brine and then dredge in a batter. Sometimes you’ll find chicken fully submerged (deep-fried), sometimes it’s skillet fried, sometimes it’s oven fried. All of it is “right.”
The key to making great fried chicken at home is using the tools you have on hand to create something delicious. With that in mind, let’s walk through what works for me. Hopefully, that’ll help you start to master this recipe at home. Try, fail, and try again. The good news is you’ll get to eat fried chicken every time you attempt to master this one.
A basket of fried chicken feels like an easy dish to source. It kind of is and it kind of isn’t. There’s a lot that goes into this dish.
First, there’s the chicken. I’m using a three-pound roaster hen. It’s free-range, organic, and corn-fed. I prefer the taste of corn-fed chicken because the flavor of the fat and meat are amped with a nice cereal sweetness. Plus, when we raised chickens on our farm, we always corn-fed ours, so it takes me back.
Next, there are brining and dredging ingredients. I’m using organic and local buttermilk, pastry flour, corn starch, garlic powder, smoked paprika, dried marjoram, dried rosemary, MSG, salt, black pepper, white pepper, mustard powder, and a touch of ginger powder. That’s ten herbs and spices, edging close to the Colonel’s famous eleven.
Lastly, there’s the oil. I prefer to err towards neutral oils here. So I’m using sunflower oil. It’s consistent and will let the fried chicken shine. You can experiment with animal fats later down the road but I find them too heavy for this sort of frying.
This is where the real work happens with this recipe. The first thing you have to do is breakdown your chicken.
First and foremost, make sure your kitchen knife is properly sharpened. You need both nuance and brute force here. Take the tip of the knife and cut around each wing, pulling them away from the body of the bird until you see the joint. Cut through the joints and set the wing aside. Repeat on the other side.
Next, run the tip of the knife between the front of the breast down towards the back of the thigh on each side of the chicken. You’re mostly just cutting through skin here to separate the legs/thighs from the breasts. Next, bend the legs/thigh unit back from the breasts, exposing the internal cavity. Find the spot along the ribs where the thighs end the breast ribs begin. Use the thickest part of your knife and all your weight to crack through the bone to separate the legs/thighs from the breasts.
Next, position your knife along the spine between the two thighs and use all your weight to cut in half. You should have two pieces of chicken with the thigh and leg still attached. Take the legs off the thigh by holding the end of the leg and standing up the piece. Run your knife tip between the leg and thigh, aiming towards the leg until you find the joint. Use a little force to cut through and separate the leg from the thigh. Repeat with the other one.
Lastly, separate the two breasts. turn the breast over so the bones are facing up. Center your knife over the absolute middle of the breasts and use your weight to cut through until you hit meat. Once, you hit that meat, pull back and use the sharpness of the knife to slice through the rest of the breast and skin.
Okay, the hard part is over. The rest is a cake walk. I’m doing a combination of dry and wet brining today.
I get a one-gallon Ziploc bag and place all my chicken pieces in it. I then add small teaspoons of garlic powder, ginger powder, smoked paprika, marjoram, rosemary, MSG, white pepper, black pepper, and mustard powder. I shake the bag vigorously until all the chicken is fully coated. I place the bag in the fridge for two hours. This’ll lock some great flavors into the meat.
After two hours in the fridge, I give the bag another shake and add two cups of buttermilk. I shake the bag again, assuring all the chicken is evenly coated. The bacteria in the buttermilk is going to help assure that the chicken stays tender and, most importantly, moist. I then put it back in the fridge for another two-hour rest.
I also put the bag in a bowl at this point. It helps keep the chicken compact. Also, if for any reason the bag gets a puncture, you won’t have a mess in your fridge.
After two more hours, I fish my chicken from the fridge and let it sit for another hour to allow it to come up to room temp. In the meantime, I ready my dredging station. I set mine up with the chicken bowl at one end and a receiving rack at the other.
I’m using a (food safe) brown paper bag to dredge my chicken here. You don’t have to. You can just as easily use a deep bowl or baking pan. The reason I like to use one is that it gives you a chance to shake the chicken in the bag, giving you a very even distribution of coating.
I add three cups of the fine pastry flour to the bag. I’m using pastry flour to keep things supple and light. The coarser the flour, the less it’ll stick. If you have bread flour on hand, it’s fine. I add in three tablespoons of cornstarch. This adds a softness to the coating that also helps the whole thing bind into a nice batter-like feel. Then I add in more herbs and spice. I add a small teaspoon of garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, marjoram, salt, and a pinch more ginger powder. I shake the bag for about a minute to make sure everything is blended.
This is the fun part. Fish out two pieces of chicken from the buttermilk brine. Let the excess fluid drip back into the bag and then toss the pieces into the paper bag. Roll it about half-way closed and then shake it vigorously for about a minute.
Take out the chicken pieces and give it a quick shake over the bag to dust off excess flour. Place the pieces on a rack and repeat the process with the rest of the chicken.
The last crucial step is to let that chicken rest. I let it sit for at least an hour so that the coating can do its thing and create a fry-able crust. Don’t rush this step. This also gives the chicken a chance to come up to room temperature, which is a must for cooking meat.
I tend to always use a wok when I’m deep frying. They get the job done and don’t require you to buy another countertop appliance. I pour one-liter/quart of oil into the wok and heat it up to 350F. Once the temp is reached, it’s time to fry.
Here’s the thing, these pieces don’t need the same amount of time to cook. The legs, wings, and thighs need eight minutes, and the breasts need ten. The breasts need the deepest oil and since each batch of frying draws oil into the chicken, you want to start with the breasts.
So, get a glass baking dish or heavy-bottomed braising dish in the oven and set it on its lowest setting. Basically, you’re going to feed your fried chicken into the oven to stay warm while you fry the next batches.
Start with the two breasts. Slowly lay each piece, skin down in the oil. Once both are in, give the wok a little shake to make sure they’re floating and not sticking together. Then leave it alone.
Note: The oil temperature will drop pretty significantly when you put the chicken in. You want to maintain a temperature of 325F from here on out.
After five minutes, use a pair of tongs to flip the chicken breasts over. Then leave alone for the remaining five minutes.
Once the ten minutes are up, use the tongs to take out the breasts. Give them a good shake over the oil and let the excess oil drip back into the pan. Place it in the oven and move on.
Next, fry the thighs. Again, gently place skin-down. Wait four minutes, flip. After another four minutes, remove from oil and place in oven.
Lastly, put in your wings and legs. Four minutes on each side should do it. Once the wings and legs are done, remove the chicken from the oven. Add the last morsels to the dish and let it all rest for at least ten minutes.
About seven hours after you started, you have some fantastic fried chicken. The best thing about this chicken is how juicy it is. The chicken breast squirts water when you bite into it. There’s no trace of dryness here. The meat is infused with a nice level of herbal spice and umami. The coating has a clear, nice crunch with a deeper layer of softness. It’s balanced and delectable.
Overall, making fried chicken at home is a pain in the ass. It takes time and real effort (not to mention the clean up). But, wow is it delicious, and a satisfying cooking endeavor. Share your pics in the comments and let us see how you did!
- Three-pound Free Range, Organic, Corn-fed Chicken (preferably fresh)
- Organic Buttermilk
- Pastry Flour (Wheat)
- Corn Starch
- Garlic Powder
- Mustard Powder
- Ginger Powder
- Smoked Paprika
- White Pepper
- Black Pepper
- Dried Rosemary
- Dried Marjoram
- Sunflower Oil
- Wok or Deep Frying Pan
- High Heat Thermometer
- Cutting Board
- Chef’s Knife
- 1-gallon Ziploc Bag
- Medium-sized Paper Bag
- Wire Rack
- Oven Safe Dish
- Basket and Greaseproof Paper