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.