In all the cooking I’ve done over alllllll the years, I had never made fried chicken – for a multitude of reasons. It’s unhealthy. I don’t fry. I don’t want to trash my kitchen. I don’t know how to debone a whole chicken (can you believe that?). But the honest reason is that it scared me. And then the February issue of Bon Appetit showed up with the most gorgeous fried chicken on its cover and boasting “This is the only fried chicken recipe you’ll ever need,” along with a step-by-step guide to prepare it.
I stewed on it for weeks. After much pondering, I decided to make it. You only live once, and if it turned out that awful, we could get KFC. Much to my surprise and delight, it was nothing short of exquisite. And everyone agreed with Bon Appetit’s bold statement. This is perfect fried chicken. Super crunchy skin, juicy, deeply flavored meat, and it passes the next day crunch test – no sogginess or greasiness, even after cooling.In the process, I learned a lot:
- Splurge on a high quality chicken, preferably organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free since this is something you only make for a special occasion.
- Cutting up a whole chicken is very easy. I followed the directions in one of favorite cookbooks, Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill.
- As BA notes, a cast iron skillet is “the one kitchen tool you can’t live without”, and I completely agree. It retains heat and provides even frying, and a cast iron skillet can be used for everything.
- You must use a deep-fry thermometer. It ensures the oil starts sufficiently hot to fry (350°F) and allows you to monitor the oil temperature while frying (300°–325°F). These thermometers are cheap and readily available. I purchased it at Walmart (but don’t put in the dishwasher. Trust me.)
- If you maintain the oil at the proper frying temperature, you really will use very little of it and your chicken will not be greasy. The next day when I disposed of the leftover oil in the original peanut oil bottle, less than a quarter a cup was missing – and I fried TWO chickens.
- Brining or soaking the chicken is unnecessary and, in fact, may make the skin too soft. The spicy dry-rub seasoning permeates the chicken rather than simply flavoring the breading.
- Some recipes, such as that from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook, have you double coating the flour mixture, but this is also not needed. As BA cites, “No fried chicken should suffer the indignity of a bulky overcoat with padded shoulders.”
While I rarely follow a recipe, I did for this, word-for-word.
2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Peanut oil (for frying)
A deep-fry thermometer
Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.
Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2" baking dish.
Pour oil into a 10"–12" cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of 3/4". Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.
Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess.Place 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.
Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.