crunchy, savory, tender
Perfect Fried Chicken
and good for you, too!
Here's the thing: I don't believe that frying is inherently bad for you. My whole family on both sides has grown up eating fried foods and none of us are the worse for wear. The trick is using the right breading and the right oil. Unlike most people, I think that dipping things in flour is bad for your insulin levels, but the frying oil is relatively benign unless you're using something hydrogenated and unnatural. So I've diluted the percentage of carbs in the overall recipe by using a classic milk-and-egg wash, and I'm frying in olive oil because it's the most natural (read: unadulterated) stuff that will still do the job.
If you're not used to pan frying, please read all the instructions before you begin. Don't skip on the double-breading, that is where the crunch comes from!
Prep time and cook time:
50 to 75 minutes, if making gravy and potatoes. If serving mashed potatoes with this, it's best to have the potatoes peeled and ready in the pot of water, to turn on at the same time the chicken goes in. Better yet, have somebody else prep the potatoes.
Notes on Oil and Temperature
It is virtually impossible to give definite cooking times and temperatures. These depend upon the skillet, heat source, room temperature, the kind of oil you use, the depth of oil, the size of the bird you are frying, how crowded the pieces are in the pan, and probably the phase of the moon!
The temperatures provided are based on my electric skillet's dial. If working on the stove, start with slightly-above-medium heat and watch the oil very closely! Gas stoves do not have a thermostat to reduce heat, so you must adjust it manually, frequently, while cooking. Otherwise, the oil can get hotter and hotter until it is out of control.
To test temperature of oil, flip a tiny drop of water across the surface. If it goes crazy, it's hot enough.
WORK QUICKLY to get the chicken breaded and cooking, once the oil is heating. Hot oil can spontaneously flare up if left too long. If it starts to smoke, you must immediately remove the heat, let the oil cool and discard it. Oil that is super-heated starts to break down and reform into chains of trans-fats, which are not good for you and don't perform well as a cooking agent. This is also why it's not a good idea to reuse your oils.
If, after cooking, your chicken seems greasy, like the breading soaked up a lot of oil, either the temperature was too low while cooking, or not yet hot enough when you first put the chicken in. This can also happen if you add more oil to the pan after the bird was in. If, on the other hand, the crust seemed burned but the meat was ok or underdone, cook it at a slightly lower temperature for a longer time. Too-little oil will also cause things to cook unevenly, because the smaller amount will get too hot but the heat won't be evenly distributed through the meat.
- 1 whole fryer, about 3 to 3.5 lbs. (or pre-cut pieces with bone-in)
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup milk, preferably whole
- 1-1/4 cups unbleached bread flour or King Arthur's Whole Wheat White flour. These are a higher-protein content than average all-purpose flours. I haven't tried any non-wheat flours so I can't recommend them. Don't use self-rising flour because it will burn.
- seasoning salt
- black pepper, coarse grind
- ranch dressing mix, preferably straight herbs without cornstarch or thickeners. I use Penzey's brand, but Hidden Valley Ranch will do in a pinch.
- lard or peanut oil, for frying. I like half-and-half; the lard gives good flavor and the peanut helps it stay crispy longer. You can use canola oil if you must, but solid Crisco is poison and should be avoided.
- electric skillet, or very thick-bottomed, very deep 12" frying pan with lid
- meat fork for turning
- Cut up chicken, if necessary. There are several websites and cookbooks that show how to do this, or you can buy pre-cut pieces. Keep skin on! Place pieces in a big metal bowl and prepare a clean work area where you can lay down paper towels.
- In a small shallow bowl, beat together the egg and 1/4 cup milk until well blended.
- In a shallow pan, mix together 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2-3 tablespoons ranch dressing mix, and about 6 Tbs. flour. Combine well with fork or fingers. Try not to inhale this, it will make you sneeze!
- Add oil to your electric skillet to a depth of about 1/2" to 3/4" (you can test by dipping in the handle of a wooden spoon). NOTE: You don't want the chicken to be completely drowned in oil. The oil should come to the upper edges of the chicken when it is all in the pan, but not cover the pieces. Also you don't want so much oil that it boils over the edges of the pan.
- Set skillet between 350-375? (lid off) and allow to heat while you prep the chicken.
- Make sure each naked chicken part is slightly moist (dab with damp fingers if necessary). Sprinkle lightly with seasoning salt, then roll or toss in the ranch/pepper/flour mix. Tap off excess flour and lay the pieces on a paper towel.
- Add the remaining flour (about 3/4 to 1 cup) to the leftover ranch/pepper mix. Combine with fork.
- Test oil for heat by flicking a droplet of water across it. It should pop and go crazy.
- Starting with the breasts, dip each piece of chicken briefly into the egg mixture, shake off excess, then roll in flour. As soon as each piece is dredged, lay it fleshy-side-down in the hot oil. Flour and submerge in this order: Breasts, wishbone, thighs, drumsticks, wings.
- When all pieces are in skillet, put the cover on. Discard the leftover flour & egg mixture, and clean up all work surfaces. Discard used paper towels.
- This is where the timing gets tricky. As an experienced cook, I have an automatic timer in my head; but I have also noticed that the sound of the sizzling oil slows and changes pitch (gets lower) when the chicken is ready to turn. I don't know if this is because most of the moisture has cooked out or what.
- Check to see if your chicken needs turning about 15 minutes after it goes in. Lift up a thigh or breast to check the color of the breading. If it sticks to the bottom of the pan, it's not ready yet-don't try to pull it up. (If, on the other hand, there's a smoky smell and the chicken is sticking because it's burned on the bottom, reduce heat immediately and turn the chicken!) The color should be a uniform golden-brown all over the part that's submerged in oil; the top will be pale. When it reaches this stage, turn it and put the lid back on, but stay close, because the second time won't take as long.
- After about 8-10 more minutes, check the chicken again. When it's brown all over, turn it a second time. Replace lid. Prepare a serving platter lined with a couple clean paper towels. After about five minutes, lift out chicken onto the platter (it will be darker all over now and the crust will have a hollow sound when you poke it with the fork). UNPLUG THE SKILLET/REMOVE FROM HEAT AND PUT THE LID BACK ON TO AVOID ACCIDENTS.
- If you are making gravy, you can skim out the crispies and a bit of the oil with a slotted spoon. Please be very careful not to splash the oil. If the kitchen is cold, you can stash the chicken platter in a 200? oven while you make the gravy. Generally speaking, however, the chicken will be hot as lava and will need to cool a few minutes.
To Make Gravy:
Combine crispies & oil in a clean stove-top skillet with about 1/3 cup flour (estimate 1 part oil to 2 parts flour), a little pepper and some chicken-flavored bouillion, if you like. Add about a cup of milk and cream, or half&half, and simmer over medium heat, stirring often, until slightly thickened. (You can mash the potatoes while it's thickening if you keep an eye on it.) Also good over biscuits or with green beans.