it's a known fact that the chinese love fried chicken. if you don't believe me, buy yourself a ticket to any somewhat urban town in china where colonel sanders has become this generation's chairman mao. statues, pictures and other propaganda of the fried chicken master line the new streets of china and the chinese pay respect to their new leader by eating fried chicken by the tons; there are afterall 1.1 billion of us just on the mainland.
the dangs, in line with the stereotype, also have a great love affair with fried chicken. we were personally partial to popeye's. on occasions when mom would allow us the luxury of western food, we'd pick up a twenty piece box (no white meat please), a side of cajun fries and half a dozen biscuits. my brother and i had no problem devouring every last morsel left in that grease-soaked paper box.
but now, i'm a little bit wiser, a little bit older and a lot more of a food snob so the thought of entering a fast food chain sounds less than appetizing, even it is for fried chicken. so, over the past year and a half, i've been digging deep into my southern roots (maryland is south of the maxon-dixon line) to find that perfect fried chicken recipe.
there are two criteria for judging fried chicken: 1) the juiciness factor and 2) the crispiness factor. the meat must be juicy; the skin must be crispy (charred burnt skin does not count). to achieve this we must get two things right: 1) marination and 2) oil temperature.
lets talk marination first. some people mistake sprinkling some salt & pepper on a piece of meat for marination. what you're actually doing is seasoning, not marinating. i marinate the chicken i use with both wet and dry ingredients: lots of buttermilk and a simple poultry spice mix. this should be done the night before, giving the chicken time to soak up all those flavors overnight.
and now oil temperature. the temperature of your oil is the most important factor in deep frying food. it's what'll determine if your fried chicken meets the juiciness and crispiness criteria. when using some sort of breading, like for fried chicken, you are essentially creating a shield. this shield crisps and browns giving us our crispy, rich-colored skin and also serves to form a seal to steam the meat that lies below giving us our juicy meat. if the temperature of the oil is too high, your skin will burn; if it's too low, the oil will start to penetrate through that skin giving us greasy chicken, which is a big no-no.
so, what's the perfect temperature? about 375 degrees. after you put your first batch of chicken into the hot oil, you'll see that the temperature drops because the temperature of the chicken will cool down the oil. it's therefore important to bring that oil back to 375 between each batch of chicken.
now that you know my keys to fried chicken, heat up that cast iron skillet and get frying.
the juiciest fried chicken
2 whole chickens
1/2 gallon of peanut oil
3 tbs. kosher salt
1/2 tbs. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbs. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
the night before: cut up chickens into fry-able pieces. for those of you who have never taken apart a whole chicken, gourmetsleuth offers a great photo how-to. place cut up chicken pieces into a 9" x 13" pyrex glass pan. mix together dry marinade ingredients and rub liberally over the chicken pieces. don't be afraid to get your hands dirty reaching into all those hard-to-reach places of the chicken. pour buttermilk over chicken, making sure all pieces of chicken are soaked in buttermilk. cover pan with saran wrap and place in refrigerator overnight.
one to two hours before frying: take pan of chicken out of fridge to give it some time to rise to room temperature. make sure the pan is still tightly sealed to prevent any escape of raw chicken bacteria!
and now for the frying!: fill up cast-iron skillet with peanut oil, 1 1/2 inch deep. heat oil steadily over medium heat until it reaches 375 degrees on your deep-fry thermometer.
while the oil is heating, mix together breading ingredients in a bowl. dredge chicken in flour mixture and lay out onto parchment lined baking sheet until oil's ready.
once oil is hot enough, place about 4 chicken pieces into skillet. fry about 6 minutes on each side (dark meat may take a little bit longer, about 8 minutes on each side). let temperature of oil rise back to 375 degrees before frying up the next batch. when all pieces are fried up, let oil cool and empty remaining oil into a container (i always keep a few empty glass jars from pasta sauces and such lying around just for this purpose) and toss in the garbage. emptying grease in your sink will result in some major unwanted pipe clogging.
serve with a side of mashed potatoes, some sauteed sugar snapped peas and a sweet cornbread biscuit for a truly southern experience.