Southern Fried Chicken

Southern Fried Chicken

Cook time: 1 hour  |  Total time: 2 hours |  Serves: 4 to 6

First things first: this recipe is not a Chinese recipe. This dish is what puts Southern American (not South American) cuisine on the map. I have had many requests to document and post this recipe, especially here in London, so here goes. This is probably the most intimidating recipe that I've written to date and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm the most appropriate ambassador of this dish. To my credit, I did grow up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, then the Tidewater area for high school, and then finally went to college in Chapel Hill before "escaping" with $5,000 (that I had saved up working a day and night job for about 9 months) to San Francisco oh so long ago... let's say 14 years ago. I've been making Southern Fried Chicken for the past two decades and over time I've come up with my own recipe through a mixture of trial and error and the advice of Gail Hobbs, the owner of Caramont Farm in Charlottesville, VA. Before starting her cheese business, Gail used to be an executive chef in NYC and Virginia and is an expert on fine Southern dining.

Her advice was to keep it simple. All of these nouveau Southern Fried Chicken recipes that call for buttermilk, etc. just "gunks it up." I have in the past tried marinating the chicken in buttermilk and to be honest, I don't really find it that enhancing. It just sounds very esoteric in a Southern way. Instead, I've found that the easiest and less time-consuming way to make Southern Fried Chicken is to brine it for 45 minutes and shallow fry it in a pan with a lid on top so that it steams the chicken while it fries. The idea of covering something while frying it sounds scary, but believe me it's not and that's the trick. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not proper deep frying, where you often run the risk of under cooking the inside of the meat and possibly burning the coating. It's preferable to use a cast iron pan as it retains the heat better, however, I've fried chicken in all type of pans and medium sized pots. 

Let's get back to brining... brining is a method of flavouring meat by soaking it in salty / spiced water. There is much scientific debate about whether brining actually does loosen the fibres of the flesh and draw in water... I'm not a scientist, but it works for me. I brine my chicken in a solution of salt, crushed dried bay leaves and fresh rosemary for about 40 minutes. There's no need to marinate the chicken for hours. I then dip the pieces in beaten egg and dredge it in spiced flour so it creates a nice coat. When frying, I fry it hard on high heat for the first two minutes so the breading creates a coat. Then I cover it and reduce the heat to low for the next 14 minutes (flipping it over a few times) so that the heat creates steam and the chicken pieces steam while frying. The last 4 minutes I take the lid off and fry it hard again on higher heat to get the coat crispy. Please take my spice recommendations as more of a starting point. Feel free to add different flavouring to your own personal liking.

Oh and one last thing, traditionally, families would fry an entire chicken cut up into 8 parts. I'm not a huge fan of white meat (chicken breast). Legs and thighs (dark meat) are the juiciest parts of a chicken and that's why I just stick to those two parts for this recipe. You can use any part of the bird that you want.

What you'll need and how much:

— Roughly 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
— 5 Bay leaves (crushed into small pieces)
— 5 Sprigs of fresh rosemary
— 3/4 cup of salt
— 1/2 to 1 gallon of cold water
— 2 eggs
— 2 cups of all purpose flour
— 3 tablespoons of black pepper
— 3 tablespoons of paprika
— 3 cups of vegetable oil

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Or skip to abridged recipe

Mix the brine together: crush the bay leaves into small pieces, wring the fresh rosemary to release some juices, and dump the aforementioned and 3/4 cup of salt in a pot and add the cold water. Stir until the salt has dissolved. 

Drop the chicken pieces in and set aside at room temperature for 45 minutes, but no more than an hour. Meanwhile, beat two eggs in a bowl and set aside.

The spiced flour: mix the two cups of flour with the black pepper and paprika. Put as much as you like, I often put after around 2 to 3 tablespoons of both.

When the chicken has finished brining, remove the chicken from the brine and flick off the small pieces of bay leaves and rosemary.

Dip the chicken pieces in the egg till completely coated and then dip in the spiced flour. Try not to handle the chicken pieces too much, you want to handle the flour more by dropping it over all of non-floured parts until fully saturated in the flour.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan (or just regular pan) at high heat for about 3 minutes. When you drop some flour in the pan and it sizzles, the oil is ready. Lower to medium high and lay pieces carefully in the hot oil skin side down.

Fry for about 2 minutes skin side down, then flip over carefully with chopsticks or tongs and cover.

Reduce heat to low and fry covered for 7 minutes.

After frying covered for 7 minutes, flip chicken pieces over again and cover and let fry for another 7 minutes. The skin breading will look alittle soggy at this point. Don't freak out. The chicken is steaming while frying and this is exactly how it should be.

After frying covered for 14 minutes, remove cover and bring heat back up to medium high and let it fry for 4 minutes uncovered, flipping it twice. Fry until it's golden brown.

Drain chicken on a rack and serve after it's rested for at least 15 minutes. If you are frying multiple batches, skim out of some of the bubbly "dirty" oil with a spoon. It will help preserve the oil from burning.

Let the chicken rest for roughly 15 minutes before biting into it.

Ingredients

— Roughly 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
— 5 Bay leaves (crushed into small pieces)
— 5 Sprigs of fresh rosemary
— 3/4 cup of salt
— 1/2 to 1 gallon of cold water
— 2 eggs
— 2 cups of all purpose flour
— 3 tablespoons of black pepper
— 3 tablespoons of paprika
— 3 cups of vegetable oil

Recipe

  1. Mix the brine together: crush the bay leaves into small pieces, wring the fresh rosemary to release some juices, and dump the aforementioned and 3/4 cup of salt in a pot and add the cold water. Stir until the salt has dissolved. 
  2. Drop the chicken pieces in and set aside at room temperature for 45 minutes, but no more than an hour.
  3. Meanwhile, beat two eggs in a bowl and set aside.
  4. The spiced flour: mix the two cups of flour with the black pepper and paprika.
  5. When the chicken has finished brining, remove the chicken from the brine and flick off the small pieces of bay leaves and rosemary.
  6. Dip the chicken pieces in the egg till completely coated and then dip in the spiced flour. Try not to handle the chicken pieces too much, you want to handle the flour more by dropping it over all of non-floured parts until fully saturated in the flour
  7. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan (or just regular pan) at high heat for about 3 minutes. When you drop some flour in the pan and it sizzles, the oil is ready. Lower to medium high and lay pieces carefully in the hot oil skin side down.
  8. Fry for about 2 minutes skin side down, then flip over carefully with chopsticks or thongs and cover.
  9. Reduce heat to low and fry covered for 7 minutes.
  10. After step 9 has completed, flip chicken pieces over again and cover and let it fry for another 7 minutes.
  11. After step 10, remove cover and bring heat back up to medium high and let it fry for 4 minutes uncovered, flipping it once until the skin is golden brown
  12. Drain chicken on a rack and serve after it's rested for at least 15 minutes.

Photo Credits: Jenny Smart

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