I live in the true south now, and if there’s one thing that I love about southern food it’s southern fried chicken! (Side note: for those of you under the impression that just because Northern Virginia is below the Mason-Dixon line it is technically “the south”, I assure you it is not.) Anyways, I haven’t had much of a chance to explore the best fried chicken places in Austin yet. Although I did find the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life on the way to Austin! So, I settled for my own easy fried chicken recipe.
A little context before I get to the juicy–and it is quite a juicy recipe–stuff. When I lived with my parents I cooked almost every day, at least 4-5 times a week. Now that I’m living with roommates, running around, I don’t get to cook that often. It’s just me, and it’s hard to cook for one! I usually just cook enough for a few days, and veg off of that until it’s gone. But some days I really do miss it. Well, thank god for Sundays!
When I moved in, my roommates and I decided that we would have Sunday dinners. Most of us are home/off work that night and my brother’s band comes over for practice. So, we decided to make one big meal and everyone’s invited! For the first few weeks it was just me cooking. Now, it’s rotating between me and the extended fam. I find myself looking forward to it every week. Not just because I know it’s going to be good food with good people, but because I can cook again–and for more than just myself! But I digress. So context: I was craving fried chicken, so I decided for my last Sunday dinner, I’d make some of mine.
Just as there’s a right way to do cheesecake, there’s a right way to do fried chicken. There are three things that it must have/be:
- Crunchy – You can’t have fried chicken without a crispy, crunchy skin! Yes, it’s healthier to pick off the skin. But eating fried chicken without a lightly battered fried skin is like going a whole summer without ice cream–you could do it. But why would you?
- Moist – As I said, it has to be juicy. The chicken needs to be simultaneously crunchy on the outside and oozing with juicy moist goodness on the inside! There’s nothing worse than dry chicken. It just makes it too though to bite in and too bland to enjoy. Yuck!
- Flavorful – Finally, your chicken needs to have flavor! This is the most important part of cooking–the prep. There are two times you can insert flavor into your fried chicken (which I discuss further below): in the marinade and in the batter. Your chicken should have both.
That doesn’t seem that hard, does it? It seems pretty obvious to me. Fried chicken needs to be fried, taste yummy, and ooze with juicy goodness. (Ugh – my mouth just filled with saliva. Excuse me!). Anyways, let’s talk more about that flavor.To get flavor both inside and out, you gotta give it time! I season the chicken with salt and pepper and then marinate it in buttermilk and a little cayenne pepper. Mix it all up and LET IT SIT for hours. The longer you let it stew in the juices, the longer those juices will fill with the flavor! I like to use buttermilk, too, because it helps with the formation of the batter.
Now the batter! It’s not very complicated at all. You just take the chicken directly from the buttermilk marinade right into the flour. In the flour is a heavy seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and some cayenne pepper. Mix the seasonings together so they coat evenly. And then just alternate between a wet hand and dry hand! Drop it in the oil and let it fry up, golden and crispy.
Here’s the thing: the outside is going to cook before the inside. To remedy that, I like to heat the oven to about 275-300 degrees, depending on how long you leave the fried chicken in there. and once it’s fried enough, I put the chicken in the oven to finish cooking inside. To avoid drying out the chicken and overcooking the inside, I do a couple of things. The chicken should be slightly undone before you put it in the oven–so just right before perfect crispiness. That way, the inside has the time it needs to cook while the outside firms up a bit more. The oven should be warm, but not hot–essentially a slow cook. That way, you can leave the chicken in there to warm up without drying it out. You also shouldn’t leave it in for long. Just enough time to cook through.
Do you have to heat it in the oven after frying it? No. But we don’t have a deep fryer or a dutch oven here. We just have a frying pan, so to absolutely ensure that it’s cooked through, I throw it in the oven. But if you’re lucky enough to have more than just the essentials in your kitchen, then go ahead and fry away!
Here’s a couple of my frying tips: the chicken’s color should be yellowy-golden. Once it’s out of the oil it’ll keep cooking. So, when it’s cooled off and done cooking, it’ll have that golden brown color you want. Also, listen to the oil. When it’s almost done frying, the oil won’t hear as much popping. If something wet interacts with oil, the oil pops–the wetter it is, the more it pops. When the batter forms, it’s no longer wet, so the popping stops. That means you’re done frying.
I am for all three with my fried chicken–a batter with crunch and flavor, all wrapped around a juicy middle. I choose seasonings that I think complement the chicken’s natural flavor. This may not be how the southerners do it, but it’s how I do! Now, I wouldn’t say mine holds up against the greatest of southern fried chicken, but now that I’m living in the true south, I’d at least like to do my part! Hopefully you’ll find something to love about it, too.
What do you think the best fried chicken should have?
Easy Fried Chicken
- 1-2 lbs chicken wings
- salt + pepper to taste
- 1-2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 3 cups flour
- 4 tbsp garlic powder
- 4 tbsp onion powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- salt + pepper to taste
- 2-3 cups canola oil
Generously season all sides of the wings with salt and pepper. Pour in enough buttermilk to coat the chicken. Add the cayenne pepper. Mix until fully coated. Let it marinate for at least 2 hours.
Heat the canola oil in a deep frying pan or dutch oven over high heat. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, add the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Whisk together to incorporate all of the spices.
One by one, remove the chicken from the buttermilk marinade using your wet hand. Let the excess dripping fall off. Using your dry hand coat the chicken fully in the flour mixture. Drop in the hot oil and fry until yellowy-gold. Fry in batches of 3-5 depending on your size of pan. Remove to baking sheet, letting the excess oil drip off.
Once all of the chicken is fried and lined up on the sheet, bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes, or until fully cooked through. Remove and serve with rice!