How to Make the Perfect Fried Chicken

Thinkstock/iStockphotoThinkstock/iStockphotoFried chicken: juicy, tender chicken that's been fried until golden brown and has just the right balance of salt and seasonings. It's perfect, and we're going to show you how to make it.

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Before we get started, though, let's get one thing straight. This is not going to be a hand-holding, back-rubbing lecture about why making fried chicken is really not that scary at all (really!), and that frying anything does not have to be intimidating, and that it's OK to be scared because we'll show you how to not be. No, we're not going to waste our words on that.

Just trust us - making fried chicken is easy, OK?

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we're going to tell you how to make some pretty delicious fried chicken. There are a lot of questions that surround making the dish, including whether or not to brine the chicken, what kind of seasonings should be put into the flour, and if the marinade has buttermilk in it or not, and we've decided on our answers for each and every one.

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To Brine, or Not to Brine?

That's often the question when it comes to making fried chicken. Lots of people believe that because it'll eventually be fried and enjoyed in a perfect, crunchy crust, brining the chicken beforehand is irrelevant, but we disagree. Taking a cue from chef Justin Swain, we decided our chicken would be brined beforehand, in order to keep it from becoming overcooked and dry. Swain even suggested buying kosher chickens, which are already brined, if you don't have the time to do it yourself. Brining is easy, though, and it only takes a few minutes to put together - the rest is left to your refrigerator. And besides, what's wrong with a little extra flavor?

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The Buttermilk

During our quest for the perfect fried chicken recipe, we saw varying marinades and batters that included everything from evaporated milk to plain old beaten eggs. People refer to this stage as "the batter" in the fried chicken recipe, and we liked chef Doug Psaltis' of Chicago's Bub City buttermilk batter the best. He thickens his with a little bit of flour and fine cornmeal, and adds seasonings like thyme, garlic powder, and cayenne. In addition to his recipe, we took a cue from another recipe and added a dash of hot sauce to our batter, as well. Some people just dredge their chicken in the batter quickly before turning to the flour, but we decided to let it marinate for at least 1 hour, so the acidic buttermilk could work into that chicken even more. Before you begin to marinate your chicken, make sure you pat it dry well so the brine has been wiped away.

Preparing Your Chicken

After the chicken has had some time to marinate, take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you plan on frying it. The chicken should be at room temperature to ensure that it's cooked evenly. If you're using thighs, cutting along the edge of the bone with a knife increases the cooking area of that part of the leg, and further ensures it cooks evenly.

Seasonings

The beauty of fried chicken is that not only is it fried, but it's flavorful, too, and that all comes from the seasonings you add to the flour. Make sure to heavily season your flour; just follow our recipe to make sure you're precise. The seasonings are all up to your liking. If you want to add a little international flair to your fried chicken, try adding cumin like chef Doug Psaltis does. If you want to keep it classic, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne usually do the trick, and Rebecca Lang likes using creole seasoning. Get a large, brown paper bag before coating the chicken in flour. Adding the pieces to the bag, rolling it up, and shaking it with all of your might is the best, and most fun, way to ensure your chicken is evenly coated.

Fried Chicken Recipe

Others may have differing opinions, but this is what we feel is the perfect fried chicken recipe. We took all of the necessary steps, from buying the right chicken and brining it to carefully creating a buttermilk marinade and seasoned flour. It's juicy, it's crispy, and it's delicious - it's perfect fried chicken.

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INGREDIENTS

For brining the chicken:
1 gallon water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salt
4 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup paprika
1 gallon ice water
One 3 1/2-pound chicken, back bone removed and cut into 8 pieces

For marinating the chicken in the buttermilk batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups fine cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne
4 cups buttermilk
Dash of hot sauce

For frying the chicken:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup baking powder
3 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne
Peanut oil, for frying

DIRECTIONS

For brining the chicken:
The day before frying the chicken, prepare the brine. Using a large stock pot, heat 1 gallon of water to a boil and add in the sugar, salt, bay leaves, garlic, and paprika. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Add in the ice water and cool down to 40 degrees. Add the chicken pieces and brine overnight.

For marinating the chicken in the buttermilk batter:
Remove the chicken from the brine and pat completely dry using paper towels.

Prepare the buttermilk batter by combining the flour, corn meal, salt, spices, and herbs in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk and the hot sauce. Place the chicken pieces into the buttermilk batter, cover, and refrigerate for ½ hour.

For frying the chicken:
Remove the marinating chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to frying.
Combine the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Sift the ingredients into a brown paper bag, if using, or into another large bowl.

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In a cast-iron skillet, heat 3 inches of canola oil over medium-high heat to 300 degrees. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk batter and let excess batter drip off. Place the chicken pieces into the brown bag, seal the bag, and shake for about 4 seconds to ensure each piece is well coated. If using a large bowl instead of a brown bag, coat the chicken pieces in batches to avoid making a mess. Place the chicken into the hot oil and fry until just golden brown, about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Once all of the chicken pieces have been fried at 300 degrees for 5 minutes, heat the oil to 350 degrees, and fry the chicken until cooked through and golden brown, another 5 minutes.

Remove and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb excess grease before serving.

Recipe Details

Servings: 4
Cuisine: American

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-Anne Dolce, The Daily Meal