Written By Chef Peter Martin
Fried chicken is nothing new. Many cultures, around the world, have been cooking chickens by breading and frying them for centuries, but it is in the southern United States where frying chicken has been elevated to an art form. It is believed that the Scots made this style, of cooking chicken, popular when they immigrated to the US and settled in the southern states. It remained a staple of southern cuisine for many years but it wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that cookbooks from other regions of the US started including fried chicken in their recipes. From that point on, fried chicken spread like wildfire until it became a popular food all across the country, though many of us still think of it as a "Southern" dish.
Fried chicken is one of those dishes for which everyone has a different recipe. Most bread it, but some batter it, some deep fry the chicken while others panfry it. Breading can range from simple flour, to cracker meal to bread crumbs or any other type of breading. And of course there is the fat or oil it is cooked in. Lard, shortening, vegetable oil, and bacon fat are all used, as well as various other fats. Then there is the seasoning of the chicken, the option of whether to serve it with gravy or not, or whether it is best served hot, right out of the skillet, or served cold the following day. Here I am going to teach you the way I do it. Is it the only way to fry chicken? No. Is it even the best way to fry chicken? I would probably answer maybe not as I have not tried every conceivable way of cooking fried chicken. What I will say is that, after years of watching my grandmother and my Dad fry chicken, and taking what I learned, down south, about marinating techniques, the recipe I present to you will give you a great piece of fried chicken, crunchy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside and packed full of flavor.
2 large skillets, preferably cast iron
1 lid large enough to cover one of those skillets
2 cookie trays
2 cooling racks
3 1-gallon sized ziplock bags
1 pair of tongs
1 3-5 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (you can either purchase it already cut up, or you can save a little money and buy a whole bird then follow Jim Berman's excellent "how-to" article on cutting up a chicken)
2 cups Buttermilk
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
6 splashes of hot sauce (preferably Tabasco or Crystal brand, but any will do)
4 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1-1 ½ pounds lard (don't worry, it's not like you are eating this every day, go ahead and use the lard, it really makes a difference. If you must substitute for the lard then the next choice would be vegetable shortening, followed at a distant third by vegetable or canola oil. But seriously, give the lard a try.)
2 Tbsp. Bacon drippings
3 cups Flour (all-purpose works fine)
2 Tbsp. Salt
2 Tbsp. Pepper
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp. Garlic Powder or Granulated Garlic
Step One: Marinating
Start the night before you plan on cooking.
Divide the buttermilk, garlic cloves, hot sauce, sage and rosemary among 2 of the ziplock bags. Add 4 pieces of chicken to each bag, seal, and shake to coat the chicken. Place on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and allow to marinate overnight. This marinade can easily be stretched to marinate 2 whole chickens, or 16 pieces.
Step Two: Breading
Combine the flour, salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic powder in the remaining ziplock bag. Set up the cookie tray with the cooling racks set on top. Remove a couple of pieces of chicken from the marinade, shake off the excess liquid and toss into the flour mixture. Close the bag and gently shake. Remove to the cooling rack and repeat the process until all the chicken is done. Allow the chicken to sit for 10 minutes to allow the breading to set. This will help it hold on during frying. Meanwhile add enough lard to one skillet to come to a depth of 1/2-3/4 inch. Add the bacon drippings and heat over medium high heat. The oil should be approximately 350 degrees. In the other skillet add enough lard to come to a depth of about ¼ inch, wait until the first batch of chicken is frying and place over medium heat.
Step Three: Final Breading and Frying
Return the thighs and the breasts to the flour mixture and toss again. Remove, shaking off excess flour and placing into the first skillet, skin side down. Allow to cook for about 4-5 minutes then flip with the tongs. Cook another 4-5 minutes. At this point the chicken should be a nice light golden brown. Transfer to the second skillet and cover, placing the cover slightly offset so that the steam has a way to escape. Repeat the second breading process with the legs and add to the oil. When they are half done repeat process again with the wings and add to the first skillet. Remember to occasionally check on the chicken in the second skillet and flip every few minutes. Doing it in this order means that all the chicken should end up being done at approximately the same time. To determine if the chicken is done prick the meat with a fork, if the juices run clear the chicken is done. If not, then cook a little longer. As the pieces are done place on the second cookie tray that has been covered with plenty of paper towels to absorb the excess lard. Immediately season with salt and serve with your favorite sides. For me that would be mashed potatoes, cole slaw and biscuits.