For my money, you really can’t beat KFC’s fried chicken. There, I said it. I’ve never had fried chicken that is more tender or flavorful than either crispy or original recipe. I’ve had Tyler Florence’s recipe at Wayfare. It was ok. A bit to herby for my taste. I’ve made Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at home recipe. It was ok, but I felt that the brine was not only time consuming and expensive, but left the chicken tasting too lemony. An interesting note about KFC’s chicken is that beyond the 14 herbs and spices that go into the Colonel’s dredge, they also pressure fry their chicken.
With that said, there are some things we can do differently, and/or better than even the Colonel at home. In this case, the addition of cornmeal to the dredge changes the texture significantly to have a little “heft” and “chew” to it than it’s pressure fried counterpart, while deboning the thighs and drumsticks allows all the pieces to cook at similar rates. To be honest, I’m still up in the air as to whether I prefer the dredge with or without cornmeal as sometimes I find it a bit too gritty to be toothsome, however it did make for an aesthetically pleasing crust (a nod goes to old Ignatius Reilly for the use of toothsome).
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
One 2.5-3 lb chicken
1 Quart Buttermilk
2 Tablespoons Tabasco Habanero
Salt & Pepper to taste
Red Pepper Flakes
Dredge and Coat
1 Cup Cornmeal
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
2 Teaspoons Paprika
2 Teaspoons Cayenne
2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
The first thing you’ll notice here is that I like my chicken spicy, and even more, I really like cayenne. However if you don’t, feel free to omit some or all of the heat from the recipe.
The process here is relatively simple. Begin by breaking down the chicken into 8 – 10 pieces. If you don’t know how to break down a chicken, there are several tutorials out there including this one from Bon Appetit. Once you’ve broken down the chicken, I recommend deboning the legs and thighs so that all the pieces cook at the same rate. I’m not sure why more people don’t do this as the results are fantastic. Tradition I suppose.
Combine brine ingredients in a bowl that will allow the chicken pieces to be fully submerged. Add chicken and allow to soak for a minimum of 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
After your chicken has soaked, grab a large cast iron skillet and fill with an inch and a half to 2 inches of peanut oil. You can use other neutral fry oils, but I’ve found peanut to work the best. Heat oil over medium-high heat to ~330 degrees. I’ve gone as high as 350, but 330 is probably better.
While the oil is heating, combine dredge ingredients in a bowl. Transfer half of the dredge to a double bagged paper bag. Remove a piece of chicken from the soak. Dredge in the bowl of coating and give a light shake to remove excess. Replace the dredged piece of chicken in the soak momentarily turning to evenly coat. Remove the chicken, place in the paper bag, and shake to coat. Place on a cooling rack to await frying. Repeat with other pieces of chicken.
When your oil reaches temperature, you’re ready to fry.
Place chicken skin side down in the pan. The oil should come about half way up the sides of the pan. Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 6 – 8 minutes per side. More importantly, the internal temperature should be right around 180 degrees. If you have a fry thermometer, use it. If not, give this Polder unit a try. As far as a kitchen tool goes, this is hands down my most frequently used gadget (though sadly it’s mostly because our oven is beyond terrible and requires constant monitoring to achieve even mediocre results).
When the chicken is finished cooking, remove and rest on a cooling rack or sheet pan. Avoid paper products like bags or paper towels as they’ll ruin the crust. If you need to hold the chicken for a while before serving, loosely cover with aluminum foil. Do not hold in a warm oven it can also ruin your crust.