Friday, June 28, 2013

Southern Fried Chicken

by Ann

My nephew Matt asked his mom to make "real fried chicken" some night for dinner several weeks ago.  Wanting to satisfy the request, Linda (my sister) purchased a couple of whole chickens because she'd read that it's better to cut them up yourself than to use packages of pre-cut parts.  As the chickens were nearing their "use by" dates she roasted them whole in the oven.  When I heard the story I said it would be a fun for the two of us to fry up some chicken when I was in Virginia to visit, which we did this week.

Prior to packing for the trip I looked up recipes in both Cook's Illustrated (see related post by clicking here) and Cuisine at Home, another great magazine that I keep old copies of for later reference, which is the source for the recipes we prepared.

Both articles affirmed the fact that you should buy quality whole birds and cut them up. When we found cage-free chickens that were in excess of eight pounds each, we bought two, figuring that if we were going to go through the effort to make them we might as well do it big!  In retrospect, they were labeled as "roasters," so were perhaps not the best choice for this preparation method, but the meat was delicious, juicy, and tender, so for our purposes the roasters became fryers.  As I reviewed the directions after the fact, the article states that smaller birds are more flavorful, but we had no arguments with our large  pieces.

Armed with instructions for cutting the chicken and pictures in the magazine we went to work.  We found that kitchen shears were our best tool to cut through the cartilage and skin.  We also found that chicken #2 was easier to cut than was #1, with practice getting us a little closer to perfect the second time around.  When we went to her high-end grocery store the next day she asked the butcher if they would cut the bird up.  The answer was "yes," so chances are we will each skip that step the next time.  I found a YouTube video on cutting up a chicken that you can look at to decide for yourself, but take my word for it, the chef demonstrating makes it look easier than it is!
Our version of the "after" assembly of pieces.  Our chicken was so large that it took two cutting boards to display it.
The next step was to marinate the chicken pieces in buttermilk.  The Cook's Illustrated version of instructions included many extra ingredients to make a buttermilk brine that took 5-7 hours and three steps.  The Cuisine at Home instructions directed us to just soak the chicken in buttermilk for at least 20 minutes, but up to 24 hours, which seemed much more doable.  We ended up soaking ours for as long as it look us to go to a movie and come back (about 3.5 hours).
Once back from the movie we put the chicken pieces on a rack over a tray to drain off the excess liquid and take the chill off. 
A very simple combination of flour, kosher salt and pepper was put in a brown paper bag where the pieces were tossed one at a time to insure they were well coated.
Both recipes emphasized the importance of being generous with salt and pepper.  Each piece was seasoned while on the rack as well as the seasoning in the flour mixture.  We agreed that the salty, peppery flavor was wonderful.  Peanut oil is suggested as the best choice for frying the chicken, so we used it.
Cast iron is the preferred skillet to use to pan-fry chicken because it diffuses heat evenly, avoiding hot spots.  Linda had two identical skillets which made frying close to sixteen pounds of chicken a realistic task.  Even though we had no lids, aluminum foil lids worked out just fine.
The cooking time for chicken pieces is a bit longer than might be anticipated, and it takes two steps to get the golden crunch coating with the chicken cooked all the way through.   (Nobody wants to bite into pink chicken pieces!) Do not crowd the chicken.  Pieces should not touch, so likely you will be cooking the chicken in batches.  Try to cook similar sized pieces in the same batch.  The oil can be reused with no problems.  A quick-read thermometer is essential.  Each piece should read an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
And we're ready to eat!
The beautiful outdoor dinnerware was purchased the day before at Sur la Table, using my employee discount.

Southern Fried Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1 c buttermilk
salt and pepper

2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
1 T ground black pepper

2 c peanut oil

Prep Directions:
  • Cut chicken into pieces according to picture above (or better yet, have the butcher do it for you!).
  • Soak the pieces of chicken in buttermilk for at least 20 minutes, or up to 24 hours in the fridge.
  • Place pieces of chicken on a rack over a pan to temper and drain of excess liquid for about 15 minutes.  Salt and pepper both sides of each piece.
  • Combine flour, 1 T kosher salt, and 1 T pepper in a clean large paper bag.  Dredge chicken pieces in it, shake them out, and replace them on the rack.

Frying Directions:
  • Heat peanut oil in skillet to 360-365 degrees.  
  • Stage 1:  brown the crust.  Fry the chicken skin side down until golden brown (6-8 minutes).  Leave pan uncovered.
  • Stage 2:  cook chicken thoroughly.  Flip the pieces over and reduce your heat to medium low and cover with lid or foil to continue to cook for an additional ten minutes. 
  • Remove the cover to crisp up the crust, cooking for an additional 3-4 minutes, checking the temperature of each piece with a quick-read thermometer to insure that it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Remove pieces and let rest for at least ten minutes.

With the 4th of July around the corner this would be a great addition to any outdoor party.  The chicken is great hot, at room temperature, or cold.

We served this with corn on the cob and rice with collard greens smothered with red gravy.  I'll share that recipe in a future post!

It was difficult saying goodbye to Emily and Matt (my niece and nephew), and to the nightly outdoor dining.


  1. Thank you for posting your recipes. I love them all.

  2. I am definitely going to try this! Yumm! Thanks for sharing, I also love all your recipes! They are definitely keepers! Ana

  3. Thanks for reading our blog, and taking the time to comment! Writing these posts motivates me to get out of any cooking ruts I may be in.

  4. Love the recipe! Will be trying it for the 4th.