Yesterday's epiphany: Fried Chicken doesn't have to be so complicated...
For those hoping for a photo of my fried chicken, sorry, I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't have time to take even one photo. It was that good. :-)
Some of you may remember that I brought curry-spiced fried chicken to last year's SF Chowhound Picnic. I spent a few weeks tweaking the recipe and experimenting w/ criteria like brining, buttermilk soak, spicing, frying method, etc. My final method is outlined in this post here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
While that method was perfectly fine, it does take some preparation since I dry brined the chicken for 1-2 days, soaked in coconut milk for several hours, and let dry up in fridge after breading. What I discovered yesterday is that great fried chicken doesn't have to be so freakin' complicated! I love such epiphanies...
It was one of those relaxed days where we had some friends over for a day outing and allowed the day to unfold w/o much planning. Around late afternoon, we all decided to extend our day into the evening and spend dinner together. Naturally, we reached that crossroad of having to decide between cooking and eating in vs. going out somewhere. Since my palate was tired from eating out recently, I volunteered to cook dinner...something simple and summery.
I returned from grocery shopping at 6pm and we sat down to a nice fried chicken dinner by just shy of 8pm. Here's how I cut down on time:
1. I had my butcher cut the whole 3.75 lb. chicken into 8 pieces. This meant I only had to cut the breasts in half before proceeding.
2. I soaked in buttermilk and a little Tabasco (I opted for southern-style instead of my curry-spiced) for about 30 min.
3. After the short soak, I then seasoned the pieces w/ S&P. I then dipped in another coating of buttermilk and dredged in the flour, panko, cayenne, and salt mixture. I let set up in fridge for 20-30 min. while I prepped the sides.
I then fried in two batches in my new Le Creuset 7.25 qt. round oven. I was a little worried that the high sides would undermine crisping or not be the ideal frying environment, but it performed beautifully and proved itself as magical cookware worth every penny! Heat was distributed very evenly and remained very stable throughout. Better than my cast iron skillet.
The savory, slightly spicy crust was thick and crispy and adhered to the chicken well; I was worried that it might scatter once it hit the oil, but no. The chicken flesh was incredibly juicy and moist (even the breasts!), but retained a firmness that seems to be undermined w/ longer soaking time. All in all, I preferred the results of this no-muss, no-fuss method to my previous one. Now that it's this easy, I will surely make this more often!
Served this w/ a salad of jicama, cucumber, radish, Valencia orange, and cilantro, as well as ears of yellow corn grilled in their husks and then dusted at the table w/ Penzeys chipotle powder. Lagunitas Crispy Summer Ale paired well w/ the chicken. For dessert, we had organic strawberries (from Swanton Farm) briefly macerated in orange zest, fresh mint, and tiny bit of sugar. Served w/ softly-whipped cream, it was a lovely finish to this spontaneous summer meal.
I once made the CI fried chicken. It was very good, but daunting in it's detail, etc.
What was most difficult for me was that it browned so quickly at the appropriate heat level--but needed to cook for about 10 minutes *after* it was properly browned in order to cook through.
How did the temperature/duration issue work for you in your "simpler" version?
I too find the frying to be the trickiest, no matter how many times I've done it. The problem you describe is common, especially if you are wedded to keeping the oil at a certain temp. I know many recipes say 350-375F, but that's too high to maintain for the entire time IMO. That's why I don't even worry about the temp. (no thermometer for me) and just use my senses as a gauge. I find that I adjust the temp. a couple of times during each batch as I see how things progress.
For my Le Creuset, I found that medium heat on my gas stove was the right temp. to start at (used to be med-high in my cast iron) and then I turned it down a hair after the first 3-5 min. of frying. I partially cover during first 5 min. of frying and then uncover for the remainder (an additional 8 min. for small pieces and 10 min. for larger). I usually just flip once when the first side is sufficiently browned.
The first batch browned a bit too quickly so I was more cautious w/ the second batch. The latter stayed blonde for much longer and then I got worried that it was too low and would taste overly greasy, but in the end, that second batch was just fine after I upped the heat a bit. The crust was crispy but wasn't too shatteringly hard, which makes me want to err on the side of lower heat as opposed to higher. Hope this helps.
re: Carb Lover
Sounds like the CI method may have deterred you from frying chicken for a while, but please give it another shot w/o the thermometer and just go w/ your senses and gut.
My strategy is to start at med-high temp. (this may be around 350F) to "flash fry" the exterior and to compensate for reduction of heat once all pieces are added. Then turn down slightly after 30-60 sec. so that chicken can brown slowly and not cook too quickly on outside. Then turn up again if necessary. This is all very loose though since it's never this predictable and varies batch by batch.
FWIW, I've taken out a couple min. early or left in a couple min. longer (both light and dark meat), and I've never had a problem w/ undercooked or dry chicken. I attribute this to good quality chicken that's not too large in size; seems relatively forgiving.
Simple is always king.
If you want to do it "More southern" after frying all the chicken, steam it for about 30 - 45 seconds. Then make a roux with of some of the oil (pour most of it off and use the same pan) you cooked the chicken in and flour. Add the water you steamed the chickens in and then some milk. Season with salt and pepper and voila. You have southern fried chicken with milk gravy. All you need to do is serve it with bacon mashed potatoes and green beans.
I need to go to the kitchen again!!
Interesting...I've never heard of steaming chicken after frying (seems to defeat the ultimate goal of crispy skin). I assume that it's supposed to make the crust more tender and cling to the meat before saucing?
I do like the idea of making a white gravy for some biscuits or mashed potatoes though...thanks!
re: Carb Lover
My mom was originally from Texas and when she did fry chicken, which was rarely, she would add a couple of ice cubes to the pan after draining most of the oil, but would leave the chicken in there to "steam" it. Always came out great and crunchy. And the gravy was fantastic. I still do this as well. Give it a try.