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Best Fried-Chicken?

After many years of trying, we are running out of ideas, trying to duplicate a fried-chicken recipe, that only I have experienced. My wife, the cook/chef in the family, never had the luxury of tasting this dish. I doubt that any CH subscribers are either old enough, or, if they are, ever had the “best fried chicken in the world,” Alamo Fried Chicken in Biloxi, MS. Going back into the ‘50s and very early ‘60s, a tiny restaurant, Alamo Fried Chicken, did a different sort of take on “Southern Fried-Chicken.” The batter was fried to a dark brown, and was thin, but was rather smooth, when prepared. It had spices, but would never have been considered as “hot.” They did “skin-on” and “bone-in” chicken, and probably did all parts, but I remember the breasts most - probably passed the other cuts to family members.

We’ve tried to work out this recipe, but it’s been based on MY memories. If my wife had ever tasted it, I know that she’d be able to dissect the recipe perfectly. Unfortunately, the place sold. Also unfortunately, the buyer only got the name and the physical building, and not the recipe - it folded soon after.

Every edition of “Southern Living,” or “The Food Network,” or “The Travel Channel,” that features fried-chicken, gets our attention. We’ll try to incorporate aspects of all into our search for Alamo Fried Chicken.

While I still have hopes of duplicating THAT recipe, I am a realist, and not getting any younger. That prologue goes into my question:

What is the BEST fried-chicken, that you have ever had, especially if you have a recipe to accompany it?

Hunt

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  1. Bill, I can't claim any chops for Southern fried chicken, having grown up kosher (no longer practice kosher) and Jewish in Columbus, Ohio. But, there are many Amish communities near us and have learned through the years to make a pretty passable fried chicken. There are a couple of things that make this exceptional, the chicken is Gerber brand, which is a local Amish processor, extremely tasty, about 3 - 3.5 lbs each whole. I cut up my own chickens in 8 pieces. I do an overnight soak in buttermilk seasoned with Lawry's season salt, onion & garlic powder, black pepper and Hungarian Szeged mild paprika.

    An hour or two before frying, I flour the chicken in whole wheat flour seasoned with more Lawry's season salt, onion & garlic powder, black pepper and Hungarian Szeged mild paprika. Let it sit to dry a little on wire rack. I don't deep fry, but pan fry in 12 in iron skillet about 3 in of canola oil heated to 350-375. Start dark meat first, skin side down, add white meat about 5-10 min later. Usually make 2 chickens.

    Disclaimer: personally I think the seasoned cast iron pan makes all the difference in the world. I actually bought this pan "used" at a garage sale about 25 years ago. You can't buy that kind of taste, it comes from being used over and over again and being properly treated.

    Traditionally serve this with homemade biscuits, corn spoon bread casserole (kicked up with Tabasco), green beans and a fruit cobbler for dessert.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Diane in Bexley

      Diane,

      Your comment on the whole wheat flour got me thinking. I've been playing with adding a bit of molassas or sorghum to the batter, as the dark brown color was something that we just could not master. Maybe it was in the flour?

      I do not know how they cooked the chicken, but would assume a commercial deep-fryer. We have a semi-commercial unit that we've tried, plus BOTH of my wife's cast iron skillets - the one she got from her Italian grandmother, and the one that my mother willed to her.

      I'll also look into the Lawry's. I've seen it, and an ex-partner used to do a lot of their advertising photography, but I do not recall ever having used it.

      Wife also commented on the Amish fried chicken, when she was at Wharton. I've never had any, but have heard very good things.

      Thanks for the ideas,
      Hunt

      1. re: Bill Hunt

        fyi, lawrey's is perfect on cottage cheese.

        1. re: alkapal

          Interesting. I usually do course-ground black pepper and paprika (usually smoked), but I'll definitely give Lawry's a go. I like my cottage cheese with spices, so it sounds like a match.

          Thanks,
          Hunt

          1. re: Bill Hunt

            McCormick's Season All is a bit better than Lawry's IMO. It's a little less salty.

            Cottage cheese is really good with Morton's Natures Seasons and a bit of dill weed. Now if I only had some cottage cheese.

      2. re: Diane in Bexley

        I went to school in Western PA - discovered the wonders of Amish fried chicken. I think you have it nailed - they did not seem to drop it in a fryer, but sort of maneuver it around a deep cast iron pan.

        1. re: Diane in Bexley

          I discovered Gerber chicken when we were in Wooster, OH, 5 years ago, for my husband's class reunion. We needed some groceries for the week in our RV, so I picked up a whole chicken at some grocery store in town. I decided to fry it that night for supper and it was the best chicken I've had since I was a kid. It tasted like chicken USED to taste in the 50's or 60's. I asked about Gerber chicken and went to the library to find out more. A Gerber family started that business about 1952, not long before my husband left that area to go into the Air Force, so that is why he didn't know about it. That company told us that they never freeze the chicken and only truck it to an area of about 500 miles from Kidron, OH. My husband's stepmother's maiden name was Gerber, but I still don't know if she was related to the Gerber Chicken people or not. We drove out to the plant one day and bought some more fresh chicken to take on our way, after the reunion was over.

          Wayne Co., OH, has the highest number of Amish and Menonites per capital of any county in the country. Being from MS, the Amish intrigue me, and they are fascinated how I met and married a man from that area.

          If you are ever in that area, try to find some of their chicken, fry it and see if that makes a difference in the taste. I think most chicken was fried in lard back in the old days, so that might help to recapture that taste you are seeking.

          biblebeltbabe

        2. I think I know exactly what you're talking about. K&W Cafeterias in Winston-Salem, NC used to serve the sort of fried chicken I think you're talking about. The crust was almost smooth, though it had some texture, and it was incredibly thin, but substantial, and very crunchy. I LOVED that stuff as a child.

          And I'm going to step out on a limb and say that they dipped the chicken in a batter, as opposed to forming a crust with egg (or buttermilk) and flour. I'd place money on it.

          K&W used to serve really good Southern food, but they've sorta gone downhill over the years....

          5 Replies
          1. re: uptown jimmy

            Uptown Jimmy,

            I think you've had similar. It is had to describe, as it's a bit of a paradox - how can it be smooth, AND thin? But, it was. Yes, there was a little texture, but nothing like what I normally see with fried chicken.

            We're into trying variations on "cake batter," but obviously for chicken. Wife has tried all sorts of double-dipping, and double-batter, but we're still quite a ways away on this one.

            I peruse the history jorunals from the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, in hope that someone, somewhere will have the Alamo recipe, but I've never seen mention of it.

            We still keep picking up Southern cookbooks and trying variations (now I have to look for Amish cookbooks too!). We've had a lot of really good fried chicken, but I do not feel that we're getting that close. Maybe my wife can do a fried chicken cookbook, with all of her variations

            Thanks for the thoughts and ideas,
            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Bill, I would buy your wife's fried chicken cookbook... Please ask her to consider working on that! I've had to postpone my visit to the South again, and I am in serious fried chicken withdrawal. I am enjoying my vicarious fried chicken experience on this thread.

              1. re: moh

                I'll talk to her, and see what develops. A good friend of ours is on her third one now, and the previous two have been top sellers.

                I thought for sure, that we'd get closer, when watching an episode on the Travel Channel last month, as it featured "The Best Fried Chicken" in the US. We did get some ideas for places to try, and three of them were in areas, that we travel to.

                Should you do a Deep South trip, let me know, and I'll give you some personal favs. in many areas.

                Hunt

              2. re: Bill Hunt

                I think the batter must have been the sort of thing used for onion rings, fried mushrooms, stuff like that. The crust on this chicken definitely didn't adhere to the chicken the way a good dredging will, but it was shatteringly crunchy and very tasty, and I didn't mind picking the pieces off the plate. Also, I'm sure it was deep-fried, not pan-fried.

                I may have to head back there on a return visit to my hometown and see if it's still as good, though they have certainly let their standards slip from pervious heights of country goodness. They expanded to many locations and the quality of the food just went downhill...canned whipped topping on the pies instead of meringue, etc....

                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  Buttermilk pancake batter makes great onion rings. Has anyone ever used it for fried chicken?

            2. My husband, who is from the south, makes the best fried chicken ever. The number one secret to great fried chicken is using a cast iron pan. My husband seasons some buttermilk with cayenne, salt & peper and soaks the chicken in it. How long depends on how far in advance he planned. Put some all-purpose flour in a baggie, and season with salt and pepper. Take the chicken from the buttermilk and drop into the flour, making sure to cover the pieces throughly. Tap excess flour and put skin side down into the pan with about an inch of oil. My husband likes to use peanut oil. When it's properly browned on one side, flip and cook on the other side. Put the cooked chicken on a rack over a sheet pan and keep in a low oven until all are cooked. It's got crunch and it's completely delicious. I think you'll find that this is the "classic" southern fried chicken. There is no batter, but you might think there was if you didn't know.

              3 Replies
              1. re: roxlet

                Roxlet, as I mentioned in my post, I too think the cast iron pan is the voodoo in making great fried chicken.

                1. re: roxlet

                  Side note: the current version of buttermilk chicken that I'm using marinates the chicken in a black pepper/salt/cayenne rub for a day or so and then into the buttermilk it goes. I've left it in the buttermilk for 4-5 days and it comes out so moist.....I've also taken to sneaking the spice under the skin to ensure it doesn't all wash off into the buttermilk, for some extra zing.

                  1. re: smalt

                    We've got some fresh "free range" breasts in buttermilk for the fourth day, in hopes of trying yet another recipe. I'll report if we get closer to my "holy grail" of fried chicken.

                    As I've said, wife has not turned out any bad chicken, just not getting to what I recall from my youth. Too bad that she never saw/tasted Alamo, as I know that she'd be able to deconstruct the recipe/prep, even 45 years later. She's great at that sort of thing.

                    Hunt

                2. Fried Chicken
                  Serves: 4

                  Ingredients:
                  • 1 whole frying chicken with skin, cut-up
                  • 6 cups solid vegetable oil (Crisco)
                  • ⅔ cup all purpose flour
                  • 2 teaspoons salt
                  • 2 teaspoons paprika
                  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
                  • 2 Tablespoons white pepper
                  • 3 eggs

                  Method:
                  1. Cut the chicken into nine pieces.

                  Note:
                  The various pieces of chicken cook at various rates. So rather than the standard breast-wing-thigh-drumstick configuration, cut the chicken in nine pieces. To do this pull the breastbone of the chicken out with the two tenders still attached. This removes about a third of the meat from each breast, making it more the size of the other pieces.

                  2. Set the chicken pieces aside in the open air, and
                  allow to sit for about 30 minutes to come to room temperature.
                  3. Heat the Crisco to 375 ° F in a deep, black cast iron pot.

                  Note:
                  Check the oil by dropping in a pinch of the flour mixture; if the oil bubbles rapidly around the flour, it's ready.

                  4. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, peppers, and paprika.
                  5. Break the eggs into a separate bowl and beat until blended.
                  6. Dip each piece of chicken into the egg, then coat generously with the flour mixture.
                  7. Once the chicken is coated, it should be placed on a rack to allow the pieces to dry, which may take 20 to 30 minutes.

                  Note:
                  Allowing the pieces to dry will provide for more even browning of the chicken.

                  8. Using tongs, place the chicken pieces in the hot oil, skin side down, one piece at a time.

                  Note:
                  Leave enough space between pieces so that they are not crowded. This allows the pieces to cook and brown more evenly.

                  9. Fry, without turning, for eight to ten minutes.
                  10. Turn it over and fry on the other side, again for eight to ten minutes.

                  Note:
                  Breast meat cooks faster than leg meat of the same size. So consider that as you cook.

                  11. The color you're looking for is a bit darker than the usual golden brown.
                  12. Salt it lightly.
                  13. As you remove the chicken from the pot, drain it on paper towels.
                  14. Keep it warm in a 150-degree oven until serving.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: speyerer

                    Speyerer,

                    That intermediate "drying" step looks interesting. We've usually just gone step 1 - X, with no pause. Thanks for the tip. We'll try it tomorrow night, and see what the effect might be.

                    Thanks,
                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      I was taught how to make fried chicken by my mother-in-law, who was strongly in favor of the drying step -- at least 30 minutes. It does make a big difference in the quality of your crust.

                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                        I have always done it that way too - maternal grandmother taught me early on - you can't rush perfection! But I drain mine on a rack.

                  2. I wonder what kind of oil the old Alamo used to fry ....??

                    8 Replies
                      1. re: roxlet

                        If it was chicken fried in the 1950s, it was probably lard. Or shortening. The frying agent DEFINITELY has impact on taste and crispiness. The difference between a pie crust made with lard/shortening and one with vegetable oil is night/day.

                        Buttermilk soaking is a must, along with frying in a cast iron pan.

                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                          crisco was the cooking fat for chicken in our household.

                      2. re: Uncle Bob

                        Trying to dissect the flavors, I cannot pull up anything of note. Not bacon, but could be lard. Never saw the apparatus, so I cannot use any info there. Since they were in the Deep South, some rendered fat (lard) is most likely. Also, considering the circa, I'm not sure that some of the more exotic, high-heat oils were in use. Still, nothing in the taste, that gives that away to me. Wesson and Crisco were commercially available then, and both are fairly benign with regards to taste. As my wife deconstructs recipes, I do the same with pure flavors. Maybe this was just too long ago, or the oil did not play that big a role in the flavors. Wish I had a sample, as I'd get a full DNA scan on it! [Grin]

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          The oil itself may or may not have played a role, but in concert with everything else that was going on it could have had an impact on the final product. A lot of water has been down the river in the last 45-50 years, so it's a long shot. I'll throw a hook in the water, and see if I catch anything...

                          Later.......

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            I'm guessing, but my Dad lived at the Naval Home in Gulfport for a few years before he passed and Biloxi was just down the road. He loved all the tiny little rstaurants around there and went often. Previously moved from Florida where he fished. Always a fisherman and great cook, my Dad worked on his batter for fish and chicken constantly. He made a thinnish batter with cornmeal or corn flour which darkens faster than flour when fried. His batter was a mix of I think of a corn flower and something else with a whole lot of dry spices. Turemeric being one which contributed to that gorgeous color. Just guessing. But he would rave about all the great fried foods, his favorite being fried chicken and fish and the reason for exactly you say, the batter was thin, he wanted to taste the fish and chicken.
                            I know we're all playing a guessing game here, but thought maybe this might help with your wife being a chef. Good luck!

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Chef Chicklet,

                              Yes, it is a guessing game. I have tried to conjur up all aspects of this fried chicken recipe, and translate them to my wife. She's worked very hard, as have I, but we keep coming up short.

                              I appreciate the mention of the corn flour, as we had not thought of that. We use variations on cornmeal for many Southern fried dishes, and its consistancy is not correct - the flour, however, might be a missing link, as might the tuemeric, another ingredient, that I had not considered. As I stated, it was spicy, but in no way "hot."

                              At the very least, we should have several variations on fried chicken to try and to enjoy. I may never be able to even come close, but with the "failures," we HAVE dined well on fried chicken.

                              One additional consideration might be with the chicken that we use: free range, boneless and skinless breasts. All of Alamo's chicken was bone-in and no one had even thought about free-range anything, back in those days. I'm not saying that what they used was NOT, only that it was before considerations of such things were made. I may also get skin-on breasts, just in case that fat layer is part of the secret. As I have always been a white-meat eater (with regards to chicken & turkeys), the cut should still work, though maybe also doing a few thighs in the grease/lard/etc. might help too, even if they all go to my MIL, or some worthy neighbor.

                              Again, thanks for the thoughts,
                              Hunt

                          2. re: Uncle Bob

                            Rhett Butler, huh? Gotta lot of those way down here in Dixie!
                            (Paula from South Mississippi)