The secrets? A quick brine and hot oil.
My childhood meals of memory are filled with fried chicken. It’s my Dad’s favorite food and when Mom wasn’t in the mood to cook, we’d hie off to a certain fast food joint that claimed fame by way of its fried chicken.
I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to cooking, I’m no good at two things, grilling and frying. Because of this, I don’t get to eat much fried chicken, and the ones I do eat however, don’t give justice to my memories. Stringy and painfully dry, they’re just that – painful to eat.
Recently, I’m faced with a yearning for fried chicken. And – as food cravings are wont to do – they’re merciless and endless. Clearly, the madness has to end or I may start running around like a headless chicken.
As with everything I do, if it’s to be done, it has to be done right. So I consult with my chef-friends, scour my cookbooks for recipes, and I bone up on the secrets of frying.
Turns out there are no secrets, after all. The fried chicken that I want, full-flavored and crackly crisp, benefits from brining and lots of hot oil. Brining is an added task but its benefits are huge. A solution of water, salt, and spices, it tenderizes and flavors food, imparting tremendous juiciness.
As for my frying oil, I still have a lot of Minola Coconut Oil left over from when I make granola. I discover that coconut oil is a terrific frying medium. It has a high smoke point and is able to withstand high temperatures without altering the structure of its fats that have health-promoting qualities. These fats are the saturated medium chain fatty acids, the most abundant being lauric acid which is noted for its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
Thus, a one-two punch of brining and lots of coconut oil give me the fried chicken of my dreams: soft, with a flavor that just won’t quit, and extreme juiciness – honestly, I didn’t think fried chicken could be this succulent. In true Southern US-style, I serve the chicken with some buttermilk biscuits on the side, layered, fluffy things perfect for sopping up the chicken’s juices. Tonight, the biscuits are accompanied with some honey-balsamic sauce for a drizzle of salty and sweet.
Just how good is this fried chicken? Well, let’s put it this way. When I ask my daughter, Boo, if she likes it, she replies, “I don’t like it, Mom. I LOVE it.”
Damn Good Fried Chicken
Yield: One whole bird – you decide how many people that can feed.
As for the biscuits and the honey-balsamic sauce illustrated in the photos, I will share those recipes another time. The fried chicken is the star here.
Quick Brine for Chicken
If you’ve got the time, then omit the ice water step below.
1.5 liters water from the tap
100 grams / 8 tablespoons (approximately) rock salt
2 heaping teaspoons each: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, peppercorns (whole and/or crushed)
1 chicken, pre-cut, washed and dressed
500 grams (approximately) or ½ kilo of ice (optional)
In a large saucepan deep enough to submerge chicken, combine water and salt. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, combine spices. Rub half of spice mixture over dressed chicken, and pour the other half into the salt-water mixture. Set chicken aside and bring brine mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure spices dissolve evenly. When brine starts to bubble vigorously, remove from heat.
If you’re not in a rush, cover chicken with plastic wrap and refrigerate while waiting for brine to come to room temperature. If you’re impatient like I am, then gradually add the ice to the hot brine until the brine is lukewarm. I use the finger test: the brine is ready when you can stick your finger into the brine and not wince. Stir the brine with a wooden spoon.
Now, you’ve got two options: you can either drop chicken pieces into the saucepan holding the now-cooled brine OR place the chicken pieces into a large and deep mixing bowl, plastic bag, or air-tight plastic container, and pour the brine over. Whichever vessel you choose, make sure that the chicken pieces are completely submerged in the brine. Save remaining brine (if any) for another use.
If you’ve got a monster-sized craving going on, then allow chicken to luxuriate in the brine at room temperature for just 2-3 hours. But if you can wait (ah, the patience of a saint!), then refrigerate chicken in its brine for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.
Remove chicken pieces from brine and drain over a large wire rack. Discard the brine. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels, no need to exfoliate the poor bird, just dry it down a bit so it’s not dripping wet. At this point, it would be ideal if you could cover the chicken pieces in plastic wrap and let them chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours, but if you haven’t got the time, don’t sweat it.
Fit To Be Fried
Now we fry the bird. I get the best results when I use my deep-fryer so my instructions reflect that. Even if you’re one of the superstars who can fry using a regular fry pan, the secret to fabulous frying is still the same – lots of clean, hot oil.
Enough flour for dredging
One 2-liter pack Minola Coconut Oil
Fill fryer with oil to the fill line. If your fryer has heat settings, adjust temperature to 350°- 375°F.
While waiting for the fryer to heat up, dredge chicken pieces in flour. Don’t be tempted to add any more salt and/or packaged seasonings to the flour as the chicken is already salty enough from the brine. Transfer dredged chicken pieces onto a plate.
When fryer is ready, carefully place as many prepared chicken pieces in the fry basket as can fit; do not crowd. Lower basket into the oil. Fry time is dependent on several factors so you be the judge. Test if chicken is done by slicing into it; if juices run clear, then it’s done.
Place fried chicken onto a serving plate lined with paper towels. Cover cooked chicken with a paper towel to keep warm. Continue frying the rest of the chicken. Serve hot to fully appreciate the crackly skin. Consume with biscuits, as I do, but chicken goes well with just about any side dish.