Recipe: Truly Southern Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is my temptress, my tormentor. I wish I didn’t love it so. I only make it 3 or 4 times a year, but I daydream of it the other 362 excruciatingly fried-chicken-free days.
A decade ago during my first stint living in the south, I begged native friends and colleagues for their family’s fried chicken secrets. Most kept their recipes guarded (especially from a damn yankee), but a few acquiesced. I was surprised by the simplicity of all the recipes shared and took note of two particular methods used by my favorite cooks: ice water brine and Crisco. Brining the chicken in ice water for several hours before frying renders the chicken juicy within and seasoned throughout. Frying with Crisco (or any vegetable shortening) creates a perfectly light, crispy skin. On the few occasions each year that I indulge my overwhelming desire and give in to preparing fried chicken, I always, always begin with a brine and finish with Crisco.
2 quarts boiling water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup fine sea salt (3/4 cup table salt)
3 quarts ice cubes
6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces
1) Clear space in the fridge for the large brining bowl. Remove boiling water from the heat and pour the sugar and salt into it. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour this mixture into a very large bowl or bucket and pile in the 3 quarts of ice cubes. Stir. Some of the ice will melt, about 1/2 won’t. Add chicken, cover and set in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
A 3-pound canister vegetable shortening, like Crisco
A fryer or, better yet, a cast iron skillet
1) Get the Crisco into the fryer or the skillet. Either following fryer instructions, or if using the skillet, melt enough to come 2/3 the way up the side of the skillet. Set the skillet over medium heat. It takes about 5-10 minutes to bring the Crisco to temperature.
2) Remove chicken from the brine and dry well with paper towels. Pour A LOT of flour into a large bowl, use one hand to place chicken into the flour one piece at a time, using the other hand to scoop the flour over the chicken (this is your ‘dry’ hand and keeps both hands from getting gloppy). Shake off excess flour and when the Crisco begins to lightly smoke, place chicken in, skin side down first. Do not crowd the skillet and do not cover. The oil should be bubbling all around the chicken (like in the picture above). I used 2 skillets at once to speed things up.
3) Fry for 10-12 minutes per side for breasts and about 14 minutes per side for legs and thighs, but this can vary depending upon your skillet, heat source, size of pieces, etc. Cut one open to test; it should be juicy but not pink. Keep the fried chicken warm in a very low oven as you fry the rest. No need to add salt as the brine has already done that for you.
Serves about 6 people
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