If you think fried chicken is a purely Southern thing, think again.
The crispy goodness of this great, messy finger food extends well beyond any American region. As much as the region would love to claim ownership of the down-home guilty pleasure, fried chicken belongs to the planet.
Take a glance at the drool-worthy recipes inside America’s hot new fried-chicken cookbook, “Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides” (Clarkson Potter, $22.50, 256 pages), and you’ll find plenty of variations on the crispy bird theme.
Sure, you’ll find Southern fried chicken, buttermilk fried chicken and Louisiana battered fried chicken. But those and other classic renditions share space with Vietnamese-inspired fried chicken, Cuban-style chicharrones de pollo, Argentinian Milanesa de Pollo a la Napolitana, Korean-style crispy chicken wings, Senegalese fried chicken and even an Israeli take on chicken schnitzel.
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It’s all fried and true, says the book’s co-author, Lee Brian Schrager, a guy who knows his fried chicken. Sure, he’s a trained chef, a gourmand and, not to mention, the founder of the South Beach and New York Wine & Food festivals. And he can feast on faddish molecular dishes, the alien spheres and foams, with the rest of the fancy food cognoscenti. But he’s as fried chicken-obsessed as they come.
In fact, it was that obsession that sparked the sequence of events which led to the book project. The sequence began innocently enough when Schrager ducked behind a curtain during one of his sold-out South Beach festival events last year. Why did the founder of America’s hottest food festival need a private moment behind a curtain? To scarf down fried chicken, of course.
But, soon enough, Schrager was busted by one of his visiting food celebrities.
“Trisha Yearwood comes over and catches me in the act,” Schrager says. Next thing he knows, his publisher walks up and joins the fried chicken convo.“She jokingly says, ‘You should do a fried chicken book.“’
It was no joke days later when that publisher called to say, “You should really do this book,” says Schrager, whose cookbook, co-authored by food writer and recipe developer Adeena Sussman, hit bookstores late last month.
No doubt, Schrager was the guy for the job. He’s the guy who in his younger years was asked to leave a Howard Johnson’s restaurant because he and his friends had surpassed the per-person limit at the all-you-can-eat fried chicken buffet.
The trail that led to that fateful HoJo’s episode is sprinkled with fried chicken crumbs. Fried chicken was the special-treat dinner he and his brothers would get – delivered from Chicken Delight, their favorite restaurant in Massapequa, Long Island – when his parents went off on date nights. Fried chicken was that magical dish his mother would conjure in her trusty burnt orange Le Creuset Dutch oven. Fried chicken is that code dish shared by so many of the chefs he’s met along his adventures.
But if researching this book taught Schrager anything it’s that the fried chicken universe is even larger than he had imagined.
“Everyone assumes fried chicken comes from the South. But it came over from Scotland in the 1700s,” he says. “And almost every country has a fried chicken recipe.”
In researching and recipe-tasting he discovered fried chicken can be as simple as it is complex.
“For such a simple thing to make, fried chicken can taste differently, depending on the preparation. You can use the same recipe and fry it in different formats – the fat changes the taste,” says Schrager, who is partial to a Crisco-fried bird. (“It lasts longer. You can fry more,” he says.)
But the fat that gives fried chicken its flavor can also be the biggest obstacle to its success as a dish.
“The biggest mistake is not heating the fat to the right temperature. The right temperature is key. I heat my oil to 370 or 380 degrees,” says Schrager, who advises home cooks to make sure the oil remains hot as they add chicken to the pan.
He also noted that many chefs, particularly those he met in New Orleans, used well-chilled chicken for coating and frying – it is said to help the coating or batter stick to the chicken skin.“The secret is cold chicken,” he says.
So what makes good fried chicken utterly exquisite?
“To me, I love a crispy crust,” he says.“I love it when the skin is crunchy and the inside is moist and juicy.”
That sound you hear is the planet applauding in agreement.
FRIED CHICKEN 101
Making fried chicken isn’t as hard as it may seem; it just takes preparation and organization. Like any other kitchen endeavor worth undertaking, it’s about having the right tools, picking the right ingredients, and knowing a few tips and tricks that will have you frying like a pro in no time.
Be prepared: An organized kitchen and a game plan is a fryer’s best friend Prepare all of the elements – brine, dredge, seasoning, oil – in advance, making sure everything’s ready before you start.
Brining: Typically the No. 1 ingredient in brines (other than water), salt performs double duty, both tenderizing the meat by breaking down its cellular structure and helping enhance the tastiness of the chicken itself. Brines can range from 2 hours to 2 days, and can also contain sugar, buttermilk, herbs and spices. (Don’t have time to brine? Buy a kosher chicken kosher chickens are pre-salted.)
Seasonings: Incorporating a variety of herbs, spices and seasonings is one way to really make this process your own. Smoked paprika, turmeric, cardamom, sesame seeds – the sky (or the fry) is the limit.
Chill for the“shrink-wrap” effect: As we tested the recipes for this book, we noticed that many cooks – most notably all from New Orleans – specified using properly chilled chicken for frying, believing that it promotes a crispier crust. While our results aren’t scientific, we did notice that using a cold bird helps breading and coating adhere to the chicken’s skin, resulting in skin that shrinks and practically becomes one with the bird beneath.
Flour power and the double dip: In recipes that call for dredging the chicken, some use what may seem like an excessive amount of flour. Fret not: Some chefs feel that tossing the chicken lightly in a larger amount of flour dredge helps promote a lighter, flakier finished product. Some people love a thick, crunchy crust above all else, and with recipes consisting of passing chicken through both wet and dry mixtures, you can easily achieve it by double-dipping a second time.
Deep frying: While most chefs agree that a cast-iron skillet is the frying pan of choice, many do turn to deep frying, which has several advantages – primarily, that a large pot filled halfway with oil generally splatters less, creating less mess, and that since the oil surrounds all parts of the chicken at once, deep-fried chicken cooks faster than skillet-fried. No flipping required.
Skillet frying: For the true Southern experience, nothing beats frying in a cast-iron skillet, which cooks chicken evenly and helps develops a crispy, perfectly burnished crust.
Keep it hot: Nothing’s sadder than a soggy batch fried chicken, and the culprit is usually oil whose temperature has sunk too low. To avoid this pitfall, make sure your oil is properly heated before adding your chicken, and use your deep-fry thermometer to monitor the highs and lows of frying.
Don’t crowd: Though the temptation to fry more pieces at once gets the best of us, crowding your deep-frying or skillet environment can lead to uneven cooking, longer-than-necessary frying times.
Jacques-Imo’s Austin Leslie fried chicken
“With decor seemingly lifted from a psychedelic dreamscape – not to mention N’awlins-on-’roids menu items like alligator cheesecake – it would be easy to dismiss Jacques-Imo’s, in New Orleans’ Uptown neighborhood, as an easily skippable tourist magnet. What a mistake that would be for fried chicken aficionados,” write Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman in their recently published cookbook,“Fried & True.”
“Behind the cheerfully organized chaos, chef-owner Jacques Leonardi has been serving plates of crispy bird to honor NOLA’s now-deceased patron chef-saint of fried chicken, Austin Leslie. Leslie plied his trade for decades, owning several restaurants in town and even becoming the inspiration for a short-lived 1987 TV series, ‘Frank’s Place.’ But when his own restaurants fell upon hard times, he showed up at Leonardi’s door ready to work, which he did until his death in 2004. Evaporated milk and white pepper – Leslie’s signature ingredients – add lightness and spice; his memory adds something altogether intangible.”
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 large eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup minced garlic
Ruffled dill pickle slices
Season the chicken liberally with salt and white pepper, place in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight.
Dredge the chicken: Prepare a deep fryer or fill a large (at least 8-quart) pot halfway with oil to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, Worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste. In a separate bowl season the flour with salt to taste. Dip the chicken in the egg wash, then coat in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess.
Working in batches, fry the chicken until golden and crisp, 15 minutes for dark meat, 20 minutes for breasts.
Garnish with the chopped parsley, minced garlic and pickles.
Charles Phan’s hard water fried chicken
“Charles Phan surprised the San Francisco food scene when he opened Hard Water, a New Orleans-themed bourbon bar, earlier this year,” write Schrager and Sussman in their fried chicken book.
“Inspired by a technique from his native country, Phan dry-brines his chicken before air-chilling it, uncovered, for 24 hours before cooking, which contributes to the extra-crispy skin. ”
For air-chilling the chicken:
1 small whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces and patted dry
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
For the flour dredge:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3 quarts canola or peanut oil
For the Sriracha butter:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup Sriracha sauce
juice of 1 lime (about 21/2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Season the chicken: Season the chicken with the salt and garlic powder and arrange, skin-side up, on a baking sheet, leaving space between pieces if possible. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
Dredge the chicken: In a large bowl whisk the flour, cayenne, salt, turmeric, and coriander. Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with the oil and heat to 340 degees. Dredge the chicken in the mixture, shaking off the excess flour, and place it on a clean baking sheet. Set a rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Fry the chicken: Working in batches. fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 12-13 minutes. Drain the chicken pieces on the rack; serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the Sriracha Butter.
Make the Sriracha butter: In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Place the Sriracha, lime juice, salt and sugar in a blender or food processor. Blend on high for 1 minute, adding the melted butter in a slow stream to create an airy, emulsified sauce. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Michy’s fried chicken
Recipe by Michelle Bernstein of Miami.
For the brine:
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
For dredging and frying:
Safflower, peanut, or grapeseed oil, for frying
2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Cholula brand
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
Honey, for serving
Brine the chicken: Place the chicken in a large nonreactive container or dish. In another bowl, stir 8 cups water with the sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, celery seeds, and fennel seeds.
Pour the brine over the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain the brine from the chicken and rinse and dry the meat completely with paper towels.
Fill a large (12-inch) skillet just under halfway with the oil and heat to 275 degrees. Set a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. In a baking dish or bowl, combine the buttermilk and hot sauce. In another dish, combine the flour, Old Bay, salt, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, then dip into the buttermilk mixture, then back into the flour mixture, shaking the dish to coat the chicken evenly.
Working 4 pieces at a time, fry the chicken in batches until golden and fully cooked through, 8 to 9 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on the rack; cool for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil back up to 350 degrees. Refry the chicken in batches until it darkens and crisps, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain the chicken on the wire rack. Drizzle with honey.
The New Orleans chefs Kermit Ruffins and Ray Boom Boom believe in using well-chilled chicken.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup all-purpose seasoning, such as Morton’s
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 whole chicken, washed, patted dry, cut into 8 pieces, and well chilled
In a large bowl, combine the flour, seasoning, baking powder, and pepper. Prepare a deep-fryer or fill a large (at least 6-quart) pot halfway with oil and heat to 355 to 360 degrees. Dredge the chicken in flour mixture, shake off the excess, and fry until the chicken is dark brown and the crust is brittle, 16 to 18 minutes. Drain on paper towels; season with salt to taste.
Recipe from Holeman & Finich in Atlanta and chef Linton Hopkin. Linton salts and drains his cabbage before mixing in the dressing, which allows the cabbage to absorb the sweet and tart dressing. We find that this coleslaw only gets better with age, so don’t worry if there are leftovers.
1 head (about 21⁄2 pounds) green cabbage, shredded
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 medium carrots (10 ounces), grated
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
1 1⁄2 cups homemade (or store-bought) mayonnaise
1⁄4 cup Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 large lemon
6 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with the salt. Cover with cold water and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Drain the cabbage well, using a towel to remove extra water. In a large bowl combine the cabbage, carrots, red onion and scallions. In another bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, celery seed, and cayenne pepper.
Add the dressing to the vegetables and toss to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Swiss chard salad with pine nuts and lemon
Recipe by Art Sears.
8 large Swiss chard leaves (about 3 ⁄4 pound), trimmed and thinly shredded crosswise
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or more to taste
1⁄4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl toss the chard, oil, and lemon juice. Add the cheese and pine nuts and toss to incorporate.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Watermelon Greek salad
One 1 3/4-pound wedge of watermelon, rind removed and cut into medium dice (about 4 cups)
2 large beefsteak tomatoes (1¼ pounds), seeded and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 large English hothouse cucumber (¾ pound), peeled and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons torn dill, uncut
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of onion powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and dill. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and onion powder; season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle half the vinaigrette over the salad and toss very gently. Add the remaining dressing to taste and gently toss again.