So I don’t usually love fried chicken. In fact, if I see it on a menu, or (*shudder*) in a grocery store’s prepared food aisle, I usually steer clear. Generally speaking, I find that it is often too dry on the inside, too greasy on the outside, and far too caked with bland lumpy crust.
Which is not to say that I have never had a good fried chicken. In fact, some of my fondest childhood food memories are of my mother’s friend Donna, a proud Okie, making piles and piles of succulent, brown, crisp fried chicken that was anything but dry and tasteless, and serving it with the most mouth-watering boiled string beans I have ever had (in fact the only boiled string beans I’ve ever liked). My mother, a good cook in her own right, always looked on it with a kind of awe. Several times, she shook her head and lamented that hers never came out right. And my father wholeheartedly agreed. Which suggested to me that fried chicken was difficult to do.
But not so, I know now. Fried chicken is only as difficult as you make it. Recipes for Southern fried chicken insist that in order for it to come out right, it needs to be soaked overnight in buttermilk and hot sauce. They insist that you need a mixture of flour and corn meal, or that you need to dip your chicken parts in an egg bath before breading them, or that you need to bread each piece by hand, turning your fingers into a monstrous gluey dumpling in the process.
All bad advice. The real way to make good fried chicken is to start with a good chicken. If your chicken is fresh, pasture raised, and young enough to be tender, it’s hard to make fried chicken bad. Less breading is better, though I recognize that this is a matter of taste. And though it is not traditionally Southern, good garnishing makes a world of difference to my mind.
So here, then, is my fried chicken:
1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces (2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, each cut in half; I also like to fry backs, but I recognize that this too is a matter of taste)
2 cups flour
1.5 tbsp salt
1 tbsp fine-ground black pepper
1 tbsp paprika
3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (mostly parsley + some oregano is nice)
1 lemon, cut into wedges
good sea salt
In a one-gallon freezer bag, mix the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika. Close, and shake well to make sure that it is all evenly distributed.
Dismember your chicken, wash in cold water, and pat dry with paper towels such that the pieces are still slightly moist, but certainly not soggy.
Heat about 1/3 inch of vegetable oil in a 12″ or 14″ cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place your chicken pieces in the freezer bag with the seasoned flour, close, and shake well to coat (think shake’n’bake). Lay your chicken pieces skin-side-down in the oil and cook for 8-10 minutes, then flip them over and cook for 8 minutes more. For round pieces like legs and wings, you may have to adjust the times slightly so that you can brown them on all aides. Once cooked, remove to a platter lined with paper towels.
Allow to drain for 2 minutes, then remove the paper towels, garnish the chicken with the fresh herbs, sea salt, and the juice of one or two lemon wedges, and serve immediately, while still hot.
Note: If your skillet is not big enough to handle the whole chicken, do not crowd it! Do your chicken in batches, keeping the cooked pieces warm on a platter in the oven. Wait until you’re ready to put the chicken into the skillet to coat it with flour. Otherwise, the coating will get soggy and gloopy (a technical term). And if you are doing it this way, you might consider placing your cooked chicken parts skin-side down in the pan for two minutes to crisp them up just before serving. I’ve found that they come out very slightly soggy otherwise.