How to make the absolute best Buttermilk Fried Chicken ever
Fried chicken and waffles may only be my daughter's third favorite meal, but she feels it ranks as the number one most desired breakfast in the world.
As I mentioned on a recent podcast, I wanted to offer directions for the whole deal, the chicken and the waffles, in one blog post. But to do either dish anything like the justice I feel they merit, I had to break it into two. This post addresses fried chicken, my way.
I spent several years trying to perfect fried chicken. When I decide I am going to LEARN a dish, I make it over and over and over. Fried chicken was a dish that I could not get right for ages. I kept getting close but something was wrong. A few years back a good friend set me straight and now I am confident enough about the consistency and the magic of this method that I am going to share it with you.
What you will need:
- 1.5 - 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 Cups buttermilk
- Some Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce
- Fresh ground pepper
- 2 Cups All purpose flour
- 2-3 Tbs of "creole" seasoning
- Several cups of vegetable oil
- Gallon Ziploc freezer bag
- Deep skillet or chicken fryer
- Cookie sheet
- Cookie cooling rack
In order to make great fried chicken you have to be patient. In my home, preparation for this meal starts one to three days in advance of the actual event. Once I've committed to the meal the first steps are incredibly important. It all starts with marinating the chicken in a buttermilk bath.
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One of the big secrets imparted to me was to aim for consistent sizes and types of chicken meat to be in the fryer at the same time. From this advice I took to the following process: I select one type of meat (usually boneless, skinless breasts) and I cut it into roughly equal sized pieces. Pick a size that works for you. I'll typically divide a breast into 3-4 equal sized chunks. I then take all the chunks and place them into the ziploc freezer bag. Please pour in enough buttermilk to cover the meat and then add around 1 Tbsp of hot sauce and 1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper. You will not taste the hot sauce. It is really there to add some extra vinegar to the mix. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can and seal it. Then mix it around a bit. It should look as pictured below:
Now you refrigerate the bag of chicken for 8 to 36 hours. My brother, a California Culinary Academy trained chef, insists you should leave the chicken in the slurry for as long as you can. I can attest that the texture and flavor of the chicken really improves over the course of 1-2 days. Sometimes I put in enough chicken that I can fry on days 1 and 3. Day 3 chicken is far, far superior to Day 1. I am not so daring to have tried chicken much older than that.
When the time to fry arrives I take out my super awesome cast iron chicken fryer. In the photo below, I am still using my well loved Lodge combo chicken fryer, but I have acquired an antique cast iron as well. You want to to fill the skillet about 1/3rd with the vegetable oil of your choice. I tend to like canola but I haven't found a reason to be very picky. I set the oil and fryer on about 55-60% heat on my propane burner. I let it heat up for 5-10 minutes, I'll rotate the pan once or twice during heating too.
While the oil is heating I make my breading. I've tried all the various material people suggest breading fried chicken with. Corn flake bits, Panko breadcrumbs, you name it. None of it is better than plain old All-Purpose Flour. I take about 2 cups of flour and add 2 Tbs of creole seasoning. Mix it well in a bowl big enough to dredge the chicken through it.
I'll test the heat of the oil by dripping in some buttermilk. If it sizzles around and sputters, I know I am about ready to start frying. To prepare, I set the cookie sheet someplace near the fryer and line its bottom with paper towels and then put a baked goods cooling rack on top of it.
Dredge several pieces of chicken, getting them completely covered in breading, and then transfer them to the hot oil. I find I can fit around 5-6 pieces in the skillet at once. Boneless chicken breasts cut to the sizes I aim for take about 12 minutes to fry properly at this heat. I watch them and turn once at around the midpoint. I look for a good golden brown where maybe the tips and thin edges are just starting to blacken and then remove. I let each piece drain a bit before transferring it to the cookie cooling rack. The rack allows oil to drip off the chicken and for it to remain crispy on the outside as it cools. No squishy, oily spots on my fried chicken!
You can easily use the same method and recipe for any type of chicken meat you like. I'll frequently do breast tenders like this as well as some drumsticks. Drumsticks, as they are bone in, seem to take a little longer to cook that then sliced thin breast meat. I find keeping shapes and sizes consistent in the pan helps me gauge cooking time best.
As you can see from the photos, I put the fried chicken on top of fresh sourdough waffles. I will share that recipe soon.
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