John writes these articles to try to pass on any great recipes and tips that he's picked up during my culinary journeys.
Col. Sanders be gone. Make your own country-fried chicken at home, and get a rich, dark brown chicken with a shatteringly crisp crust and a taste so good you'll find yourself inexplicably in front of the fridge at two in the morning eating its cold leftovers.
Debates over "real" fried chicken can get pretty heated when involving people who grew up on it, and there are certainly some regional variations in the ideal recipe. This one is pretty good though, and will be sure to satisfy even the most ardent fried chicken purist.
One of the keys to good fried chicken is using the right fat for frying. Unfortunately, the more saturated and hydrogenated the better! Now trans fats are kind of a no-no these days, but you might want to make an exception, just this once. The absolute best fried chicken is made with a version of 50% Crisco (you want the good old trans fatty Crisco, not the new trans fat-free Crisco), or other vegetable shortening, and 50% bacon fat or lard. You can use pure vegetable shortening to great effect, though.
The other secret to a great chicken fry is the pan, and this is where your old cast iron frying pan will really shine. Nothing beats a cast iron pan for holding the steady even heat needed for great fried chicken. If you don’t have a cast iron pan (you should have a cast iron pan), use the heaviest alternative that you have.
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This recipe is not complicated and will make a fantastic country-style supper.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken: Perfect in a Cast Iron Fry Pan!
Country-Fried Chicken Recipe
- 1 chicken cut up into parts for frying (You should look for a chicken that is 3 1/2 lbs or less, as a chicken that is larger than this gets a bit tricky to fry without burning the outside. You can also use whatever already cut chicken parts (thighs/drumsticks/wings) that you like instead of the whole chicken, just try to buy small-ish pieces.)
- 2 cups of buttermilk + 1 TBSP salt
- 1/4 cup of Tabasco sauce
- 2 cups flour + ½ tsp pepper + 2 tsp salt + ½ tsp cayenne
- Enough Crisco, lard, or bacon fat (or peanut, or palm oil if you don’t want to use a solid fat) to half fill a cast iron skillet
- Cut up your chicken into parts for frying, and add to your buttermilk/salt mixture and also add the Tabasco. Keep covered in the fridge, shaking occasionally. This is best done the morning that you are going to fry the chicken. It can be done longer in advance than that, but if you are going to let it sit for more than a day, you should reduce the amount of salt a bit.
- Mix together your flour salt, pepper and cayenne, and place in a big shakable container (a paper bag is traditional here).
- Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and toss in the flour mixture until completely coated.
You want to let the flour mixture "set" on the chicken before frying it, so wait about 30 minutes after flouring before frying. This will help the flour to adhere and promote a better crust.
- Heat your shortening, or shortening and lard/bacon fat mixture, in your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. If you have a deep-frying or candy thermometer, it is a good idea to dig it out for this job. The temperature of the oil is quite important to the overall success of the chicken. If the oil is too hot, it will burn the chicken before it is cooked through, and if it is too cool, the chicken will be too greasy. You want to keep the fat at about 350 degrees for the whole cooking time. This is why the very heavy cast iron frying pan is so good for this recipe. All that weight really stores the heat and the fat doesn't cool too much as you add the chicken.
- Heat the fat up to about 375 degrees (It will reduce in temp. when you add the chicken.) and then add as much chicken as will fit in the pan without overcrowding. You will want to cook the chicken until nicely dark brown on the first side (about 15 minutes) before turning it over. After another 10 minutes or so, the chicken should be cooked through. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the chicken a little before this point, and take it out when the internal temp is 165 degrees. (Alternatively, just cut into the chicken, and when it is white to the bone, it is done.)
- Let cool for a few minutes, and serve with your favorite summertime fried chicken accompaniments. My favorites are a good sour potato salad and sweet buttered corn on the cob.
This chicken has a crisp, dark, flavorful crust, and a tender and seasoned inside: the perfect fried chicken. This recipe is a bit messy, and it's not super healthy, but once in a while, it is a treat.