Ask Kraftymatt Installment #1: Fried Chicken
Anonymous asks: “Hey Krafty, what do you think about fried chicken?”
This may come in stages. Prince’s (a fried chicken shack in Nashville) may be the pinnacle of fried chicken as we know it. (Read more about Nashville style fried chicken here.)
To make my own fried chicken, I go for a dry mix. I’m not crazy about wet batter or tempura (Korean fried chicken is a good example of wet batter method). I brine the chicken overnight (or at least a couple of hours) in a combo of whatever is on hand, ideally salt, cayenne, buttermilk, and cheap lager beer. The dry mix is flour, more cayenne, salt, black pepper, dried thyme (though fresh rosemary is located conveniently in about half the front yards around here and it works great too). I mix a little a baking powder in the dry mix too. Don’t be shy with the seasonings. The frying process tends to tone them down a bit.
The trick I’ve found to achieve a thick, crunchy, satisfying crust is a two-pronged attack. The beer/buttermilk soak gets the flour to stick, but if you get hasty and take it out of the flour dredge too soon, the crust is thin and sad.
First prong: Letting it rest a bit in the dredge as the liquid leeches out of the chicken creates a nice thick flour coating that translates into crunchy good parts.
Second prong: I use corn oil and a large pat of butter about halfway through the frying. 350-375 is a good oil temperature.
Cast iron skillets are great, but not quite deep enough. A cast iron Dutch oven is perfect. Totally submerged pieces of chicken, not resting on the bottom of the pan, is what you want. If it sits on the bottom of the pan it inevitably gets too dark or just sticks. A hot oven is a bad place to rest your chicken if making large batches. For some reason the crust takes this as an invitation to fall off. After a wire rack drain I usually rest my chicken in a towel-lined bowl.
Part 2: Kraftymatt’s Fried Chicken Recipe
With Kraftymatt’s guidance, we took to the organized ferment test kitchen to develop a recipe. The chicken turned out great, but think of this recipe as more of a guideline than a tried-and-true blueprint. You may need to adjust the salt and cayenne to your own taste. Here goes:
Kraftymatt’s Fried Chicken:
-2 whole chickens, split in half and cut into leg, thigh, wings, airline breast, and back pieces
-1 carton of buttermilk
-3 PBR’s or other cheap lager
-4 T cayenne pepper
-8 T kosher salt
-4 T chopped rosemary
-2 t baking powder
-2.5 lbs all-purpose flour
-about two gallons corn oil
-half stick of butter
1. Make the brine. Mix buttermilk and lager beer in equal amounts (half a carton of buttemilk = about three cans of beer). Add about 4 tablespoons of salt and 2 tablespoons cayenne. Stir well to dissolve. Mix in two tablespoons of chopped rosemary.
2. Cut the chicken in fry-able pieces. When buying whole chickens to fry, it’s best to pick the smaller ones. Once the chicken is butchered, submerge it fully in the brine. (If you don’t have quite enough liquid, top it off with some more beer). Let the chicken rest in the brine overnight.
3. Make the dredge: Mix 2.5 lbs of flour (half a bag) with 3-4 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 Tablespoons cayenne, 2 Tablespoons chopped rosemary, and 1 teaspoon baking powder.
4. Get ready to fry: take the chicken out of the fridge a good hour before cooking. Get your first batch of chicken out of the brine. Cover the chicken in the flour dredge and allow it to sit for 20 minutes. This is a key step. Slowly heat your corn oil to 350-375 F, once you hit 350, turn the burner to medium/low heat. You may have to toggle between low and medium heat as you cook to maintain the ideal temperature range. This takes some skill but will come easily after your first deep fry session.
5. When your oil hits 350, you’re ready to cook. Set the burner to medium heat, pull the chicken from the dredge, shake off anything loose, and drop three large or four smaller pieces, one by one, into the hot oil. Use a metal spider to turn the chicken over once in the oil. After about 4 minutes you can add a large pat of putter to frying oil. Cook another 4-5 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. When the crust starts to look a deep, golden brown, check the internal temperature of the biggest piece (165 F is safe for poultry). If the biggest piece is cooked, use your spider to pull the rest of the chicken onto a wire rack. Let the oil drain off and move to a towel-lined bowl if you have multiple batches. Boo-yah. You’ve just made fried chicken.
Be safe, have fun, never drop into oil from great heights or long distance, and happy frying!