How to Make Great Fried Chicken

Learning how to fry chicken was a breeze, thanks to a friend's favorite recipe that inspired such confidence, even for a beginner, I call it Rock-Star Fried Chicken.
But cooking great fried chicken is more than a good recipe, it's technique too. Here are the tips and tricks that I've learned along the way, how I turn 'good' fried chicken into 'great' fried chicken every single time.

Fried Chicken Bone (c) Kitchen Parade

FRIED CHICKEN COOKING TIPS

GOOD FRIED CHICKEN Any one can be a fried-chicken rock star! It’s hard to fry a bad batch of fried chicken – frankly, it’s all good! All these tips make it 'look' like frying chicken is hard. It’s not, it’s really not. I wish I’d started frying chicken many Sundays ago.
GREAT FRIED CHICKEN 'Great' fried chicken is a matter of taste. My taste – my ideal, my idea of perfect fried chicken – leans to a 'crispy flavorful crust'. So all these fried chicken cooking tips are geared that direction.
fried chicken platter
CHICKEN PIECES You can also fry a whole chicken, cut into pieces. I like frying just legs and thighs, however, for they cook more evenly and the dark meat has more flavor that pairs up so well with the crispy coating. Chicken breasts seem to dry out although it does help to cut the breasts into two or three pieces before coating with mustard.
CHICKEN SOURCES For a year now, both with roast chicken and with fried chicken, I’ve been testing various chickens. I can’t tell you that spring chickens are better than ones butchered in the fall. I can’t tell you that one Red Flame Chickens roast better and Blue Dog Chickens fry better. (But someday, maybe, I will!) But I can tell you that my favorite source of chicken is Whole Foods. I’ve bought ‘branded’ chickens from Perdue and others, I’ve bought farm-raised chickens, I’ve bought Sam’s Club chicken, I’ve bought chicken from about every source you can imagine. But I’m settling on Whole Foods, both because it’s reasonably priced and because it’s (relatively) widely available and because – most of all – the Whole Foods chickens taste like chicken.
EXCESS SKIN The thighs often have a flap of skin that can and should be cut off before coating with mustard.
chicken pieces with mustard
MUSTARD The spicy brown mustard creates its own flavor dimension, just a bit of piquancy that’s usually missing from fried chicken. I’ve also tried the more gentle Dijon mustard and recommend applying it liberally.
BUTTERMILK Buttermilk can be substituted for the mustard and tastes great. Allow for about double the flour mixture, however.
PATTING DRY The mustard and the coating (also called the “batting”) will stick to the chicken better when the meat is dry.
CHILLING It’s not absolutely necessary to chill the meat before frying but it does remove some of the moisture and so the flour sticks to the mustard-coated skin just a little better.
chicken piece with flour
FLOUR Flour is the main ingredient for most fried chicken battings. It’s great, no question. Do mix the flour mixture thoroughly, if small clumps of flour remain, they’ll burn in the skillet. All-purpose flour works best, don’t use whole-grain flour.
FLOUR SUBSTITUTE I especially love the thin and crisp coat produced by arrowroot powder. Buy arrowroot less expensively in bulk in an international grocery or the flour aisle at Whole Foods rather than in herb-size bottles in the spice aisle.
BLACK PEPPER Black pepper is a key ingredient in the flour mixture. My pepper grinder produces too coarse a grind so I now keep commercial ground black pepper on hand.
OTHER SEASONINGS I like the tiny bit of heat that chili powder adds but will also experiment with other flavor profiles now, perhaps dried thyme, ground cumin, perhaps even ground fennel.
frying chicken
ONE SKILLET OR TWO? You may need to use two skillets, for you don’t want to crowd the chicken. If using two skillets, it helps to do the legs in one skillet, the thighs in another. If you use peanut oil, you can cook the chicken in two batches, one after the other, though of course it will take longer to finish. I’ve learned to just do two batches in the same oil however, it seems to lose its oomph after two batches.
PEANUT OIL I’ve learned to only use peanut oil for frying chicken, it tastes good, it doesn’t get dark, it’s got that ‘high flash point’ that makes it especially good for frying. Best of all, the house is left with less of that “fried chicken smell” a few hours later. I had bad luck with a safflower oil supposedly specially treated for high heat. I’ll only use peanut oil from now on.
FRYING CHICKEN IN LARD That said! One batch, I used half peanut oil and half farm-rendered lard (thus a non-hydrogenated lard) – it was especially good hot and extra-good cold.
frying chicken
HOW MUCH OIL? In my skillets, one cup of oil is the perfect amount, it’s about a half inch deep and so when bubbling, comes halfway up the sides of the chicken pieces.
WHEN IS THE OIL HOT ENOUGH? You’ll know the oil is hot enough when you flick a little water off your fingers into the oil and it sizzles. You will need to adjust the heat to keep the oil at the right temperature for either a fast fry or a slow fry.
TONGS To keep your hands and arms further away from the hot peanut oil, do use tongs. Make sure you’ve got a good grip on the meat, however, because accidentally dropping a piece of chicken into hot oil can create a big splash.
TAKE CARE! The chicken may spurt and splatter during cooking, especially when you’re adding it to the skillet for the first time and then again when turning. You’ll want to keep kids away from the stove and I’ve also learned to wear long sleeves. To help this, use the back burners rather than the front burners.
MEDIUM HIGH? MEDIUM? MEDIUM LOW? The first time you make fried chicken, stick close during the cooking period, to learn where to set the burner temperatures. You’ll have time to do other things, cook some potatoes, mix a salad, etc. but just stay close enough to adjust. You just need to stay put to watch that the oil is both hot enough but not too hot.
chicken frying
CRISPY COATING The crust will cook during the first 10 and 5 minutes of frying and then again during the last 5 minutes; during this period, the oil should be bubbling quite rapidly. The 20 minutes in the middle is when the chicken itself cooks; during this period, the oil should bubble less quickly but not down to a slow bubble. The crust should turn golden to dark brown but should not get black and hard. (That said, don’t worry if a piece or two does, it’ll still taste great.)
FRIED CHICKEN NUTRITION How many calories are in fried chicken? The answer depends on how much oil is absorbed. The first batch of fried chicken, I measured 1 cup of peanut oil into the skillet before cooking and took out 1 cup of peanut oil after the chicken was fried. What??? The hotter the oil, the less oil that is absorbed.
KEEP WARM If you need to keep the chicken warm, just place it on paper towels in a warm oven set at 200F.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg
and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating
and occasional indulgences.
In 2009, Kitchen Parade celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special collection of my mother's recipes.
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I look forward to trying your recipe. I inherited a really good fryer that I will try instead of on the stove.
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna