Friday, October 19, 2012

Fried Chicken Nirvana

I have a serious weakness for fried food.  Any fried food.  I’d rather have a french fry than chocolate any day.  Although, a french fry dipped in a chocolate shake is really the best of both worlds.  I salivated recently watching Paula Deen submerge macaroni and cheese in a vat of hot oil.  Clearly, this was before her recent  thirty pound weight loss.  Fried butter absolutely intrigues me, though I’ve never actually tried it.  And as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to go to a state or county fair is the deep fried food booths.


So, naturally, I’m always on a quest for deep fried perfection.  The best oil, the optimum temperature, the perfect crust.  Should I use a deep fryer machine, or a cast iron skillet like my Grandma did?  And...  How do I fry something without having to power wash the kitchen afterward?  I admit, that’s my least favorite part, but when I do manage to reach fried-anything-nirvana, it’s so worth it!

I have, I believe, through a lot of experimentation, reached fried chicken nirvana and successfully answered the questions above.  I know I’ve posted about fried chicken before, but I feel this redux is well worth the repetition.  I’ve learned a lot since then.

I fried 5 batches of chicken in one week to arrive at my destination.  By the end of the week I was begging people to take it away.  “Hey, Mr. Mailman...!"   

I confess that frying at home isn't always easy and there were certainly a few snafus along the way.  I sustained one nasty finger burn, got popped with a lot of hot oil and ruined a good shirt that I knew better than to fry in.  It all started to pay off though as each batch of chicken got better, and when I figured out that I could fry outside on the previously unused burner on the side of my gas grill!  No power washing necessary when the mess could be relegated to the outdoors.

The problem it seems with fried chicken, is that you very often end up with a nice golden crust on the outside and pink, underdone meat on the inside.  Nobody should be eating or serving medium rare chicken and normally, I’d just throw it in the oven on a sheet pan to finish cooking it through.  But then one day while surfing the internet for inspiration, I stumbled upon a technique of cooking the chicken first and then frying it up!  It was brilliant!  How did I not know about this?  You actually poach the chicken very gently in the milk that you brine it in.  The result is perfectly flavored, succulently sweet meat, and no more medium rare chicken, ever!

The crust is an amalgamation of a few different recipes, but I stumbled on one from Padma Lakshmi  that incorporated crushed Saltine crackers and Rice Krispies for added texture and crunch.  Now, as weird as that may sound, it’s truly inspired and the results speak for themselves.  Trust me on this one.  Because the chicken is already cooked, and can be done well in advance (a huge bonus in my book!) all that’s required is a quick dredge and an even quicker fry to achieve that beautiful crispy crust!  And when I say quick, I mean about two minutes quick!  I’ve included a helpful essentials chart below to guide you through the process.  

Oh, and the pan matters!  An old fashioned cast iron skillet just like Grandma's is indispensable for conducting heat evenly and helping you reach your own fried chicken nirvana.

Krispy Skillet-Fried Chicken

2½ cups whole milk
1 tablespoon hot sauce (Tobasco or Siracha)
Juice of a lemon
5 cloves garlic, smashed
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
One 3 to 4 pound fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup corn starch
1 cup Rice Krispies cereal, lightly smashed
24 Saltine crackers, crushed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1½ teaspoons garlic power
1½ teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
4 large eggs
Canola, vegetable or peanut oil

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, hot sauce, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.  Add the chicken to the milk mixture, cover, and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.

In a shallow dish, combine the flour, smashed cereal, Saltines, salt, lemon pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and paprika. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl.

Using tongs, transfer chicken into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, then pour in the milk.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, allowing the chicken to simmer gently, until just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the milk and place on a rack set over a sheet pan to cool.  Allow the chicken pieces to sit until warm, about 15 minutes.

In a deep, heavy skillet, preferably a cast iron one, heat an inch and a half of oil along with the garlic and herbs  until it reaches 360˚F on a deep-fry thermometer.  When the garlic turns golden brown, skim it out, along with the herbs; reserve.

Dredge each piece of chicken first in the flour mixture, then in the beaten egg, then in the flour mixture again, rolling to coat each time.  Gently, carefully place each piece of chicken into the hot oil, allowing the crust to crisp and turn golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Don’t crowd the pan, cook just enough pieces at a time so that each is bathed in oil and the oil stays at 360˚F.  

Drain the browned chicken on a rack set over a sheet pan, allowing air to circulate around and keep it crispy.  

Serve with lemon wedges spritzed over and scatter the reserved herbs and garlic over the chicken. 


  1. Question, when you are putting the chicken into the large pot to cook, are you using the milk it was marinating in or fresh milk? And can the chicken marinate overnight?

  2. Hi Pammy - Yes, do use the same milk the chicken marinates in and yes, absolutely marinate it overnight if you've got the time! It not only flavors the meat, but tenderizes it too. Let me know how you like the recipe.