Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Art of Frying Chicken

Nothing beats home made fried chicken. If it's done right. When I was a kid, my mother made gloriously good fried chicken, and when she died no one did chicken in our house much after that. Our new caretaker tried, but her fried chicken was prepared by dipping chicken in an egg and milk wash, and then rolled oats and baked. The skin wasn't crisp, the breading was goopy and reminded me of breakfast. Underneath all that mushy oatmeal was pale and greasy skin. I hated chicken.

Fortunately, getting married and having your own family means a second chance at chicken. My chicken isn't fried. It's baked. But it is as crispy and golden as fried chicken. You might not even be able to tell the difference.

So what has prompted me to write about fried chicken? Ina Garten. I don't own any of her cookbooks, but I may have to get one. Fortunately, she blogs some fine recipes in addition to doing them on her show. Having said that, and reading through her recipe, I think I can do fried chicken much better, without so many processes. Frying and then baking chicken is a time waster. Let's simplify for a better "fried" chicken.

First off, only do thighs and legs. Whenever I roast a whole chicken, no one will ever eat the breast meat. It goes into soup or chicken salad, later. Chicken thighs and legs usually are sold in large sized packs and are three times cheaper than skinless, boneless breasts. For most people these days, price is all that matters.

Wash the chicken and pat dry. Trim any excess skin that hangs over the meat, using kitchen scissors. It is very important to have the skin only covering the top of the chicken since it produces a lot of fat, and when flipping the chicken over half way into the cooking, a good deal of the crust will come off if there is too much fat rendered.

Don't waste that skin, though. Render it. Believe it or not, you will find all kinds of uses for rendered chicken fat. It makes for some very delicious fried potatoes and adds a silky, chicken flavor to home made masa, which tends to be hideously bland. I always freeze freshly rendered schmaltz in mini aluminum loaf pans. It takes about 4 or 5 renderings to fill a pan. Then I remove it, wrap it in wax paper and put it in a freezer bag.  Set aside the cracklings or else eat them in front of your children. But just for household peace of mind, set them aside for adding into the gravy, later.

Here are the ingredients for the marinade and seasoning. Simplicity is the rule here.

First, season your chicken with a Cajun or Louisiana seasoning, which you can find aplenty in the grocery store. Basically, it's a combination of garlic salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Very simple. Season both sides of the chicken liberally and put into a larger bowl. Douse it with a Louisiana hot sauce. Just enough to cover it and make it red. Let that sit, covered on the counter for a half hour.

Dredge the chicken in plain white flour on both sides and set on a cake rack for the crust to harden up, not more than 20 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat a large, shallow baking pan in the oven as it heats to 400 degrees. Once it hits 400, leave it in the oven for about 5 more minutes so that the pan gets screaming hot.

Remove the pan and lightly spray with PAM and immediately place the chicken skin side down, alternating between legs and thighs. Work quickly. Don't crowd the pan. All sides of the chicken pieces need to brown.

Put it into the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Turn each piece over and bake for another 20 minutes.   Turn oven off and leave for 10 more minutes before removing. The chicken will be as crisp as any fried chicken.

Once the chicken is removed, scrape all the drippings, including any crispy bits from the roasting pan into a heating iron skillet. If you rendered the excess chicken skin, you should have some fine cracklings.

Cooking on medium high, add to the chicken drippings a heaping quarter cup of flour. Stir until the flour has absorbed the drippings. Slowly add  about 2 cups of whole milk or half and half and some fresh black pepper to the flour mixture and stir with a whisk to avoid lumps. Stir in the cracklings just before serving. If the gravy is too thick, add some water to thin it down. Don't scorch the milk. This gravy is delicious on mashed potatoes AND biscuits.



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