A Whole Fried Chicken, and a Coke

#RecipeUpTop (details below):

  • A whole chicken
  • 500 grams flour
  • 100 grams cornstarch
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 20 grams salt
  • Seasonings (to taste)
  • Frying oil

For the brine:

  • Salt (varies)
  • Sugar (varies)
  • Spices (to taste)

Method: Butcher your chicken into desired parts, and brine in a 10% brine for four (4) hours (or overnight in a 6% brine). Combine eggs and buttermilk, and dunk chicken. Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and desired seasonings, and bread the chicken. Fry at 325F until internal temp of 160F (about ten minutes). Allow to rest at least ten minutes before serving.

The Details

I had the privilege of attending college in Atlanta in the early 2000’s. It was a wild place, and for a kid from rural Maine, an absolute carnival of experiences.

Like most college students, I was broke and always hungry, and in the warm spring weather of my freshman year a rumor bloomed. A tale of a fantasy place that had the best fried chicken in the world, in unlimited quantities.

Mary Mac’s Tea Room.

And so, a group of us grabbed the one kid with a car and set off in search of this poultry paradise. And we found it. Boy, did we find it.

It was a classic “meat and three” kinda place, cash only, and I’ll be candid that I overdrew my account based on the aromas alone.

We were seated, iced tea was poured (sweet, of course), and the chicken started arriving.

It came in big, towering piles, set in bowls upon crisp tea towels. It was light, crispy, juicy, and unlike anything I’d ever had before. It was, at that point in my life, the best thing I’d ever eaten.

Since that moment, I’ve been in pursuit of that chicken. It’s taunted me. Clucked mockingly from afar. Woken me from deep sleep on a dark winter’s night.

But I figured it out.

So…. quick detour here. My wife (Mrs. 10Chickens) makes the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Ever. But she won’t tell me how to make it, and because she’s a good southern girl, even if she “told” me, I wouldn’t trust it. And, I can’t figure it out. So, this is the SECOND BEST fried chicken I’ve ever had. And, look, it’s awesome.

Step one: break down your chicken.

This is my preferred chicken-frying breakdown. Wings in one piece, legs separated from thighs, and the boneless breasts bisected into halves. This is just preference, and you can do whatever you’d like, but I find this assortment is relatively uniform in size and shape, meaning it all cooks pretty evenly (more on that later).

Step two: brine it. We’ve been over and over the brine process in our posts about roast chicken, pulled pork, and coal-fired chicken wings, but if this is your first rodeo with us, a brine is a salt-and-sugar solution that uses osmotic pressure as a psychical/chemical trick to carry flavors and moisture deep into hunks of meat, like chicken parts. In this case, if you’re frying this bird same-day (which I usually am because I’m bad at planning ahead, you’re going to want a 10% brine. If you’re ahead of the game and brining the night before, go with 6%. As for added flavor, I like a little sage and few bay leaves.

Step three: bread it up an hour before frying. For this, we’re going to whisk our eggs with the buttermilk, and (if you feel like it) you can add a little hot sauce:

At the same time, combine your flour, cornstarch, salt, and “seasonings” – and this is where things get personal. I’m not going to tell you what to use, because it depends completely upon your preference. I like garlic powder, onion powder, sage, cayenne, and black pepper. BUT… you may want mustard powder, oregano, lemon pepper, and coriander. It’s really up to you, so play around.

For my flour mixture, I like to use a tupperware or Cambro, something with a lid that I can shake:

Once you have the flour mixture together, dip the chicken into the egg-buttermilk wash, then straight into the flour without draining it. Like we discussed in the chicken tenders post, you want that liquid in order to make a sort of thick batter, which will become extra-crispy:

Work in batches, moving the breaded chicken to a wire rack over a half sheet pan. VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: do not, for any reason, shake off the extra flour. You want as much of it on the chicken as possible, and we’ll get there. DON’T SHAKE!

From here, this needs to go into the fridge for an hour. Why? Well, have you ever bitten into fried chicken and had the skin and breading slide off in one big sheet? This prevents that. The flour will hydrate (hence the no-shaking rule), and adhere to the chicken, forming a symbiosis of fried chicken bliss. Here’s what it looks like after the hour:

Step four: fry it. After the chicken has had time to bond with the breading, get your fry oil up to temp, which in this case is 350F with a goal of 325F after adding the chicken (and the ensuing temp drop from said chicken). I can’t tell you how many recipes for frying chicken involve a 350F cooking temp, and IT IS A DIRTY LIE. Look, that’s fine for smaller things like nuggets, but for larger items your exterior will be a hard, dense, overcooked shell before the interior is done. 325F is the magic number for fried chicken.

Oh, do you have onions? Well, you know I hate wasting oil. You can thin-cut some onion rings and batter them with the leftover egg wash and flour, and there’s no need to let them rest:

Anyway, where were we? Ah, chicken, right. Get the oil up around 350F, and drop your dark meat (thighs, legs, and wings). Make sure the temp on the oil drops to 325F, killing the heat if you have to. After ten or so minutes, use a probe thermometer to check the internal temp of the chicken, and you’re looking for 160F, which, yes, is below done. But this will have so much internal heat, it will keep cooking once you get it out of the oil, and will easily coast up past the 165F finish line:

There you have it. That’s it. Move to a draining rig like the one above, and fry the rest of your bird. You can keep this stuff warm in an oven if you’d like, or just wait and serve it all up at once.

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