Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Search of the Perfect Fried Chicken, Southern Food's Signature Dish

Fried Chicken. The very mention of the words send excited vibes down the culinary spines of many people. I cannot think of a food that people associate more with the South than fried chicken. It's origin may have been the slave kitchens of the southern plantations, with frying being a very African cooking method. But it soon spread throughout all of America's cookery. Made super famous and almost Iconic by the Colonel's famous fried chicken and Southern gentleman image in popular advertising culture, the South's signature dish is well known and loved everywhere.

Here in NYC. people are Fried Chicken Crazy!!! Since I have lived in NYC and the wave of Southern food hit New York city in the last 5 to 10 years, New Yorkers are nut-so for the crunchy crispy goodness that is the chicken ala fried! For example, The Redhead, a very cute and very big player in this southern restaurant wave, has some of the finest fried chicken in the city. The Cardinal, also has excellent chicken, And if you want to talk "New York style" fried, the matzo crumb coated chicken at Blue Ribbon in a Brooklyn Bowling alley is a revelation. Even the one time Tyler Florence inspired menu at the upper scale, comfort food, trashy/classy Cafeteria in Chelsea offers a fried chicken dish worthy of note.

Yes this is the playing field. But what if you don't want to have to go out for chicken. What about doing it yourself? OK there are two things for me about that. Given that I live in a small apartment with lousy ventilation I can't deep fried stove top. Oh believe me I have done it, but the place smells for days afterwards and since I don't own a deep fry machine, which I could, it's just not too great a thing to do. We are talking mess factor here my friends. The other thing is finding a recipe that gives you an amazing result so you don't want or need to go out for fried chicken. In essence like they say on Tyler's Ultimate on the Food Channel, the ultimate recipe for fried chicken.  In fact it has to be so good that you have your friends asking you to make it for them. So they don't have to go out either!!!

So I return to my roots. Well mine and my friend Fred Tessler ( of the Denver Tesslers). One day Fred and I were talking about growing up and how good the fried chicken we had as youngsters was at home. Why? Well it was funny but we both remember the chicken being brown and tasty and yummy with a nice softish crust, much like the colonel's original recipe texture. And we both discovered during the conversation that both our families had used .... an Electric Skillet! Yes, if you were around in the 70's or 80's almost everyone had one. Big Green or Brown and rectangle in shape it sat on the counter and was the source of the best fried chicken we both had ever had at home. The real deal here is that unlike other heating methods and pans the electric skillet has a very even distribution of heat making it better for frying all the chicken at once without having to worry about so-called "hot spots" in a pan. Plus it has a very quick temperature recovery time when you put the chicken into the hot fat.

So that's were I started. I went to JCP. ( J. C. Pennjais!) and looked for the skillet I remembered. Well, they don't make exactly that anymore. But I found one that would do. Sassy and sleek and black with a glass top that had vents in it ( very important). And it was on sale!!! What a deal, thanks Ellen!!

So now I had the hardware. But what about the most important part of the puzzle, the recipe! Well I had tips and tidbits from my Mom, who has not fried chicken in years and years. I also had online research, cookbook research, and I had what my friend Fred remembers from back in the day about his Grandmother's chicken recipe. So that was the start.

The other element in all of this is what to use to fry in. Crisco was recommended. But so was peanut oil and other things. Plus how much oil to use? Since the whole point of this was not to have "super greasy fry fry" all over my apartment I wanted to use as little oil as possible. I took notes from my fryer's guide. 3/4 cup oil. Did not seem too bad. But I decided to up the ante and use my friend Fred's Grandmother's trick, half peanut oil and half margarine!!! Plus I would increase the total amount to 1 cup. Certainly not the 4 cups Tyler Florence used in his fryer recipe.

Next the flavorings and other ingredients. My Mom and Grandmother used spices and flour, cornmeal, salt, eggs and milk. I decided to start there but not finish there. One chef I worked with in catering here in NYC used a brine overnight for the chicken of salt, water and buttermilk into which he added herbs. I decided to do the same but I would add chopped fresh rosemary, dried garlic powder and dried onion powder, and add a little hot sauce. Something I heard about somewhere.

So for the dry spices I picked on advice of my Grandmother, paprika, dried oregano, and seasoning salt. (Season-All). I also decided to add the cornmeal to the dry mix instead of just going with plain flour. To this I added the spices.

After letting the chicken sit in the fridge in it's brine overnight I took it out. and let it sit on a drip tray covered in the fridge for 2 hours. Then I took made the two mixes, one dry, one wet.

Working in batches I dunked the chicken into the wet mix of eggs, buttermilk and salt. Then dredged in the seasoned flour and cornmeal mix.

Again I placed them back on the drip tray and let them sit in the fridge for an hour. Then I removed them and let them come to room temp for about 30 mins. ( You can skip all these steps if you want but I figured I had read that these steps would help to make a better crust because we are not deep frying and we want a nice crust)

I then brought the skillet to temperature with my oil and margarine per the instructions in the booklet to 350 degrees.

Then one by one I added the chicken pieces trying not to crowd the pieces. Then I covered and cooked for 5 mins with the lid on. Checking the chicken to see if it was golden brown I turned it after about 7 mins. Again covered it. cooked about 7 mins again then uncovered it and turned it again. after 5 mins, I turned again and covered. Then I uncovered it turned it again and cooked it for about 10 mins more to crisp it up turning as needed and added a little water to the pan to prevent any burning.

After about 37 mins my chicken was done. I put in on paper towels to soak up some of the grease. Then went on to make the gravy. I added milk and butter to the chicken drippings lots of black pepper and salt to taste. stirring in a slurry of milk and flour to thicken it up.

Plattered the chicken and Viola!! Perfect Fried Chicken at home, and my place didn't have grease marks on all the walls!!! So I know it seems like a lot reading this but it's really quite simple to do. So give it a try at home and see if you don't find you have made the most delicious homemade fried chicken ever!!! Enjoy Ya'll!!

Forrest's Perfect Southern Fried Chicken ( in an Electric Skillet or Frying Pan)

Ingredients and Method:

1 whole chicken cut up into 10 pieces ( breasts cut in half on the bone)
2 cups water
2 cups low fat buttermilk
1 bunch rosemary roughly chopped
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon hot sauce

Place chicken in container, mix all ingredients and pour over chicken making sure it's covered add water if you must. Let sit in Fridge over night.

When ready to start remove from brine ( discard brine) and place on a dip tray and let sit in the fridge for about another 2 hours.

Remove from fridge

Make wet mix

1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon Seasoning salt

Make Dry dredge

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
3 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
3 teaspoons ground black pepper

Remove Chicken from the fridge and dip a few pieces of chicken at a time into the wet mixture then dredge in the dry, you can do this in a paper bag shaking the chicken till coated.

Let sit on a tray in the fridge for 30 mins then remove and let sit out to come back to room temp for no more than 30 mins.

Heat 1/2 cup peanut oil and 1/2 cup shortening in an electric skillet. to 350 degrees and the light goes off on the pan

Add chicken slowly and carefully trying not to crowd the chicken. then cover.

cook for 5 to 7 mins checking at 5 mins, if golden turn and cover again

cook for another 5 to seven minutes and repeat process turn and cover then repeat again turn and cover

watch chicken so it does not get to dark.

The uncover and turn down the heat just so light goes out. Cook another 10 mins turning to ensure that nothing burns. If it gets too dark add a little water to prevent burning.

Remove from the skillet and place on paper towels, keep warm in a oven at 200 degrees

To make gravy add 1 cup milk and 4 tablespoons butter to the chicken droppings, mix 1/2 cup milk with 2 tablespoons flours and stir till smooth. Add slowly to the pan and stir in. Add 2 tablespoons black pepper Cook till thickened and bubbly. about 5 mins. Add salt to taste. Serve with warm chicken.

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