Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Easy Southern Fried Chicken

This is what I fixed tonight, along with corn on the cob and flat Italian green beans. It's my daughter's favorite meal. So easy!!

She always hints about this meal, but I don't fix it that often because it's fried. But it was time. It's my old standby, but not from anyone else. I know most people can fix this sort of thing without even needing a recipe. I dont USE a recipe, but I just wrote down what's come to work for me after trial and error throughout the years.

Fried chicken, for me, did not start out being a very easy fix.

In those long ago years, with visions of stalwart platters of fried chicken dancing in my new homemaker head, I started by trying to fry a whole cut-up chicken.

I ended up with not only a huge kitchen mess, but with beautifully-golden breaded fried chicken that was bloody and "leaky" at the bone...YUCK. By the time I'd cooked the daylights out of that poor thing, the rest of it was a greasy mess.

I tried again throughout the years, but by the time you pre-bake it and THEN fry it, etc etc, it's just about rocket science. Or a cholesterol death sentence.

Then came along my daughter, whose entire palate for several of her adolescent years was attuned to chicken. So I ditched the (then abandoned) fried chicken recipes of yore, and went straight to nuggets...or my version of them.

I never try to fry whole pieces on the bone now. Now I only work with chicken breasts that are deboned.

I can go one of three ways with them, and if my daughter had not come along, I'd not have bothered with any of these ways. But they're quick (important!) and easy (more important!) and actually pretty YUM (all-important).

The first way is simply to take any pent up aggressions out on the poor chicken breast, put it on a firm clean surface, and beat the daylights out of it with a mallet or other blunt kitchen utensil. Do this till you're thinking kind thoughts of everyone and the meat is flattened but not completely pulverized.


Don't beat it (on those days when you're pretty happy with life in general) and cut it into strips.


Cut it into 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inch chunks.

Chicken has to be clean, so let it rest briefly in some salted water, and drain.

And here's the easy part, for me.

Chicken pieces
Spices -- salt, garlic powder, pinch of thyme, two pinches of cumin, grind of pepper
Plain flour
Oil (I use canola)

I use paper plates for some of the steps, if I have them on hand. It keeps the kitchen mess down a lot.

Step One:
Take the clean chicken pieces and put them into a bowl. Then cover them with buttermilk and let them soak at least a few minutes. The longer the better. In another bowl, put your flour, and sprinkle a little salt on the flour and stir with your fingers. Plop the buttermilk-covered chicken pieces, one by one, into the flour and turn to coat. It will look like a clumpy mess. That's ok. As you coat each piece with flour, plop them on a paper plate to "rest." You'll soon have a stack of floury raw chicken pieces, very wet and messy. You have succeeded so far :)

Step Two:
Plop them back into the former bowl that had the buttermilk in it. It should still have some in there. If not, pour a little over the floured chicken pieces so they're all mooshed and moist again. While they are there, looking all sad and mooshy in the bowl, sprinkle a hearty amount of garlic powder, a light sprinkle of salt (not loads), a very faint dusting of thyme, a little bit more dusting of ground cumin, and a grind of pepper over the top of them. Mix this goopy mess about with your bare hands and remember how much fun it was to play with mud pies.

Step Three:
Begin heating oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet or saucepan on your stovetop. Make sure any handles are pushed to the back...you don't want to be flipping the pan by bumping stray handles. Eek!

You'll need to pour the oil to about an inch deep. My skillet/pan is about 14-16 inches wide. I use canola oil. Heat on medium, or just above. You don't want a Dante's Inferno, but you don't want it too cool.

Step Four:
Take each piece of chicken and plop it back into the bowl of plain flour. Coat each and set on another clean paper plate till all are coated.

Step Five:
Test oil by taking a tad of the clumpy dough left in one of the bowls and putting it into the oil. The oil should fizz and bubble merrily around the little clump but not make a huge WHOOSH sound when you put it in. If it's too hot, push the pan to the side off the heat till it gets to the right level and adjust your heat setting, then put it back. You do want a good fizzle going around the piece when you put it in, though, or the oil isnt hot enough and will make things really greasy.

Take each piece and place gently into the hot oil with a fork, till you can't fit any more side by side. Cover skillet and keep an eye on these. Very quickly the bottoms will get golden. Check using the fork. When the bottom of a piece is golden, flip it over to cook the other side. Once both sides are golden, put them on another paper plate with a couple layers of paper towels. As you take them out, only put them side by side, but not on top of each other, to cool. As you fill one paper plate/paper towels with a full layer of fried pieces, lightly salt them and cover with a paper towel. If you're cooking a lot of pieces, just continue putting them on additional paper plates with paper toweling to cool. The paper towel soaks up the excess oil, and keeping them in a single layer keeps them from getting soft and greasy from other pieces touching.

The paper plates are easy to clean up. It sounds like more work than it is...making these is pretty quick and tastes great. You can experiment with your favorite seasonings and coatings. I experimented with seasonings for a long time before arriving at this as my favorite. For a little "heat" you can add a little cayenne pepper to the spices if you like.

Thought I'd pass this along. Not rocket science, I know, and I know it's not fancy gourmet fare. But it's one of our repeat request meals around here.

You can pair it with something traditionally southern, like buttered corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and gently cooked Italian green beans. Or you can top a fresh crunchy and tender mix of salad greens and a great vinaigrette. Or a mix of roasted vegetables--potato, onion chunks, and root veggies tossed with a tad of olive oil and garlic and rosemary, etc., and some hot cornbread (not the sweet kind, but the salty buttery cast iron skillet kind)

Any of these menus is made better by adding to the table a plate of sliced homegrown tomatoes and fresh green onions.

Always eat it with a cold, cold glass of fresh homemade iced tea!!

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