Back when I was in college, fried chicken was just as much a “thing” as pizza, wings and (for some) Chinese. My freshman year, a girl that lived on my floor worked at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, usually the night shift since she had classes during the day. On the nights that she worked, she would get back to the dorm around midnight with the leftover food from the end of the night. Six of us girls would sit in the hallway, with all of the food in the middle, gossip and snack on fried chicken, potato wedges, biscuits and chocolate chip cake. In case you’re wondering, yes, I did in fact gain the freshman fifteen. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those late-night snack sessions for anything. It was about forming bonds, friendships and alliances as we were all trying to navigate college life.
I’ve long since wanted to make my own fried chicken. The problem? For as many pieces of amazing, juicy chicken with crunchy breading that I’ve had, I’ve experienced a greater number of disappointing fried chicken with dry meat and soggy breading. I wanted to make sure I created the former, not the latter. I’m happy to report that this recipe nails it!
I settled on Thomas Keller’s recipe from At Hoc at Home for one primary reason: it included an overnight brine of the chicken. After making a brined and deep-fried turkey for the first time this past Thanksgiving, I was 100% sold on the process. I reasoned that doing the same thing to fried chicken would no doubt have the same amazing result. My gamble paid off big-time. I bit into my first piece of chicken – a breast – and there was literally juice dripping out of it. I have never known white meat to be so tender and juicy. The brine not only added juiciness, but wonderful flavor as well. It was subtle enough to not overpower the chicken or the breading, yet you could taste it, and it was the perfect complement to the breading.
Speaking of the breading, I changed up the original recipe a bit to create more of a shaggy, extra-crispy exterior very similar to the General Tso’s Chicken and Sesame Chicken I’ve made. Adding some liquid to the final dry breading makes all the difference in the world. The breading on the chicken is thick and extra-crunchy, just how I like it!
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to grab another drumstick (my favorite part!) and maybe whip up some macaroni and cheese to go along with it. I love when college memories and grown-up cooking collides, don’t you?
Prepare the Brine: Combine all of the brine ingredients in a large stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Pour the brine into a large container, add the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours (don't refrigerate for much longer, or the chicken will be too salty).
Prepare the Chicken: Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold water, washing off any particles from the brine stuck to the chicken. Pat dry with paper towels and let sit at room temperature for 1½ hours, or until it reaches room temperature.
Prepare the Coating and Dredging Station: Fill a large pot with at least 2 inches of frying oil, place it over medium heat and heat to 320 degrees F. Place a wire cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and place it to the side of the pot of oil to drain the cooked chicken.
Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Divide the mixture between two shallow bowls. Pour 1 quart of the buttermilk into a third shallow bowl. Add the 6 tablespoons of buttermilk to one of bowls with the flour mixture and use a fork or your fingers to toss the mixture together - all of the moisture from the buttermilk should be absorbed and the mixture should look a little shaggy. Set up the station in this order: chicken pieces, dry flour mixture, buttermilk and shaggy flour mixture, then a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of shaggy coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.
Fry the Chicken: Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through (should register 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer), and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. Ensure that the oil has returned to 320 degrees F, and cook the chicken drumsticks for about 8 minutes, checking for doneness as you did with the thighs. When the drumsticks are done, transfer them to the cooling rack skin-side-up.
Increase the heat slightly and bring the oil up to 340 degees F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through (should register 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer), and crisp. Transfer to the rack, skin-side-up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat. Allow the chicken to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. If made ahead, the chicken can be placed in a 400 degree F oven for a few minutes to warm up.
I bought a chicken that was already cut up into pieces from the grocery store. It's a little more expensive, but it definitely saves time (and some mess) if you're looking for a little shortcut.
If you don't have time for the brine (it needs to boil, then cool to room temperature, then be completely chilled before using), you could do the following: Place 1 quart buttermilk and the chicken in a resealable plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight, then proceed with the rest of the recipe as written. You won't get as much flavor this way, but it saves quite a bit of time.