Still on a bit of a high from the Cajun BBQ cook-off, I found myself wanting Southern food classics. In particular, I craved Buttermilk Fried Chicken and I had a picture in my head of serving it with some mashed potatoes, sweetcorn and gravy for a real fried chicken dinner. The first time I had a proper fried chicken dinner was another Foodie Moment for me; It was something so very simple but also deceptively delicious. There was no reason why fried chicken, mash, sweetcorn and gravy should taste so good but it did – From the crisp, spicy coating on the chicken to the familiarity of mashed potatoes and gravy, I savoured every mouthful and knew that this was the benchmark for all future fried chicken dinners. In this country, we’re so used to having “Southern Fried Chicken” with chips from your local chippy or even a KFC and whilst they have the basics of deep-fried chicken in a crisp, spicy coating, they bear little resemblance to the Fried chicken dinners you would actually in the Deep South. Actually, I remember the first time I went to a KFC in the US and was taken back by how you could get “Chicken dinners” which instead of coming with fries and beans/coleslaw as you would get here in the UK, you’d get pieces of chicken with mash, gravy and a biscuit (which wasn’t the sweet biscuit as you would expect, coming from the UK, but rather a savoury biscuit almost like a savoury scone). I was completely taken back by it and it got me researching more into food from the Deep South.
The chicken itself is quite simple: Portion up a chicken into 6-8 chunks. Well, in my case since the chicken I got was so big, I ended up cutting it into 10 portions + some extra bits (the less meaty parts but still tasty such as the neck) and put into a container or bowl. To the chicken you need to add a finely sliced onion, some chopped herbs – I used chopped fresh lemon thyme and parsley for extra green, but dried versions of herbs would be perfectly acceptable, some paprika and finally some buttermilk. Mix everything together really well – You want to make sure that all the herbs and spices are sufficiently combined and that every bit of the chicken is coated in the marinade so that it can permeate into the chicken. You want to marinade it for at least 8 but no more than 48 hours.
When you’re ready to fry the chicken, you of course need to make the coating; Put some plain four into the largest sealable bag you can find (I used a ziplock bag), to this flour you need to add the all-important seasonings and combine everything together. I used cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, onion salt and garlic salt. I was trying to remember the taste of other fried chicken, but I knew I wouldn’t have been able to replicate the Colonel’s secret recipe. So I went with what flavours I like – Hence plenty of punch from the black pepper and cayenne. I did toy with the idea of adding some chilli powder or even some celery salt, but thought better than to muck about with a classic recipe.
Drain the chicken in a colander so that it’s not too thickly coated in the marinade before dropping into the bag with the seasoned flour. Seal the bag and give it a good shake, turning the back over and upside-down several times to make sure that the seasoned flour has attached itself to as much of the chicken as possible – You want as much of the crisp coating as possible. Now, you’re ready to fry:
OK, so frying food isn’t particularly healthy and I’m not in any way suggesting that you should eat this dish on a regular basis, but in the interests of trying to make it slightly less detrimental to my health, rather than using an oil high in trans-fats to fry the chicken in, I used rapeseed oil. As we’re not going to be frying at a high heat, rapeseed oil would be fine. There is also the fact that it can be quite dangerous to deep fry things at home – Especially in an open wok like I did. However, although I personally may be confident enough to do so at home, there are a few things to consider when frying at home in a pan or wok:
- DON’T overfill the pan/wok with oil – Whenever you fry anything, you need to remember that the oil will bubble up and rise along the edges of the pan when you first add something to it so you need to allow space in your pan for this. For this reason, you should never fill your pan more than halfway up the sides
- Always drop away from yourself – When you add things to the oil, NEVER throw it into the oil – HELLO! HOT OIL HERE!. You need to control it yourself so hold one end of whatever it is you’re frying, gently place the opposite end into the oil and always let go so that whatever you’re frying will fall AWAY from you rather than towards you. That way, you reduce the chances of being splattered with hot oil over yourself. Which leads me to the next point:
- Wear long sleeves or make sure all skin is covered – After all, it’s easy to remove any item of clothing that may have been splattered with hot oil, plus the fact that it’s an important protective layer for your skin
I’m sure there are other things to consider but these are the general rules I always follow and if you’re at all worried about frying on an open pan on the fire, then (if you have one) use a deep fat fryer or whatever you’re more comfortable with. In my case, the oil was heated in my trusty wok but only on a medium high heat – You don’t want the oil to be too hot. You want it to be hot enough to seal the outside once the chicken is placed into the oil and slowly cook that side of the chicken in about 10-15 minutes, but not too hot that it burns the outside before cooking the inside. The chicken should sizzle when you first put it into the oil and continue to bubble reasonably furiously – But not so much that the oil begins to rise and bubble over, even when you allow for it by not putting too much oil in the pan as I mentioned above. In this case, there should only be enough to come up half way up the chicken pieces as you’ll be turning them over to cook the other side anyway. Needless to say, this is chicken we’re dealing with here so it’s imperative that the meat inside is cooked through. I don’t have a meat thermometer to check that the meat is cooked through, but for a large chicken like I had, 10-15 minutes on each side was plenty of time to ensure that the meat was cooked inside and not burn the outside of the chicken (well, apart from the thigh pieces which caught the base of the wok).
In KFC, I believe they use a pressure fryer which not only deep fries the chicken, but is also like a pressure cooker so it makes the chicken extra moist and cooks it in a shorter time. I recently read a thread on a forum where someone actually asked if it was as simple as putting oil into a pressure cooker – For those of you that are wondering, do NOT try it because the results would be… explosive shall we say? However, it was pointed out that another person on there fried the chicken to seal the outside, then steamed it in a pressure cooker. I’m not sure what the results tasted like but they certainly looked OK. However, since the meat in this case was tender from being marinated in the buttermilk, I didn’t have the need for a pressure cooker (although I would like to try it one day to see what the results are like).
Once the chicken is done, drain the chicken pieces on a baking tray with some kitchen towel on it to soak up any excess oil. I didn’t get the seasoning quite right for the coating in the first batch I made, so I cranked up the second batch by adding PLENTY of black pepper and cayenne pepper for a deeper colour. What you should get is a crisp, golden, crunchy coating on the outside that’s full of spice and the chicken itself should be moist and tender from being marinated in the buttermilk. I served mines with some creamed potatoes and broccoli – I was too eager to get stuck into the chicken to have time to make gravy to go with it but the results were absolutely delicious and there wasn’t any of the usual high drama or anxiety associated with frying in oil at home. I mentioned earlier that this isn’t really something that you should make every day, but as a treat or for special occasions, you absolutely should, especially when the results are as good as this and so much better than what you buy from KFC or your local chippy.
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