Martha Hall Foose's Proper Fried Chicken
Southern Summertime Picnic Recipes
Nothing says summer like an outdoor picnic, and Martha Hall Foose wants to show you how to do one with Southern flair. Her new book "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook" has several regional staples.
Like country-fried steak, pimiento cheese, and fried catfish, fried chicken is a perilous subject. By even going here I am opening myself up to ridicule. But I have to say this: pan-fried chicken is the best.
Proper fried chicken takes a long time to master. If you want to make good fried chicken, you must make it often and learn the nuances. These are a few universals to guide the novice fry cook.
First, assemble all the tools and ingredients needed before setting out to fry. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels so the crust will adhere and the oil will not splatter. Have the pieces cut in reasonable, comfortable sizes (for instance, cut large chicken breasts in half crosswise to ensure even cooking and that no one gets to bogart the breast). And finally, keep in mind that white meat cooks fast than dark meat.
The best choice for cooking pan-fried chicken is a 10 1/2 to 12-inch cast-iron skillet at least 4 inches deep, with a lid or pan to use as cover in conjunction with a wire-mesh splatter guard.
Soak the chicken in the buttermilk and hot sauce in the refrigerator anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. Drain the chicken in a colander and pat each piece dry with paper towels. Place on a wire rack set over something to catch drips. Soak the chicken in the buttermilk and hot sauce in the refrigerator anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. Drain the chicken in a colander and pat each piece dry with paper towels. Place on a wire rack set over something to catch drips.
When ready to fry, put the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a double paper bag or plastic sack. Working with one piece at a time, shake the chicken in the bag with the flour, turning over and over to coat evenly. Set the coated chicken on the wire rack while continuing to coat the remaining chicken. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes before frying. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the coating flour if you are going to make gravy and discard the rest.
Set a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with newspaper or paper towels. Heat 1 cup of the shortening in a deep cast-iron skillet to 365 degrees F. The melted shortening needs to be 1/2 inch deep, or enough to come halfway up the chicken pieces; add more if needed. Gently lower the chicken, skin side down, into the hot oil. Do not crowd the skillet and work in batches, if need be. (Once chicken is added, keep the temperature of the fat at 350 degrees F). Cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook for 6 minutes. Remove the lid and rearrange the pieces, but don't turn them yet. Cover again and let cook for 6 more minutes.
Turn the chicken over and season the cooked side with salt and pepper. Cook uncovered for about 8 minutes for white meat and 12 minutes for dark meat, rearranging halfway through until the crust is deep brown and the chicken is cooked through. Drain on the rack set over paper.
To cut up a chicken, remove the wishbone and split down the back first. Turn breast side up and split down the middle of the breast to cut the chicken into halves. Take one side of the chicken bone side up and split between the breast and the thigh. On the upper portion, cut off the wing and remove the wing tips (save for stock). Separate the ribs from the breast (save them for stock with the wing tips); cut the breast in half crosswise if large. On the lower portion, cut off the back. Cut between the thigh and leg joint. You should now have six pieces of chicken plus the wishbone; repeat with other side of the chicken.
Arranging the chicken in the skillet is close to an art form. Working from the center outward, place the thighs, back, and legs in first. Next come the thicker breast parts pointing inward, and then finally the wings. One small cut-up chicken will fit nicely into a large skillet, but all parts do not cook at the same rate. Beginners may want to start with one cut of chicken at a time until they get the hang of it, all thighs or breasts, etc., or cook the dark and light meat in separate batches.
To make gravy, pour the fat off, leaving browned bits in the pan. Measure 2 tablespoons of drippings and return to the skillet and heat over low. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the coating flour over the hot drippings and cook, scraping up bits and stirring constantly from center to outer edge. Slowly add 1 1/2 cups chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, or until desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Remember, gravy will thicken as it stands, so err on the side of thinness. I like a long-handled flat-bottomed wooden spoon for gravy making.
*Recipe courtesy of Martha Hall Foose from her book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea (Clarkson Potter, 2008).
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