Up to about two weeks ago, I swore that I would never ever try to deep fry anything at home. I was less concerned about how bad fried food is for my health than I was about third degree burns, overflowing and spattering hot oil, and grease fires. My husband has a deep love for fried chicken (I am a pretty big fan as well) and has often begged me to make home made fried chicken. Although we found a few places in the city with pretty good fried chicken, nothing compared to the fried chicken my husband recalled eating after a night out on the town at a little known place in Queens called Palace Fried Chicken, or PFC (yes, really). He was convinced I would be able to replicate it at home. About two weeks ago, I decided to throw caution to the wind. Well, more accurately, after spending a few hours reading food blogs about how to make amazing fried chicken without burning the apartment down, I decided to try my hand at fried chicken. It seemed from everything I read that the key things to remember were: (1) soak the chicken in buttermilk for as long as possible to get very moist meat, (2) double coat the chicken to get a very crispy exterior, and (3) make sure the oil is neither too hot nor too cold.
The temperature of the oil is what made me the most nervous -- too cold and the chicken will get soggy, too hot and the chicken will burn before it cooks through. To make matters worse, I didn't have a thermometer that could have helped me if a recipe called for a particular temperature. So, I had to rely on the old fashioned test of flicking some flour into the oil to see if it immediately sizzled. The first two pieces I fried did come out slightly burnt because I waited a tad too long for the oil to heat up (it was smoking, which means I let it get too hot). However, I learned my lesson and discovered the key is to keep the heat between medium and medium-low, which seems counterintuitive. The chicken, when it hits the oil, should sizzle but not too ferociously. I also read that using butter or olive oil for deep frying is not ideal so I stuck to canola oil. Finally, you should not use too much oil in your frying pan because it could overflow. I used a wide shallow wok, which was ideal for frying 3 pieces of chicken at a time.
The second thing I learned is that soaking the chicken in buttermilk makes a huge difference. Although most recipes call for an overnight soak, I was only able to allow the chicken to soak for about 6 hours. Even after just 6 hours, the chicken was extremely tender and my husband claimed he could taste the buttermilk in the final product. A lot of recipes also call for brining the chicken. I followed a tip from Padma Lakshmi's book Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet (a gift from someone at work who overestimated my love of Top Chef; to be fair, a lot of the recipes look interesting) and soaked the chicken in salted buttermilk, which combines the two steps (although Padma Lakshmi uses milk rather than buttermilk).
The below recipe is an amalgam of tips, tricks, and suggestions from a variety of recipes. I have made fried chicken two times now and both times have been a resounding success. Now, I can't wait to try other deep fried goodies!
1 whole chicken, cut into eighths
2 cups canola oil
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
5 tsp kosher salt
4 tsp hot sauce
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp amchoor or dried mango powder (optional; you can find this easily in most Indian supermarkets)
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp paprika
1 cup corn flakes, crushed
3 eggs, beaten in a shallow bowl
1. Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce, and salt together in a large bowl. Add chicken and soak for at least 6 hours or up to 10 hours.
2. Mix the flour, corn flakes, salt, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, and amchoor powder in a shallow bowl. Dip each piece of chicken in the flour mixture, then the beaten egg, and again in the flour mixture. Coat each piece thoroughly and set aside on a large plate.
3. Heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. The oil is ready when a speck of flour begins to immediately sizzle when it hits the oil (Another test is to place the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil -- if the oil immediately bubbles up around the handle, it is ready.) Fry the chicken 2 or 3 pieces at a time to avoid crowding the pot for about 6 minutes per side (more or less time may be required based on the size of the piece).
4. Once the chicken pieces are golden brown, remove from the oil and place on a plate covered with a few layers of paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt if desired.
Makes 4 servings.