This year with the pandemic, Dan and I decided we would make the most of summer and dining-out experiences by literally taking our meals outside. I was immediately reminded of the Pflaumer Picnic Tradition and decided to buy a picnic basket and have it readily at hand to enjoy a meal on the spur of the moment in one of the many fantastic parks in Minneapolis. Now, since I don’t really know how to grill, and it would be a bit too much to create an Argentine-style barbecue for only two people, I opted for the classic Southern fare of crispy fried chicken, a green salad, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and an array of grapes and berries for dessert. If you want to look at our picnic experiences of this summer, check out my post about summer picnics here.
Dan had been craving fried chicken all summer long. It is after all classic picnic food, immensely comforting and amazingly delicious. We decided to learn how to make fried chicken and post this recipe in honor of Aunt Julie, who is a wonderful cook and has her very own top-secret fried chicken recipe. Dan fondly remembers eating fried chicken with his family in Alabama, and since we can’t travel and visit family, this year, I decided to try making it. The deliciousness of American fried chicken comes from combining the Scottish frying techniques with West African seasoning techniques. Both groups of people enjoyed fried chicken, with the Scots being the first to deep-fry it and the West African people to implement a seasoning and battering technique. The resulting combination started appearing in American cookbooks in the 1860s and 1870s and lives on to the present day. Fried chicken became popular because it traveled well in an era before refrigeration. Because spring chickens are only available in spring and summer, it was always a luxury item to eat fried chicken. Before World War II, it was a dish only for special occasions due to the scarcity of spring chickens and the need for a high volume of fat in which to fry it, and it was almost never found on restaurant menus.
Today, fried chicken is so popular thanks for fast food chains, such as KFC, and is well-known throughout the world. Other countries have their own fried chicken varieties too. In Senegal, it is coated in peanut flour. In Korea, it is fried twice and served with a sweet and spicy sauce. In Thailand, it is marinated and served alongside sticky rice. But what if you want to make American fried chicken at home? That’s what this post is for!
Many Southern families have their favorite recipe for American fried chicken, but if you feel like trying a new one or have never attempted this dish before, I developed this recipe that has been tried and tested 3 times. The resulting chicken has the crispy texture and breaded quality that most Americans love. The golden crust is crispy, crunchy and flavorful on the outside with a cake of spice and paprika shining through; it has a moist and juicy chicken on the inside; and it has no skin for a healthier option. I do recommend making this recipe ahead. The key to the success of this recipe is the brine. There are two steps of brining: the first in warm water, with brown sugar and spices; and the second in buttermilk; so it is a time-consuming recipe. The coating of the fried chicken relies on flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, applied consecutively in a 3-step assembly-line process. This makes it methodical and easy to prep, so I do recommend setting up a station with 3 plates lined up in a row to save time. For the cooking method, the chicken is first fried at 350°, then cooked at 325° in the oven to ensure both juiciness and doneness.
I promise you this recipe is the mouth-watering stuff fried chicken picnics are made of! While it may be time-consuming, it is not a difficult recipe to put together, and the result is a delicious and memorable meal that will be a family staple for years to come. Try it—you won’t regret it!
A few tips:
- Top off the excess buttermilk as well as the excess flour when coating, and make sure that you gently pat the flour mixture onto the chicken.
- The buttermilk tenderizes the chicken. If you want an extra-crunchy crust, mix a couple of spoonfuls of the brined buttermilk into the dry breading mix. Those extra little clumps will give it that craggy texture.
- The most old-fashioned technique for frying uses a cast-iron skillet.
- Don’t overcrowd your pan when frying, and try to only flip the chicken once while frying.
- The best temperature to fry the chicken is 350°F. Of course, the temperature will vary, so if your temperature is between 300° and 350°, you will achieve a good result.
- Leftovers should be stored covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. Chicken assembled and coated but uncooked can be frozen. If you want to work ahead, brine, marinate, and coat the chicken, and then freeze it. That way, on the day of your gathering, you defrost the chicken, fry, and bake.
- I only used thighs and chicken breasts, given our family’s preferences, but this recipe works just as well with drumsticks, so don’t be shy to do that.
- If you do want to use chicken parts with skins, you can certainly do so. As a family preference, we omitted the skins for health reasons.
Carolina’s Southern-Style Fried Chicken
Prep time: 30-40 min.
Chill time: 16 hours.
Cook Time: 30 min.
For the Fried Chicken:
- 4 skinless chicken parts: breasts, drumsticks, and/or thighs. (You can leave the skins if you prefer.)
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups breadcrumbs
- oil for frying
- fresh parsley for garnish
- fresh thyme leaves for garnish
- maple syrup for drizzling
- lemon wedges for serving
For the Brine:
- 1 1/3 cups hot water
- 1 1/3 cups water at room temperature
- 1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
- 7 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tsp black peppercorns
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 bay leaves
For the Flour Mix:
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
For the Egg Wash:
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp fresh parsley
- For the brine, in a bowl, add the crushed garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, brown sugar, and salt. Add the hot water and stir with a spoon until the sugar and salt fully dissolve.
- Once dissolved, add the water at room temperature, mixing well, and let the mixture sit until it cools.
- Score the chicken parts to the bone and soak in the brine. Please note that this recipe uses skinless chicken parts, because that’s the way my family made it. However, if your preference is to cook the chicken with the skins on, you can do that and it will still work.
- Place the chicken in the brine and cover and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of 6-8 hours or overnight.
- After brining, remove the chicken from the flavored water. It should look plumper.
- Place the chicken in a different bowl and pour the buttermilk on top.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
- Coating and assembling: Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, making sure the spices are well incorporated into the mix. In a different bowl, beat 2 eggs vigorously and then add the respective flavorings of smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and parsley. Set aside.
- Using 5 large plates, create an assembly line for the coating of the chicken. On the first plate to the left, you want to place all your chicken parts that you have removed from the buttermilk. On the second plate, you want your flour mix. On the third plate, place your egg wash. On the fourth plate, place the breadcrumbs. The fifth plate is for the fully-coated chicken parts.
- Take 1 piece of chicken and coat it generously in the flour mix, making sure that it is evenly coated. Then coat it in the egg wash. Finish the process by coating the chicken in the breadcrumbs. Make sure the full surface of the chicken is coated in the breadcrumbs, and that the breadcrumbs are clinging to the chicken properly. If you are using chicken breasts, you can always tenderize the meat by patting it firmly. Repeat this with each chicken part.
- Heat the oil to 350°F to fry the chicken. To test if the oil is ready, you can use a little bit of the breadcrumbs. Toss it in the frying pan. If the clump of breadcrumbs immediately comes to to the surface and bubbles, your oil is hot enough. Reduce the heat and add the chicken pieces without overcrowding the pan.
- Fry the chicken pieces, about 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden. Do not burn, or it will spoil the flavor. You are aiming for a light golden brown shade.
- Once you have fried all the chicken, place it on a tray and sprinkle thyme and parsley on it, and if desired, dry them with paper towels to soak up excess oil.
- Place the tray of chicken in an oven preheated to 325°F and cook for 20 minutes.