Fried Chicken

"You is kind, you is smart, you is important." Recognize the phrase? It's from 'The Help' which recently premiered on Showtime (and has been playing a LOT). I'd read the book but missed the movie when it was in theaters so I was delighted to be able to veg out one night and watch it with my sister. The scene where Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) teaches Miss Celia (Jessica Chastain) how to make fried chicken immediately gave both of us a huge craving for some.

Ingredients [serves 4 to 6 people]:
1.5 lbs of chicken drumsticks (that's the piece that everyone in my family would fight over in a mixed bucket from KFC so I decided to use all drumsticks but you could use a fryer chicken or just wings or whatever you like)
2 cups buttermilk (estimate)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon baking powder
lots of vegetable shortening - like Minny says, Crisco can do pretty much everything but it's best for frying chicken
Step One is to dress the part. Put on your best flower print frock and slap on an apron because you can't cook southern food without the look. Just kidding. But it does make me happy and it definitely put me in the mood to fry.

Step One in reality is to soak the drumsticks in buttermilk for at least 3 hours (thought overnight is best). The buttermilk makes the finished product v. tender, moist, and it's a great time to add some seasoning to the meat. Put your chicken (with skin or without skin - your preference) in a large bowl and add enough buttermilk to make sure each piece is sufficiently bathing in it. Sprinkle in a little salt (1/4 teaspoon) and cayenne pepper (1 teaspoon), stir, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Don't forget to wash your hands with soap. **I don't like the skin on chicken because it adds unnecessary calories with no flavor and because it's flexible, it actually helps the breading flake off more easily.
Once the chicken has soaked, it's time to bread it. Again, like Minny, I like to shake it up in a brown bag. This technique creates an even coating and allows for easy cleanup. Mix together the flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt together and then add it to the paper bag. Drain the chicken, one piece at a time, and drop it in the bag of seasoned flour and then shake what your mama gave ya! Remove the chicken and continue until all the pieces are coated. I like doing it one piece at a time because it gives each piece individual attention and ensures that it gets a good and even dusting of seasoned flour.
Now you have to wait a bit more. In the first photo, you can see that (1) there's flour that hasn't absorbed much moisture and (2) there is flour that's less opaque and has absorbed some moisture. And then in the second photo, you can see that the chicken still has some flour that hasn't absorbed much moisture but it does look gooier. This is what you want - you want the seasoned flour to absorb as much moisture (the buttermilk) which will form a lovely paste that sticks to the chicken. Otherwise, when you add the chicken to the hot fat, the dry flour will just float off. And floating flour burns and makes the frying fat taste icky and translates that flavor to the chicken.
Sticking with the southern theme, I chose to cook my chicken in a cast iron pan. Cast iron holds heat well so the chicken will cook evenly. Heat up enough Crisco to come about halfway up the side of the pan. Have a thermometer handy and make sure the oil is at least 250 degrees before you start frying (obviously my Crisco wasn't quite ready yet). Cook the chicken in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Turn the pieces every two or three minutes until all of the breading is lovely and brown. If you're cooking different sized pieces - thighs, breasts, wings - Leave the meatier pieces in the center of the pan where the heat is strongest and the less meaty pieces around the perimeter.
Keep cooked batches on a wire rack. NEVER drain the chicken on a paper towel on a plate - they'll get soggy. I set up my wire rack on a baking sheet (lined with foil for easy clean up) because the second part of my cooking process is to stick the chicken in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. The internal temperature of the chicken should be checked for doneness (165 degrees). If it's not done yet, leave it in the oven and keep checking on it every few minutes. Once they're done, I give it one last go in the Crisco to make sure the skin is super crispy.
Do you see this? This is Southern comfort; this is love.
Serve with delicious sides like corn, mascarpone pasta (recipe will come soon), and a fresh green salad. Take a bite - the skin should be delicious and crispy and a little spicy and the meat should be super tender and juicy. ENJOY. I ORDER YOU.


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