August 09, 2010

Fear of Frying #1: Southern Fried Chicken

I've always had something of a fear of frying. Not searing, or stir-frying, or tossing the perogies into a skillet with butter pan-frying kind of frying. You know. Frying. Deep frying, or at the very least, shallow-frying. I don't know whether it comes from a childhood immersed in 70's style health food obsessions, or simply the fact that my mother almost never fried anything. Maybe it's the waste of oil, the mess, and the general aura of guilt that seems to be evoked even by the word frying.

But, I do like fried foods. I like tempura, tonkatsu, southern-fried chicken, pakoras, fish and chips, doughnuts, and all kinds of delicious fried delights. So, I've set myself on a remedial course to learn how to fry without fear. First up: chicken.

I turn to the experts for advice, and in this case, I consulted Alton Brown's Fry Hard II episode of Good Eats, and the related cookbook. I learned that what makes southern-fried chicken "southern" is that it is shallow-fried in a couple of inches of oil which allow the skin to contact the bottom of the skillet during cooking, and is never fully immersed, which allows moisture to escape during cooking and prevents the crust from becoming a separate layer that simply peels off the chicken when you bite into it.

I dutifully soaked my chicken in buttermilk overnight, and seasoned up the pieces (all drumsticks, in this case) with the exact seasoning mixture he prescribes, right down to using smoked pimenton for the paprika, which is a variant mentioned in the Good Eats: The Early Years tome.

I tossed the pieces in flour, and allowed them the full recommended 15 minute resting time to allow the combination of flour and buttermilk to gelatinize and form the crust. This little nugget of wisdom appears in the book, but not the online recipe.

The frying itself was actually pretty easy: I laid the pieces gently into the preheated vegetable shortening (I used a frying thermometer to get the right temperature of 325 F), four legs per batch, set the timer, and watched in fascination as they cooked. Tongs to turn them over, and another short wait, then onto a rack placed over a tray to rest while the rest cooked up.

I confess that I was relieved that Alton had cautioned that the step he employs of seasoning the chicken with paprika prior to the flouring stage makes the cooked chicken quite dark, or I would have been afraid that I had burned it. As it was, I may have left the second batch in a little longer than strictly necessary - it was quite mahogany coloured - but every piece was juicy and delicious, and made me want to eat far far more than I ought.

As you can see above, we had our southern-fried chicken legs with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy (made from the de-fatted chicken drippings of organic chickens, aka "chicken gold", a little broth, and a flour/chickenfat roux) and, of course, coleslaw.

It turns out, the hardest thing about frying chicken at home is refraining from overindulgence.


LadyI said...

hi, I also love to cook and I tried this and definite enjoyed!thanks for shairng

Dawna said...

Thanks, Ladyl! It was a fun experiment, and I want to try it again soon.