Easier Fried Chicken
From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Southern Fare Reinvented
Why this recipe works:
To season the meat and ensure it turned out juicy, we soaked chicken parts in a buttermilk brine (buttermilk heavily seasoned with salt). We also incorporated baking powder, an unconventional ingredient in fried chicken, into our dredging mixture (flour seasoned with garlic powder, paprika,… read more
To season the meat and ensure it turned out juicy, we soaked chicken parts in a buttermilk brine (buttermilk heavily seasoned with salt). We also incorporated baking powder, an unconventional ingredient in fried chicken, into our dredging mixture (flour seasoned with garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper). As the chicken fries, the baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas, leavening the crust and increasing its surface area, keeping it light and crisp. And while most dredging mixtures contain purely dry ingredients, we added a little buttermilk to our mixture because the small clumps of batter it forms turn ultra-crisp once fried.less
Easier Fried ChickenWe wanted fried chicken with a super-crisp crust and juicy meat without resorting to quarts of oil.
A whole 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, can be used instead of the chicken parts. Skinless chicken pieces are also an acceptable substitute, but the meat will come out slightly drier. A Dutch oven with an 11-inch diameter can be used in place of the straight-sided sauté pan.
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- Table salt
- dash hot sauce
- 3 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, or a mix, with breasts cut in half), trimmed of excess fat (see note)
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 3/4 cups vegetable oil
1. Whisk 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, hot sauce, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon paprika, and pinch of cayenne together in large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 2 teaspoons black pepper, ¾ teaspoon garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon paprika, and remaining cayenne together in large bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk to flour mixture and mix with fingers until combined and small clumps form. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto pieces to form thick, even coating. Place dredged chicken on large plate, skin side up.
3. Heat oil in 11-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Carefully place chicken pieces in pan, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, 2 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake chicken until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 160 degrees for breasts and 175 for legs and thighs, 15 to 20 minutes. (Smaller pieces may cook faster than larger pieces. Remove pieces from oven as they reach -correct temperature.) Let chicken rest 5 minutes before serving.
Property frying chicken from start to finish using traditional methods requires lots of messy oil. Our hybrid stove-to-oven method cuts it way back.
A Better, Easier Approach to Fried Chicken
We fine-tuned the first part of our fried chicken recipe to achieve well-seasoned meat with a thick coating tailor-made to turn craggy and crunchy—then revolutionized how we cooked it.
Salting the Milk
In fried chicken recipes, soaking the chicken in buttermilk is a standard approach that helps tenderize the meat (mainly the outer layers). But is adding salt to the buttermilk really necessary to ensure meat that’s also juicy?
We cooked four batches of chicken side by side. Three of them were soaked for an hour, one in a solution of buttermilk and salt, one in only buttermilk, and one in a plain saltwater solution. The fourth was not soaked. All of the chicken was dredged in flour before frying.
The unsoaked chicken was dry and tough. The saltwater-soaked chicken was moist but a bit rubbery. The chicken soaked in plain buttermilk, while tender, was not terribly moist. Only the chicken soaked in salted buttermilk came out both tender and moist.
Buttermilk and salt play equally important roles here. Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which activates the cathepsin enzymes naturally present in meat as it penetrates mostly the outer layers of the chicken. These enzymes break down proteins into smaller molecules, tenderizing the meat. (We’ve found that strong acids such as wine and vinegar can break down so many proteins that the meat turns mushy, but the lactic acid in buttermilk is too weak to have this effect.) Just as in a traditional brine, the salt helps change the protein structure of meat so that it can retain more moisture as it cooks, producing noticeably juicier results.