From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Southern Fare Reinvented
Crackling-crisp, golden-brown, and juicy—what’s not to love about fried chicken? In a word, frying. Heating—and then cleaning up—more than a quart of fat on the stovetop is more trouble than most home cooks care to bother with. We wanted to find a way to prepare fried chicken—golden brown and crisp with a buttermilk- and flour-based coating—without having to heat up a pot full of fat.
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.
To streamline frying the chicken, we turned to a hybrid method where we fried the chicken until just lightly browned on both sides in less than half the amount of oil we’d typically use. Then we transferred the chicken to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and slid it into the oven to finish cooking through. Setting the chicken on a rack promoted air circulation all around the meat for an evenly crisp crust. And with a lot less oil to deal with post-frying, cleanup was a breeze.
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.