- Buttermilk, 2 cups
- Honey, 6 tsp.
- Flour, 3 cups
- Baking powder, 1 tsp.
- Canola oil
To me, fried chicken is the quintessential summer meal.
My uncle cooks industrial quantities of the stuff in a 55-gallon oil drum repurposed to support an iron kettle. He checks the temperature of the bubbling oil with a laser thermometer and adjusts the intensity of the single, jet-like burner underneath by tweaking the valve on the propane tank.
Two minutes after dropping heaps of seasoned poultry into the makeshift fryer, he is Midwestern July personified, ruddy-faced with an inkblot sweat stain spreading across his back.
What could make this moment feel more like summer?
Bees whizzing around at knee-level, scattering sticky-fingered children just to circle back to their unattended pop cans.
It’s March. It’s cold. If I can’t have sun, at least I can have chicken and honey and summer in the kitchen.
We used chicken breasts, but really any piece thin enough to cook through evenly works. Drumsticks and tenderloins are good options.
Start by mixing the honey into the buttermilk and then seasoning with salt and black pepper.
Pour the mixture into a ziplock bag and drop your chicken pieces in. Zip it up and squish them around until they’re fully coated. Toss the bag in the fridge and let the chicken rest for at least 20 minutes. If you are able to plan your meals more than an hour in advance, you should leave the chicken in the fridge overnight. Up to about 24 hours, more time soaking in the brined buttermilk means more flavor and more tenderness.
About an hour before frying, take the chicken out of the fridge and let it drain on a wire rack before wiping excess of buttermilk off. If you leave big globs on, the breading will fall right off of your chicken.
Pour your oil into the skillet or pot and set it on a burner just a notch or two over medium heat. Let the oil warm up until shimmering. If you have a fryer thermometer (or one of those handy laser ones), take the temperature of the oil. For best results — that means crispy, golden breading and thoroughly-cooked poultry — you want the oil around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot and the color of the breading inches toward brown while the interior remains uncooked. Too cold and the chicken will take on excess oil without ever achieving that perfectly crunchy exterior.
While your oil is heating up, mix the baking soda into the flour in a large bowl and season the mixture heavily with salt, black pepper, paprika and cayenne (but be careful with that last one).
When your oil is at the proper temperature, dredge the chicken in the breading mixture and drop the pieces one or two at a time into the oil, making sure not to crowd them together, lest the oil drop too far in temperature.
Depending on the cut of chicken you decided to work with, your frying time can vary quite a bit, but it will probably be between eight and 15 minutes. The trick here is to rely on your senses and intuition. This can be a intimidating lesson for a new cook to learn, but trust yourself and remember that it’s okay to screw up.
Even if you’ve never fried chicken before, you’ve probably eaten some. You know what it should look like and about what it should smell like. If it starts to get too dark too fast, drop the heat. If it’s not crisping, dial it up. Flip each piece close to halfway through its time in the oil.
Once a piece is done, pluck it out and let it rest on a wire rack (ideal, as it lets fat drain but doesn’t soak it all up) or paper towels (what I had on hand).
Repeat until each delectably golden hunk is fried and drained. Drizzle with honey or splotch with homemade mayo. Eat, and be warm and merry.
By Jack Evans
… bonus chicken sandwich
Leftovers. They happen.
Whether you intentionally doubled the recipes or your dinner guests bailed, the bottom shelf of your fridge is now home to a fried chicken breast or two and a smattering of yesterday’s biscuits.
Split your biscuits. Chop the chicken into chunks manageable enough to fit on the bottom half of a biscuit. Find an egg and a quarter cup of oil. Drain away the egg white with your fingers and then beat the yolk in a bowl, adding the oil drop by drop. Dash in some salt and one quick squeeze of lemon juice. Slather your homemade mayo on the top half of a now-slightly-stale biscuit. Top with pickle slices. Assemble the best leftover sandwich this side of Thanksgiving.
Enjoy your leftovers.