But you know what is especially unfair? It has been six whole days since this Yankee, this Jewish New Yorker without a single prior deep-frying experience under her belt, made her very first batch of fried chicken and she hasn’t gotten to tell you about it yet. But, oh, it was awesome.
Well, it was eventually awesome, if you must know. The first piece turned instantly black and filled our 660-square foot apartment with a thick plume of smoke, just as our first guest were arriving on Sunday afternoon to watch the Giants, astoundingly, win. The second batch wasn’t much better, and the third, in the spirit of honesty, was still not exactly a shade of cooked you’d be proud to serve to the eight and a half people in your living room. As it turns out my candy thermometer–which I had patted myself on the back for finding for a low $2.99 last year–well, it’s kind of a big, fat liar.
Though I had never deep-fried anything before, I have watched enough cooking shows hammer home the importance of making sure the oil is the right temperature in making perfectly fried food that I felt confident I knew exactly what to do. Too low, and the food gets heavy and soggy, and we have pots full of black-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside chicken that’ll tell you the upshot of too high a temperature. But just right, which for fried chicken a steady temperature no lower than 350 or higher than 375 degrees, you have chicken that is golden and crisp that manages to leave most of the cooking oil it was cooked right in the pot.
Eventually we worked out the differential between my cheapo thermometer and the actual temperature (75 degrees, people! let this be a lesson to me for buying a cheap thermometer. Also, for those of you who asked, it probably explains just maybe why my caramel was so much thicker than everyone else’s a few weeks ago on that caramel cake.), and the fried chicken was on. I had cobbled together elements I liked from four recipes from people who seemed like they’d just *know* good fried chicken–Cook’s Illustrated, Emeril, Paula Deen and Ina Garten–but in the end, as should not be surprising, leaned mostly on the CI one.
Here is what is absolutely brilliant about it: while most recipes have you soak the chicken for a few hours or overnight in buttermilk (Kosher folks who may have been eating fried chicken unknowingly, feel free to pretend you didn’t read that), CI’s approach has you make a buttermilk brine, and brine is our Word of the Week here at smittenkitchen. The buttermilk makes it plush, the brine makes it juicy and the battering and double-dredging in flour then sinking into a deep vat of peanut oil makes it “oh my god.” Even from a Yankee kitchen. Cook’s Illustrated truly creates miracles.
Adapted from several sources, but mostly Cook’s Illustrated
2 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chickens, cut into 10 pieces each (breasts cut in half)
5 cups buttermilk
1 cup kosher salt
2 medium garlic heads, mashed but not peeled
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
6 cups flour
Mix brine ingredients in a large bowl. Place the chicken pieces in brining solution and refrigerate for two to three hours. Remove and place on rack to air-dry.
Mix batter ingredients and place in a large bowl. Place coating in large pan to coat chicken.
Coat chicken with flour, then place in batter. Drain excess batter off chicken and place in flour again and cover. Use tongs for transfers.
To fry, heat peanut oil to 375 degrees in a cast-iron skillet. Do not fill the pot more than half full with oil. Place five to six pieces of chicken, skin side down first, in the skillet and cook, covered for seven minutes. Turn chicken and cook, uncovered, for another seven minutes. Allow the oil to return to 375 degrees F before frying the next batch.
Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan, keeping warm in the oven until ready to serve.