It can't be denied that fried chicken is very addictive: the juicy meat encased in a crisp, salty and greasy crust is always going to be an attractive prospect, for some. The best way to indulge in fried chicken is right at home where you have better control of the ingredients that go into the cooking.
The chicken: Many fried chicken recipes suggest you start with a whole bird and joint it yourself, but chefs with experience recommend you forget the bland breasts, and concentrate on thighs and drumsticks. Remove the skin as it doesn't crisp up properly under the coating, and is inevitably rubbery.
The marinade: Some fried chicken recipes marinate the meat first in brine, milk or buttermilk, or a combination of the two to ensure maximum juiciness. You should brine your chicken overnight and then soak it in buttermilk for another 8–10 hours.
If you are going for a classic recipe, don’t bother with any kind of marinade, the chicken should be brought up to room temperature before cooking, followed by a bath in water or milk to give the flour something to stick to, which works perfectly well, although water does make things dangerously flaky.
You won’t detect much difference in tenderness between the buttermilk and milk marinades, but the buttermilk gives the longer-marinated chicken a tangier flavor, and is a better base for the flour to cling to than milk or water. Add spice to your marinade rather than the coating by seasoning it with salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder, black pepper, garlic powder and dried thyme.
Coating: Fried chicken is strictly a floured affair; no egg, no crumbs and no crushed Rice Krispies.
However, it is a delicate balance: while the coating should be solid and crunchy, it shouldn't imprison the chicken in a sarcophagus of stodge. To avoid this, wipe off as much buttermilk as possible before lightly dredging the pieces in a small amount of flour. This makes his coating much lighter.
The coating can play host to any number of flavorings, including herbs and spices, although, traditionally, salt and pepper were deemed sufficient. In their quest for the perfect fried chicken, some chefs go for smoked paprika, mustard powder, sage, celery seeds, sugar, dried onion, salt and black and white pepper – a coating so heavily spiced you can eat the chicken on its own. To truly savor the flavor of the meat, simply stick to plain salt and pepper, and sprinkle a pinch of paprika to give the chicken a smoky taste and a beautiful color.
Cooking method: Fried chicken should not be deep-fried. Shallow-fry the chicken, turning it halfway through, and cover the pan for the first 12 minutes, then turn up the heat until it is fried. Covering the frying chicken is the only correct method as it ensures that the chicken cooks through quickly, before the coating has time to burn, and stays beautifully moist inside.