Buttermilk fried chicken is serious business. I’ve had the good stuff growing up in Georgia and in several cafeterias in Nashville, Tennessee, and some of my favorite local variety is featured at Highland Kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts. They only serve it on Monday nights, but it’s worth the early week drop in.
Of course, there are a thousand recipes for good buttermilk fried chicken and I’d have a hard time trying to compete or comment on who’s recipe is tops. I did, however, set out on a mission to conquer a great recipe, because I see a picnic on a country hillside in my future, and I really do love the Pioneer Woman‘s version, well-seasoned and crunchy, the sort of crunchy that falls apart onto your salad, making for deliciously salty croutons.
There are two tricks I learned from restaurant style fried chicken that you have to try the next time you tackle fried chicken. First, 24 hours before you plan to make the chicken, soak the chicken in a salt and water brine (I omitted the sugar and spices from the brine to keep it easy, but you don’t have to). Keep it in the brine for 12 hours. This step is key and while it may seem a bit over the top, it just requires a bit of planning. But I know I always know when I plan to make fried chicken because it’s not necessarily a quick preparation so if you’re planning anyway, might as well do the soak.
Next, once the 12 hours are up, rinse and dry off all the brine from the chicken and place it in a new bath, a buttermilk bath. Soak it in the buttermilk for 12 hours or so. Once those 12 hours are up, remove the chicken from the buttermilk and let it set on the counter for 30-60 minutes to bring it all to room temperature.
After those two easy and pretty mindless steps, follow your favorite buttermilk fried chicken recipe. In the Pioneer Woman recipe, she forks in a little buttermilk into the spiced up flour mixture, making it so big pieces of breading stick to the chicken and crunch up. The more breading on your chicken, the more likely it’ll break off into tiny pieces in your mouth, on your plate and all over your side salad, making it way better.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
- 2 cut-up fryer chickens
- 1 quart plus 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons seasoned salt (like Lawry’s)
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- canola or vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl (or 2 freezer bags) add the chicken with 1 quart buttermilk. Refrigerate for 12 hours, or up to 24 hours. When ready to fry, remove chicken from bowl and let sit on counter for 30-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F. Stir together the flour, seasoned salt, pepper, thyme, paprika and cayenne in a very large bowl. Pour the 1/4 cup of buttermilk into the flour and use a fork to mix until little lumps throughout.
Heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a deep skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat to 365F. Working in batches, thoroughly coat each buttermilk-soaked chicken piece with the breading, pressing to adhere the breading. Add the chicken to the oil 3-4 pieces at a time. Cover pan and fry 5-7 minutes, checking to make sure chicken isn’t getting too brown. Turn, cover and cook additional 3-5 minutes more. Monitor temperature of oil to make sure chicken doesn’t burn. Keep in mind chicken will finish cooking in oven.
Place chicken on baking sheet and continue frying rest of chicken. When done, bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes, until chicken cooked through.
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