How to Make Fried Chicken
For many of us, fried chicken belongs in the category Best Cooked by Other People. We’re perfectly happy, gleeful even, to eat fried chicken if Auntie So-And-So brings it to the family reunion, but we’d never attempt it ourselves. Why not? Because getting fried chicken right just seems like an impossible feat — the crust should be golden brown, and the chicken should be cooked through, tender, and juicy.
How do you do all of that at once? It turns out, it’s actually not that hard. It comes down to a buttermilk marinade, a little bit of flour, and a candy thermometer.
We coat the chicken pieces in a peppery spice mix, and then marinate them overnight in rosemary and buttermilk. That long bath adds piquancy and moisture to the meat, so it will fry up very tender, juicy, and flavorful. Once the chicken comes out of the marinade, we dredge it in seasoned flour and fry it immediately, before the flour can get gummy. In frying, the candy thermometer is your constant companion, and so is patience. We fry in small batches, just a few pieces of chicken at a time, and keep the candy thermometer in the oil — that way, if the temperature dips or rises, we can adjust the heat.
In the test kitchen, we pulled the chicken out of the oil when it was a deep gold color and perfectly crispy and craggy. It tasted wonderful. The crust was super crunchy, and the meat was luscious and full of earthy rosemary and heat. There truly is nothing like piping-hot fried chicken. Add hot sauce, your favorite side salads, and some beer, and you’ve got all the makings of a feast.
For the spice mix:
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ancho powder
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
For the chicken:
10 pieces of chicken
2 cups buttermilk
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ancho powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 cups canola oil
Special equipment: candy thermometer and instant-read thermometer
Preheat the oven to 300º and line a baking sheet with a cooling rack.
To make the spice mix: In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients.
Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. In a large bowl, generously season it with the spice mix, making sure to coat all of the chicken.
Add the buttermilk and rosemary, turning the chicken to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, ancho powder, salt, and pepper and whisk until combined.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess buttermilk. Dredge each piece of chicken in the flour mixture, then shake off any excess flour.
Pour the canola oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot — stop when the pot is half full. Heat the oil to 350º, using a candy thermometer to track the temperature. Note: Adding the chicken pieces will reduce the temperature of the oil. Adjust your stove temperature throughout frying to ensure the oil stays at 350º.
Using tongs, gently place 2 to 3 pieces of chicken in the hot oil. If the chicken pieces are touching, use the tongs to separate them, so they don’t stick together.
Once a crust has begun to form, turn the chicken pieces over, and separate them if needed. Continue this step every couple of minutes until a nice, golden-brown crust has formed, about 12 minutes. Place the chicken on the cooling rack in the sheet pan to cool.
Using an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the chicken. If it reads 165º, the chicken is done. If not, slide the chicken into the oven, and cook it until it reaches 165°.
Repeat steps 8 through 10 for the remaining pieces of chicken. In the meantime, you can keep the cooked chicken warm in the oven.