Five Steps to Perfect Fried Chicken
We might argue about the stackability of fast-food sandwiches or the correct thickness for pizza crust. But there’s one food most Americans can agree on: fried chicken. In fact, classic southern fried chicken has been riding high on the wave of a trend toward rustic comfort foods, which are being reimagined and reinvigorated by chefs across the country.
But what makes it so good? We spoke with Josh Kulp, who together with his partner Christine Cikowski cooks up perfectly crispy poultry at Chicago’s Honey Butter Fried Chicken.
For the best fried chicken, there are many approaches one can take: “Buttermilk or no buttermilk, brine or no brine, shortening, peanut oil, or lard,” Josh said. “We always say that the great thing about fried chicken is how many different ways there are to make it.” This flexible attitude has sometimes attracted controversy—when HBFC started deboning its fried chicken, the Chicago Reader ran an entire story about it.
But despite his willingness to experiment, when we asked him how to fry chicken, Josh touted his belief that there are a few steps that no one should mess with. Here are his tips for achieving a perfectly crunchy crust on a fried drumstick, breast, or thigh.
Step 1: Brining
According to Josh, brining enhances flavor and makes the chicken more juicy. Soaking chicken in a brine of salt and water is sufficient, but experiments abound. Some brine with tea, some with pickle juices.
Step 2: Resting
Let the bird come to room temperature before cooking. “In a small pot, adding a lot of cold chicken can make oil drop from 320 to 200 pretty fast, and your chicken will become soggy and greasy,” Josh said.
Step 3: Breading
Basic fried-chicken batter is a combination of flour and eggs, but virtually nobody stops there. No matter where you are in the US, fried-chicken aficionados generally agree on adding salt, pepper, and paprika to the mix. One of the secrets to HBFC’s crunchy crust is a combination of wheat and rice flours. Josh himself will never turn his nose up at experimentation in this regard. “Matzo meal works great!” he said.
Step 4: Deep-frying
The oil must be at a lower temperature than a usual deep-fry (for french fries, for example). That’s necessary to meet the three requirements of perfect fried chicken: a crisp crust, perfectly cooked meat, and deliciously rendered skin.
Step 5: Eating
“It’s also crucial to let the chicken rest for a few minutes before biting into it—just like a roast chicken or steak—to let the juices settle,” Josh said. And so you don’t burn your mouth on all that hot deliciousness.
Photo by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon
Though Aimee stays up to date on the latest food trends for the Guide, most of her meals are served cold and cut into tiny, toddler-sized bites.