In Search Of Better Fried Chicken

I love fried chicken. Actually, I love just about anything that has the word fried in front of it, but chicken is an especially good noun for that adjective.

At our house, hubby Bryan is generally the designated chicken fry-er. I don’t know why, but at some point when we were divvying up the kitchen cooking tasks, he took on that duty, and I am his trusty assistant.

While Bryan’s chicken is pretty darn tasty, he realizes that it is open to improvement. For instance, the crust has a tendency to separate from the meat.

So when Alton Brown, the host of the show “Good Eats” on the Food Network, tackled fried chicken on an episode of that show, we both watched intently, taking mental notes on both his ingredients and methods.

The first thing we noted was that the chicken pieces benefit from a good long soak in buttermilk. This wasn’t news to us, although we had never bothered to buy a quart of buttermilk and try it. Secondly, Alton cooked his chicken in melted solid shortening; I think we’d been using canola oil.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we finally printed off Alton’s fried chicken from the Web site and gave it a try. We put our own spin on it with some seasoning changes and only used chicken breasts since there were just two of us, but for the most part followed his procedure. I can’t say we were totally pleased with the results, but that may have been due to a few technical difficulties we encountered along the way. For one thing, our chicken breasts were big — probably too big — so by the time they cooked all the way through they were overdone on the outside.

But we will try it again and hopefully overcome some of those difficulties. Here’s Alton’s recipe.

Fried Chicken a la Brown

Place 1 broiler/fryer chicken, cut into eight pieces, into a plastic container and cover with 2 cups low-fat buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

Melt enough shortening (over low heat) to come just 1/8-inch up the side of a 12-inch cast iron skillet or heavy fry pan. Once shortening liquefies, raise heat to 325 degrees. Do not allow oil to go over 325 degrees.

Drain chicken in a colander. Combine 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika, 2 teaspoons garlic powder and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Liberally season chicken with this mixture. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

Place chicken skin side down into the pan. Put thighs in the center and breast and legs around the edge of the pan. The oil should come halfway up the pan. Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 10 to 12 minutes per side. More importantly, the internal temperature should be right around 180 degrees. (Be careful to monitor shortening temperature every few minutes.)

Drain chicken on a rack over a sheet pan. Don’t drain by setting chicken directly on paper towels or brown paper bags. If you need to hold the chicken before serving, cover loosely with foil but avoid holding in a warm oven, especially if it’s a gas oven.