Southern Fried Chicken Dinner (in Chicago)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we love fried chicken.  (I earlier devoted a post to comparing the relative merits of Thomas Keller’s and David Chang’s fried chicken:  When the cover of our February 2012 issue of bon appetit featured a fried chicken drumstick (with the usual claim of it being the “best fried chicken ever!”), we felt we should give the traditional southern style a whirl as well.

Will thinks this was the best version of the three, and I agree with him that the single dipping in the flour and cornstarch mixture produced enough crust (more than David Chang’s no flour coating) but not too much crust (less than Thomas Keller’s double-dipping in seasoned flour).  Perhaps this is the Goldilocks version of fried chicken crusts.  On the other hand, I would still have to say that the (skinless) chicken tenders version might benefit more from Keller’s double-dipping; and there is something to be said about that soy-vinaigrette on nothing-but-pure-fried-chicken flavor of Chang’s recipe.  I reserve my judgment for now.

Some elements we found interesting with the bon appetit version:

1) Not brining but rather dry-rub seasoning the chicken parts:

Thomas Keller has you brine the chicken overnight (12-24 hours).  David Chang has you brine the chicken 1-6 hours, and then steam it before cooling and frying it.  The bon appetit recipe has you dry-rub the chicken (and letting it sit overnight) with a mixture of salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder and onion powder.  We liked this dry-rub better because the seasoning permeated the chicken pieces rather than just being on the breading.  At the same time, the salt in the dry-rub helped keep the pieces moist—and briny—without actually brining for a long period.

2) Using a cast iron frying pan:

We’d heard people swear by cast-iron skillets for frying chickens.  bon appetit talks about how the cast iron retains heat better to ensure even frying.  Others have mentioned that the cast iron gets the chicken pieces almost caramelized on the bottoms, with skins a darker brown, than submerging the entire piece in hot oil.   We usually prefer deep-frying, but we tried the cast-iron for the “Skillet-Fried Chicken” recipe.  Apparently you make up for the pieces not being submerged by turning them every 1-2 minutes.  We opted for turning every 2-3 minutes not only out of sheer laziness but also because turning every 1-2 minutes seemed unnecessary. 

The cast iron does produce a darker fried chicken, but I’m not sure we thought it was necessarily more caramelized or more evenly cooked.  We have two cast irons and debated between the 12-inch, wider and shallower Le Creuset or the 10-inch, taller, and straighter-sided pan.  I’m glad we went with the taller one since the ¾ inch of oil necessary for frying might have spilled over in a shallower skillet once we put all the chicken pieces in there.  With a smaller pan for frying, we ended up having to cook in 3 batches instead of our usual 2.  The jury is still out on whether we needed to use the cast iron skillet. 

For our Southern Fried Chicken dinner pictured at the top of this post, sides included:

Sauteed rainbow chard:
Our CSA box for this week had included rainbow chard, and we had bacon drippings left over from breakfast.  Seemed like a no-brainer to me.  (We don’t actually keep bacon fat in a coffee tin a la some southern cooks, but we do have a little bowl that we keep drippings in—you know, just in case we need to sautee some greens or fry up an egg.)  I sweat onion slices in the bacon fat with some crushed red pepper flakes, then throw in the tougher stems for a few minutes, then handfuls of leafy parts of chard (or spinach or kale, or collard or mustard greens) until tender.  It is important to salt at the end, after the leaves have shrunk down so that you don't end up oversalting.

Garlic mashed potatoes:
Lots of garlic boiled along with Yukon Gold potatoes, all mashed together with salt, whipping cream, butter, and a little milk (to pretend we’re being relatively healthy).  Who needs gravy?

Waffles with honey-butter:
We made Belgian waffles for breakfast and had leftovers.  With everything else going on in the kitchen, we weren’t going to have time to make buttermilk biscuits. But we had plenty of time to toast—to heat and re-crisp—our morning’s waffles.  Fried chicken and waffles are supposed to be a good (Southern) combination anyway, so that felt just right.  Combine butter with honey to make a honey-butter for the waffles.

All in all, between the 3 fried chickens we tried recently, there is no clear winner.  I’d make them all again.  And, given my propensity for fried foods, I’m sure I will be trying ever more recipes for fried chicken…


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