Since I’m in the frame of mind to get back to my culinary roots, what could be more representative of southern farmhouse cooking than fried chicken? It’s a standard. It’s a staple. It’s just classic. And, most of all it’s quick and easy. That’s right, I said “quick and easy.” Making simple fried chicken is not a production. It does not require overnight marinades or special equipment or any kind of fancy preparation whatsoever. If it did, do you think millions of southern women would have cooked it for lunch every day for years and years? I can tell you without hesitation that they would not have. For our southern grandmothers, it was something they could whip up in a few minutes.
I’ve seen the recipes and the demonstrations where chefs put the chicken in milk or buttermilk or yogurt and let it stand overnight in the refrigerator. Then they coat it in all kinds of seasonings and shake it all up together in a paper bag. Well, that’s fine if you really want to do that, but what you get from that is a big mass of fried flour with a little bit of chicken in the middle of it.
Here’s how I (and millions of southern women before me) make really simple fried chicken.
Here’s what you need:
1 frying chicken, cut up
1 ½ cups self-rising flour
Here’s what you do:
The best fried chicken is from a chicken that weighs 3 pounds or less. That’s pretty rare in today’s supermarkets especially when chickens have been bred for more breast meat, and that makes them weigh more. Try to at least find the lightest weight bird in the case. If you have the skill to do so, buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. You’ll save lots of money. I, unfortunately, do not have that particular skill. Wish I did. I’ve tried. I’ve tried a lot.
Wash and thoroughly dry all the chicken pieces and place them in a single layer in a pan. Liberally salt and pepper the chicken pieces on both sides. Be very generous with the pepper. The taste of pepper is very important to authentic southern fried chicken. Now, if you want to sneak in some other seasonings, this is the time to do that. Sometimes I sprinkle on some Lawry’s seasoning salt or some Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt. Whatever floats your boat. But if you’re a purist, you’ll stick with just salt and pepper.
Sprinkle all the flour over the chicken in the pan and toss the chicken to coat it well in flour. We’re talking about “dredging” here, not lightly flouring. That’s why you pour the flour over and toss the chicken in it rather than doing that shake-it-up in the bag thing. You want a good coating of flour.
Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a large iron skillet. I’m using about a 1/2 inch of oil here. What we’re doing is pan frying, not deep frying. You need enough oil to come about halfway up the pieces of chicken, but not so much that it will spill over when you place the chicken in the pan. Using a well-seasoned iron skillet makes a huge difference in the taste of your chicken. Just something about a great iron skillet that you can’t get from any other piece of kitchen equipment. Also, I recommend using peanut oil because it will withstand higher temperatures for a longer time without burning than other oils.
A little trick to test whether the oil is hot enough to cook — Place the end of a wooden spoon in the skillet. If the oil bubbles around it, it’s hot enough.
Turn the chicken over and cook for 10 minutes on the second side.
What? You say it’s burned? Hmm. Well, a couple of pieces are a little dark, I suppose. Oh, bless your heart…you thought it was going to look like Kentucky Fried Chicken, didn’t you? Let me tell you a secret. Those dark pieces will be the best tasting ones of the whole chicken. Trust me on that.
Turn chicken pieces once more, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook approximately 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Please excuse my improvised lid in the picture. I don’t happen to have a lid that fits my largest iron skillet, so I improvised with the largest one I did have. Works fine.
Remove the hot chicken to a paper towel lined plate and allow to drain for about 5 minutes.
If you try this method once, I’ll bet you won’t go back to all that complicated marinating and shaking. It’ll be the crispiest, most flavorful chicken you’ve cooked in a long time or my name isn’t Nana.
I’m not making any kind of promises about what the clean up is like, however.
Download a printable copy here.