I love fried chicken. Always have. And probably always will. As a kid, fried chicken in our home DIDN’T look anything LIKE Kentucky Fried Chicken or any of its ilk at all. Instead, the chicken was almost invariably heavily tanned, almost dark brown, without a floured coating, and the caramelized skin and meat and ketchup and rice was the childhood equivalent of food nirvana. I realize now, the childhood version almost certainly used emaciated organic free-range Olive-oil-gangly-like (as in Popeye’s Olive Oil, not the oil from olives) chickens and the resulting fried pieces were not terribly attractive at all. But they tasted wicked good. The fried skin, the tender meat, the salt, the fat, the ketchup (only ketchup in our home) was perfect with white rice and I could never get enough chicken. By the time I took my first trip to New York, at the tender age of 11, I was completely shocked at the plump, breaded or floured version that Sister cooked there, and despite a long fry, they were the “blondest” pieces of fried chicken I had every had. For an 11 year-old that was proof positive that everything American was bigger and blonder… Until I had my first traumatic fried chicken-linked experience…
In New York, at my Sister’s dinner table, with my first piece of blonde fried chicken, I asked for some ketchup and poured it onto my plate, beside the chicken and a huge pile of macaroni salad. My brother-in-law, feigned SHOCK and GAVE ME GRIEF LIKE YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE. He meant it in jest, but I distinctly recall being on the verge of tears. We laugh about it now, and I know he will read this post and I will have my REVENGE as thousands of you wonder what the big deal is and send him dagger looks over the net… The big deal is that blonde chicken is thought to be best eaten with gravy or nothing at all, definitely NOT KETCHUP. Hahaha. I kid you not. I had trouble swallowing my fried chicken the rest of that meal but I stood my ground, and continue to enjoy my fried chicken most with lots of ketchup, despite having had it with gravy in the U.S., with a thick chili paste in Indonesia, with pepper salt at Chinese restaurants, with sweet chili sauce or even sweet soy sauce concoctions in other places. Give me a a few pieces of fried chicken and a bottle of Heinz or Del Monte ketchup and I will be one happy camper.
I realized a few days ago that I had not yet done a post on fried chicken, and I had recently read several different articles on the ultimate fried chicken, so I decided to experiment. As usual, the recipes with the fewest ingredients are often the hardest to perfect. With just chicken, spices, fat and heat as the variables, it’s hard to screw it up, right? Wrong. What kind of pan should you use? Stainless, copper, cast iron or a deep fryer even? Cast Iron research suggests. What kinds of chickens? Free range, large farm raised, etc.? Larger farm raised plump specimens (but not too many of those here in Manila, so I used the best I could find). What kind of oil? Coconut, olive, canola, soybean, peanut? Canola or soybean were the top contenders, apparently. What and how much spices to use? Dried garlic and onion powders, flour, milk and eggs if you wanted the “coated” or crusted version with a nice crisp skin… Oh, and finally, what temperature should the oil be, and should you leave the pieces alone or keep flipping them over?
Here are the results of my first two attempts. I used a large cast iron frying pan as they would most likely have used in the American South, where “fried chicken” is generally believed to have reached its zenith. I then poured in about an inch or more of new soybean oil and heated it up to about 425F on a fry thermometer. I then took chicken pieces and seasoned them well with salt and pepper. Dunked them into a milk and egg bath (2 cups milk, 2 eggs, lightly beaten), then coated them with a flour, salt, pepper, powdered onion and powdered garlic mixture, tapping off the excess flour and immediately putting the chicken into the hot fat. I didn’t move the pieces around for 10 or 12 minutes and turned them over. I started with the skin side down (wrong), and burned the skin a bit. I think the oil was a bit hot, and frankly, as the oil got dirtier with succeeding batches and gunk was at the bottom, everything fried a whole lot nicer. The legs and thighs in these photos were from the first attempt. They don’t look too sexy but they tasted pretty darn good. I think the color was a bit tanned and now I am wondering if the oil or the temperature or the chickens were to blame, or I just overcooked them. For the second attempt the following day (yeah, yeah, I know, cholesterol dummy) I used boneless chicken breasts with skin on and they turned out BRILLIANTLY. Re-used the previous days soybean oil. I moved the pieces around more. Lowered the heat a bit. Not quite KFC, but they were really good. Crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside and properly seasoned (read, you need lots of salt to make this good)! Load up on the ketchup, and ahhhh….YUM! (This post dedicated to Lee, who did the shirt designs and who asked me about fried chicken months back…)