Man, I don’t know who decides that there should be a National Donut Day or National Hot Dog Day, but I’m not complaining. And now it’s National Fried Chicken Day, all I have to say is… THANK YOU.
The best fried chicken I have ever encountered was in Austin, Texas at a food trailer called Red Star Southern. I ended up there by accident, and ordered the buttermilk-marinated Tennessee hot chicken while distracted by emails and my SXSW schedule. But, Oh that chicken got my attention when I bit into it. As the sun set on my picnic table, I probed Erica Waksmunski for recipe details (it’s her fabulous food trailer). My mouth was on fire, my mind was blown, and I have dreams about it to this day.
An homage to the beloved fried bird seems especially patriotic, coming on the heels of Fourth of July, and features classic American cuisine at its best: crispy, salty, simple, yet always subject to interpretation and improvement. To perfect your own recipe, here are a few finger lickin’ gadgets, tools and ideas.
Chicken Sizes, Explained
You’re in the store, staring at the poultry. Look for chicken deemed as “Broiler” or “Fryer,” which means the chicken is from a bird 6 to 8 weeks old and weighing 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds. The sizes are really similar; you might even see chicken labeled “Broiler-Fryer.” Young chickens are tender and ideal for cooking with high heat. Save “Roasters” and “Stewing” chickens for other recipes—they’re past their frying prime. I know, washed up at 10 months old. It’s rough in showbiz.
In the Fry of the Storm
Skillet, Dutch oven or countertop fryer? They’ll all work, but with a Dutch oven, it’s harder to see what you’re doing, and to move the chicken around. A skillet is just as good as a fancy fryer— choose a cast iron model with steep sides to keep the oil from splattering. Why cast iron? It distributes and holds heat well, maintaining the oil’s temperature. A Lodge Cast Iron skillet is my fryer of choice, and they have a variety of sizes of pre-seasoned skillets; the company has a foundry in South Pittsburg, Tenn. and has been around since 1896.
Now, if you’ve got a flock hungry friends circling like chicken hawks, a countertop fryer is more efficient for making batches of fried food. The Presto FryDaddy Electric Deep Fryer is inexpensive and simple, with a preset thermostat. Just plug it in, wait 10 minutes for the oil to get hot, and have at it. And, when dinner is done, you can snap on the lid and store the oil in the fridge for the next meal.
If you’re really klutzy or under the age of 14, may I suggest… takeout fried chicken? For the rest of us, carefully take the temperature of that hot oil—a steady 350 to 375 degrees is ideal to get the chicken nice and crispy. The Splash-Proof Thermapen is used by a lot of chefs because it’s highly accurate, takes a reading in 3 seconds and has a 1,500-hour battery life. You can use it for grilled meats, too, and kitchen projects like candy making. (Caramel Apple Day is Oct. 21st.)
To pull your deep-fried beauties from their oily bath, use a “spider.” I use an asian style one, but it has a wooden handle, which you can’t put in the dishwasher. This dishwasher-safe, stainless steel version, from Williams-Sonoma is another great option. You can use it for pasta and other foods, too, so it’s not a one-chicken-hit-wonder.
Cooking Tip: Give ‘em room. Fry in small batches, otherwise you won’t get that crispy skin.
The Dry Fry
If using cupfuls of oil doesn’t fit with your healthy diet, try an air fryer. An air fryer circulates hot air—it’s basically a tiny convection oven—and uses only about a tablespoon of oil. The Philips Digital Airfryer claims to fry food that has 70 percent less fat, and it has dishwasher safe parts, which many traditional fryers do not. A companion app, available for Android and Apple, can be used on your tablet or smartphone for how-to videos and recipes. Keep in mind that the interior is fairly small, so an air fryer might be better for a couple, rather than a bigger family.
Still craving a drumstick? You can always get yourself a fried chicken smartphone case (a shocking amount of choices await you).
What’s the best fried chicken recipe you’ve ever tasted? I want details. And a sweet tea on the side, please.