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Fried chicken: It's not just a Southern thing

By Liz Balmaseda
Cox Newspapers
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/09/02/15/19/paPMn.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - EVAN SUNG - CLARKSON POTTER
    Charlie Phan’s Hard Water Fried Chicken.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/09/02/15/19/10BBAV.Em.138.jpeg|210
    Evan Sung - EVAN SUNG - CLARKSON POTTER
    Atlanta restaurateur Lee Brian Schrager “Everyone assumes fried chicken comes from the South. But it came over from Scotland in the 1700s,” he says.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/09/02/15/19/Nd8Ie.Em.138.jpeg|473
    Evan Sung - EVAN SUNG - CLARKSON POTTER
    Jacques-Imo’s Austin Leslie-Style fried chicken from New Orleans.

More Information

  • Fried Chicken 101

    Making fried chicken isn’t hard – it just takes preparation and organization. A few tips will have you frying like a pro.

    Be prepared. An organized kitchen and a game plan are a fryer’s best friends. Make sure everything – brine, dredge, seasoning, oil – is ready before you start.

    Brining. Salt performs double duty, tenderizing the meat by breaking down its cellular structure and enhancing the tastiness of the chicken itself. Brining times can range from 2 hours to 2 days, and brine can also contain sugar, buttermilk, herbs and spices. If you don’t have time to brine, buy a kosher chicken, which is pre-salted.

    Chill for the “shrink-wrap” effect. Schrager and co-author Adeena Sussman noticed that many cooks, particularly in New Orleans, use chilled chicken for frying, believing it promotes a crispier crust. After testing, they agree, finding that a cold bird helps breading and coating adhere to the skin, resulting in skin that shrinks and becomes one with the meat beneath.

    Flour power and the double dip. Some recipes that call for dredging chicken use what may seem like an excessive amount of flour, but tossing the chicken lightly in a larger amount of flour promotes a lighter, flakier finished product. You can create a thick, crunchy crust by dipping it twice in flour.

    Deep frying. While most chefs prefer a cast-iron skillet, deep frying has advantages: A large pot filled halfway with oil splatters less, creating less mess. And since the oil surrounds all parts of the chicken at once, deep-fried chicken cooks faster than skillet-fried.

    Skillet frying. For the true Southern experience, nothing beats a cast-iron skillet. It cooks chicken evenly and helps develop a crisp, perfectly burnished crust.

    Keep it hot. Nothing’s sadder than soggy fried chicken, and the culprit is usually oil that’s too cold. Make sure your oil is properly heated before adding chicken, and use a deep-fry thermometer to monitor it.

    Don’t crowd. Although it is tempting to fry more pieces at once, crowding can lead to uneven cooking and longer cooking time.


  • Jacques-Imo’s Austin Leslie Fried Chicken

    From “Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides” by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman (Clarkson Potter, $22.50). Austin Leslie, the chef at Jacques-Imo’s in New Orleans, was the inspiration for the character Big Arthur on the TV show “Frank’s Place.” Leslie died a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 .

    1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces

    Salt and white pepper to taste

    4 large eggs

    1/2 cup evaporated milk (not condensed milk)

    1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

    2 cups all-purpose flour

    1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

    1/4 cup minced garlic

    Ruffled dill pickle slices

    SEASON the chicken liberally with salt and white pepper, place in a resealable bag and refrigerate overnight.

    PREPARE a deep fryer or fill a large (at least 8-quart) pot halfway with oil and heat to 350 degrees. Whisk the eggs, evaporated milk, Worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste in a large bowl. Place the flour in a separate bowl and season with salt to taste.

    DIP the chicken in the egg wash, then coat in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess.

    WORKING in batches, fry the chicken until golden and crisp, 15 minutes for dark meat, 20 minutes for breasts.

    SERVE garnished with chopped parsley, minced garlic and pickles.

    Yield: 4 servings.


  • Charles Phan's Hard Water Fried Chicken

    San Francisco chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door opened Hard Water, a bourbon bar, earlier this year. Inspired by a Vietnamese technique, Phan dry-brines chicken and chills it, uncovered, for 24 hours to create extra-crispy skin. The sriracha butter is irresistible.

    1 small chicken, cut into 8 pieces and patted dry

    1 tablespoon kosher salt

    2 teaspoons garlic powder

    Flour dredge:

    1 cup all-purpose flour

    2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

    2 teaspoons kosher salt

    1 teaspoon ground turmeric

    1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

    3 quarts canola or peanut oil

    Sriracha butter:

    2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter

    1 cup sriracha sauce

    Juice of 1 lime (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)

    1 teaspoon kosher salt

    1/2 teaspoon sugar

    SEASON the chicken with the salt and garlic powder. Arrange it skin-side up on a baking sheet, leaving space between pieces. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature.

    WHISK the flour, cayenne, salt, turmeric, and coriander in a large bowl. Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with the oil and heat to 340 degees. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, and place it on a clean baking sheet. Set a rack on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

    WORKING in batches, fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 12-13 minutes. Drain the pieces on the rack; serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the Sriracha Butter.

    SRIRACHA BUTTER: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Place the Sriracha, lime juice, salt and sugar in a blender or food processor. Blend on high for 1 minute, adding the melted butter in a slow stream to create an airy, emulsified sauce. The sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

    Yield: 4 servings.



If you think fried chicken is purely Southern, think again.

The crispy goodness of this great finger food extends well beyond any single region. As much as people in the South would love to claim ownership, this down-home guilty pleasure belongs to the planet.

Take a glance at the drool-worthy recipes inside the new fried chicken cookbook “Fried & True: 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides” (Clarkson Potter, $22.50). You’ll find plenty of variations on the crispy bird theme.

Sure, you’ll find Southern fried chicken, buttermilk fried chicken and Louisiana battered fried chicken. But those and other classic renditions share space with Vietnamese-inspired fried chicken, Cuban-style chicharrones de pollo, Argentinian Milanesa de Pollo a la Napolitana, Korean-style crispy chicken wings, Senegalese fried chicken and even an Israeli take on chicken schnitzel.

It’s all fried and true, says the book’s co-author, Lee Brian Schrager, a guy who knows his fried chicken. Sure, he’s a trained chef, a gourmet and the founder of the South Beach and New York Wine & Food festivals. He can feast on faddish molecular dishes, the alien spheres and foams with the rest of the fancy-food cognoscenti. But he’s as fried chicken-obsessed as they come.

That obsession sparked the sequence of events that led to the book project. It began innocently, when Schrager ducked behind a curtain during one of his sold-out South Beach festival events last year to scarf down some fried chicken.

But Schrager got busted by a visiting food celebrity.

“Trisha Yearwood comes over and catches me in the act,” Schrager says. Next thing he knows, his publisher walks up and joins the fried chicken conversation.

“She jokingly says, ‘You should do a fried chicken book.’ 

Several days later, the publisher called to say, “You should really do this book.” Schrager’s cookbook, co-authored by food writer and recipe developer Adeena Sussman, hit bookstores in May.

There’s no doubt Schrager was the guy for the job. In his younger years, he was asked to leave a Howard Johnson’s restaurant because he and his friends had surpassed the per-person limit at the all-you-can-eat fried chicken buffet.

“Imagine the humiliation of being thrown out of a HoJo’s,” says Schrager, who insists the fried chicken was to blame.

If researching this book taught Schrager anything, it’s that the fried chicken universe is even larger than he had imagined.

“Everyone assumes fried chicken comes from the South. But it came over from Scotland in the 1700s,” he says. “And almost every country has a fried chicken recipe.”

In researching and recipe-tasting, he discovered fried chicken can be as simple as it is complex.

“For such a simple thing to make, fried chicken can taste differently, depending on the preparation. You can use the same recipe and fry it in different formats – the fat changes the taste,” says Schrager, who is partial to a Crisco-fried bird. (“It lasts longer,” he says. “You can fry more.”)

But the fat that gives fried chicken its flavor can also be the biggest obstacle to its success as a dish.

“The biggest mistake is not heating the fat to the right temperature. The right temperature is key. I heat my oil to 370 or 380 degrees,” says Schrager, who advises home cooks to make sure the oil remains hot as they add more chicken to the pan.

He also noted that many chefs, particularly those he met in New Orleans, used well-chilled chicken for coating and frying – it is said to help the coating or batter stick to the chicken skin.

“The secret is cold chicken,” he says.

What makes good fried chicken utterly exquisite?

“To me, I love a crispy crust,” he says.“I love it when the skin is crunchy and the inside is moist and juicy.”

That sound you hear is the planet applauding in agreement.

Liz Balmaseda writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: liz_balmaseda@pbpost.com.

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