Granny's Heavenly Helpings
GRAN'S FRIED CHICKEN
I'm warning you right now – this recipe's long. Real long. It'd take less than a minute if all I was givin' you was ingredients and directions. But you're gettin' way more than that! I'm fixin' to tell you some age-old secrets that Southern cooks don't usually share, 'cept maybe on their deathbeds with their closest kin.
Follow these secret tips, and your moist, tender, fried chicken with its delicious, crispy crust will be the talk of the town! (Ol’ Maggie Prichard will be plumb tickled pink to have folks talking about what a humdinger of a cook you are 'cause, at the moment, the town’s favorite topic is what she and Betty Jo Hanson’s husband were caught doin’ last Saturday night in the alley behind the Bulldog Tavern.)
Okay, below is the four main steps to makin' mouth-waterin' Southern Fried Chicken….
#1 SPICE IT UP!
First, I'll give you some hints about spices you can use. Try them out or make up your own. How much you need will depend on how much chicken you're cooking. Here's a table to help you figure it out, and below, there's a list of ready-made mixes and do-it-yourself suggestions.
1-2 pounds of chicken = 4 Tablespoons or 1 envelope of dry mix
3-4 pounds of chicken = 8 Tablespoons or 2 envelopes of dry mix
Hidden Valley Salad Dressing Dry Mix in Envelopes – This one's my favorite. They have a spicy version, too.
All Purpose Chicken Seasoning – Lawry's, McCormick's, or any other brand you like
Taco Seasoning Mix – Mild or spicy if you ain't happy until your food makes you cry and turns your face purple
Asian Five Spice Powder – This stuff is mighty powerful, so only use 1 tablespoon for 3 pounds of chicken. You can add ½ teaspoon of garlic powder to it if you like, and salt and pepper to taste.
Your Own Special Mix of Your Favorite Spices like – black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, red pepper, oregano, chili powder, cilantro, or anything else you fancy. Whatever combination and however much of each is up to you.
You gotta be brave and bold in the kitchen, darlin', just like in the rest of your life. Sure, you'll make some mistakes here and there. But you'll learn a lot of good, useful stuff along the way. So don't be afraid to experiment.
#2 GETTING THAT BIRD TENDER, TENDER, TENDER!
3 - 4 Pounds of Chicken Pieces
2 Egg Whites
1 Teaspoon of Salt – Don't panic. Most of it stays in the liquid you'll be throwin' away.)
1 Cup Buttermilk – If you got no buttermilk on hand, and you ain't in the mood to go traipsin' off to the store, just add a teaspoon of white vinegar to a cup of regular milk. Stir it good and let it sit for 10 minutes. Presto, bingo – you got buttermilk!
Half of the Spice Mix you've chosen from above. You'll use the first half in this tenderizin' liquid and the other half for the crust coating.
1 Gallon-Size Freezer Bag (The zipper kind that closes real tight!)
First, wash your chicken good. (You don't know where that chicken's been!) Then dry every piece off with paper towels. You don't want the water to dilute the tenderizin' stuff that's to come.
Whisk the ingredients above in a bowl, then pour it into the bag.
One by one, stick the pieces of chicken in the bag, too. Once they're all in, close it up GOOD AND TIGHT! (You might wanna do this over the sink just in case it's inclined to drip…or worse, spill all over tarnation. If it's gonna misbehave, you'd prob'ly wanna know that sooner rather than later.)
Waller that bag all around so's the chicken parts get covered up good with the wet stuff. Give 'em a nice massage. While you're doin' that, thank the good Lord that in a world full of hungry people, you're blessed to be able to make such a nice meal for those you love.
Stick the bag in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours and no less than 4. Longer's better to get the chicken super tender and for the flavors to seep way down deep into the meat. During those hours when it's doing the tenderizin' business, flip the bag over every now and then to let the pieces soak in the juices evenly. Don't soak it longer than 24 hours, or you might wind up with a bag of chicken mush.
#3 IT'S ALL ABOUT A CRISP, TASTY CRUST
1 ½ Cups Flour
½ Cup Cornstarch – helps it stick onto the meat better
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder – a little secret to help your crust puff up a bit
The other half of Your Spice Mix or the Envelope(s) you chose above
When it's time to start cookin', whisk together those dry ingredients in a big bowl. Then take the chicken pieces, one at a time, out of the plastic bag. Shake the extra juice off each piece. Do this using one hand only. Your first hand is for the wet stuff. Your second hand is for the dry. I'm right-handed, so I use my left to take it out of the bath and my right to coat it. Trust me; it's easier that way. Otherwise, you'll wind up getting more goop on your hands than you do on the chicken.
Once you've shaken off the excess wet stuff, drop the piece into the dry mix. Using your other hand, the dry one, go about buryin' the piece in all that seasoned, floury goodness. You want to get as much stuck on there as wants to stay. Mash that piece down into the bowl so the stuff will stick to the bottom, and pile some on top and press that, too. Then take it out and gently lay it on a big plate or platter.
Do that to all the pieces. When you put them on the platter, make sure they don't touch each other. From now on, you're not gonna handle them chicken parts any more than you absolutely have to so the yummy crust makin's don't fall off.
Once you've got all the pieces covered in a nice coat of all that tasty, well-seasoned floury mix, and they're layin' on the plate, let 'em rest about half an hour or so before you start to fry 'em. The truth is: they ain't really restin'. That chicken's long past the "weary" stage. He don't need no nap. You wait so's the egg white can dry out a bit and sorta glue that flour and those delicious seasonings onto the chicken. Remember, there's no point in having a great crust if it falls off the drumstick before you can poke it in your mouth.
#4 Frying Up that Batch of Sunday Dinner Goodness
4 Cups Vegetable or Canola Oil – They don't have much of a flavor of their own that would fight with the chicken's good taste, and they don't smoke too bad when they get hot.
This might sound like a lot of oil that'll go to waste. But when you're finished frying, you can cool it off, pour it through a strainer, and save it in a jar to use again. I like to keep my oil in the icebox once it's opened 'cause it stays fresher that way. But it's up to you.
Get out your biggest cast iron skillet. If you don't own a cast iron skillet, I gotta ask, "For heaven's sake, why not?" They're the best pans in the world, and they can be pressed into service if some nasty n'er-do-well breaks into your house with mischief on his mind. One well-aimed skillet smackin' upside the head, delivered most enthusiastically, and he'll make sure to bypass your door the next time he's up to no good. Plus, you'll get a reputation in town that you seem like such a nice person at church on a Sunday mornin', but you ain't to be messed with! A reputation like that's worth more than a diamond, which might sparkle in the sunlight, but makes a mighty poor weapon in a serious squabble.
Okay…back to cookin'. Get yourself a big, deepish skillet. Pour your oil in there and get it to heatin'. Hot! You ain't gonna have crispy chicken if that oil ain't hot. Not "set your kitchen on fire" hot, but hot! If it starts to smoke, you're overdoin' it. Turn it down a little. Once you think it might be hot enough, drop a tiny bit of the flour mix into the middle of the skillet. If it sizzles and bubbles the instant it hits the oil, it's ready. Turn the heat down to medium-high and start carefully droppin' them pieces in. Use tongs if you've got 'em or a long-handled slotted spoon and save your fingers from any hot splash back.
Don't let the pieces touch each other. Make sure there's a nice gap between 'em, so they don't stick together and pull off pieces of that great crust. If you don't have room in your pan, cook the pieces in separate batches 'til you can afford a bigger skillet.
Here's a few more final tips:
– When you drop the pieces in the oil, do the thicker parts first, so they'll have longer to fry. I start with the thighs and drumsticks. Let them cook a few minutes, then add the breasts. The wings go in last.
– Don't mess with 'em neither while they're fryin'! Too much jostlin' will cause that crust to fall right off. Just put the pieces in, let 'em cook, flip 'em once, and that's it!
– If you're worried that you're gonna kill somebody if you don't cook it long enough, you can use one of those fancy dandy meat thermometer things. The thighs and drumsticks should be 170 degrees F in the center of the thickest part, and the breasts and other pieces oughta be 150 degrees F. (By the way, I don't own one of them thermometers, never have, and I ain't kilt nobody yet. But do what you reckon's best.)
– If it seems like your chicken's gettin' too brown but not yet done in the middle, you can finish it off in the oven. Put it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil, then slide it into a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or so (depending on how long you already fried it). Bake it until it gets to the temperatures mentioned before or until the juices run clear when you cut it and the meat's no longer pink.
– Let the pieces cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before you feed 'em to your hungry bunch who's been smellin' it and are dyin' to tie into it!
Enjoy cookin' your fried chicken, servin' it to those you love, and eatin' it yourself. And enjoy that precious life of yours! Every single day of it!