The perfect Southern American fried chicken is beautifully crisp on the outside and succulent within. And the secret is a good soak in buttermilk and, well, baking. Buttermilk acts as a tenderising agent because it contains enzymes that break down the meat’s proteins, so the chicken remains soft and juicy throughout the cooking process. Meanwhile, par-cooking the chicken by baking it briefly means your chook will never be grossly undercooked and bloody inside. Par-cooking allows the chicken to be kept for up to three days refrigerated. It’s finished off with a flour coat and a quick fry to get it beautifully crisp. We’ve chosen to shallow fry this sucker as this cooks it faster than deep-frying. With deep-frying, all too often the temperature dips when you put food into the oil, which results in slow-cooking and extra greasy grub. Down-home crunchy chicken like this is served in homes and restaurants all over America’s South. Serve it with waffles and a side of coleslaw, y’all.
Serves 2 to 4
1 whole large chicken, cut into frying parts (8 pieces)
2 tsp salt
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried thyme
1 litre buttermilk
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper vegetable or peanut oil for frying
1. Mix salt, onion powder, dried thyme and buttermilk in a bowl or re-sealable plastic bag. Immerse chicken in the mixture and cover the bowl or seal the bag. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
2. Half an hour before cooking, remove chicken from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.
3. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a large baking pan with foil. Remove chicken from buttermilk, shake off excess and place chicken on the foil.
4. Bake chicken for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When completely cool, the chicken can be refrigerated covered for up to three days. Bring to room temperature before the next step. If frying immediately, make sure the chicken is cool enough to handle before the next step.
5. Mix flour, paprika, salt and pepper in a deep plate. Dredge chicken in flour mixture, shaking off excess.
6. Place enough oil to come up to one inch in a deep, heavy-bottom pan (preferably cast iron).
7. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 180°C. If you don’t have a frying thermometer, test if oil is hot enough by tossing a small piece of bread into it. If the bread bubbles and floats to the surface immediately, the oil is ready for frying.
8. Fry chicken in batches ― they should fit in one spacious layer in the pan. Do not overcrowd or you will end up with soggy chicken. Turn the chicken with tongs after a minute or two of cooking on each side. When the chicken is golden and crisp, drain on a wire rack placed over a baking sheet. Allow to cool a little before digging in.