Bacon aside, there are few things I love more than fried chicken. What can possibly be more soul satisfying than a moist flavourful piece of chicken encased in a thick, crunchy crust? Not much, I say.
Yet despite my affinity for fried chicken, the crispy skinned allure of Colonel Sander's Original Recipe overruns my better judgement a few times a year. Every time I step foot into a KFC to sate my hankering, I feel a twinge of hypocrisy, and yet I'm at the mercy of the fast food fryer. Well today, I said enough is enough, and I set out to come up with the best buttermilk fried chicken recipe. A fried chicken that the Colonel himself would swoon over, with a thick, crunchy, aromatic crust, and a tender juicy interior that's infused with flavour, right down to the bone.
I know, this is a bold statement. Some may even call them "fightin' words", but I wouldn't say it if I didn't think I could back it up. If you've been following along for any length of time, you know I have a history of making audacious claims when it comes to poultry.
To make my ultimate fried chicken, I've employed a few tricks that I've learned over the years. The first is to brine the chicken. This is a must for any roast chicken, and it works equally well in fried applications. The fundamentals of brining are simple, you're soaking the chicken in a salt and sugar solution that flavours the meat, much like a marinade would, while increasing the chicken's moisture content. For my fried chicken, I decided to user buttermilk instead of water, and I stuffed it full of aromatics such as onion juice, garlic, celery seed and rosemary. After a night soaking in the buttermilk brine, the chicken is literally bursting with flavour, from the inside out.
Satisfied that I'd given the chicken the love and flavour that it needed, I moved onto the skin. In fried chicken circles, there's much debate over how to get a nice crunchy crust. I've found the double dredge gets a nice thick crinkled crust that stays crunchy long after the chicken has turned cold (not that there would ever be chicken left on the plate long enough to go cold). Since the brine is quite salty, I avoided adding any salt to the flour, but that didn't stop me from cramming in more flavour with spices like onion powder, paprika and more celery seed.
The last secret to making the best fried chicken is to let the coated chicken air dry for about an hour before frying it. This does two things. The first is that it gets the chicken up to room temperature, which helps it cook evenly once it's in the oil. The second benefit is that some of the surface moisture evaporates, making the chicken crisp up nicely as it's fried.
I won't lie to you, this is a rather involved recipe that takes some time, but it's not impossible to make on a work night if you put the chicken in the brine the night before. I like serving this with fluffy biscuits and plenty of honey to drizzle on both the biscuits and chicken.
- Put the celery seed, rosemary, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a spice grinder and grind. Add the spices, onion and garlic into a gallon sized freezer bag with the buttermilk, salt and sugar. Seal the bag and shake to combine. Add the chicken legs and seal the bag, pushing out as much air as possible, so the chicken is submerged in the buttermilk. Refrigerate overnight.
- In a gallon sized freezer bag, combine the flour, onion powder, paprika, celery seed and black pepper and shake to combine. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk brine and use paper towels to dry off the chicken and remove any extra bits of spices. Add the dried chicken into the freezer bag with the flour one at a time and toss to coat. Shake any excess flour off as you transfer the chicken to a wire rack.
- Strain the buttermilk brine through a sieve to remove the spices. Dip the chicken in the buttermilk mixture then put each piece back in the bag with the flour and apply a second thicker coating of flour. Place the chicken on the rack and let it air dry for at least 1 hour.
- In a large heavy bottomed pot, add the oil. The oil should be at least 2" deep. Heat over medium high heat until it reaches 340 degrees F. Carefully add the chicken to the hot oil. The temperature will fall a bit, and you want to keep the oil right around 320 degrees F for the duration of they frying, so adjust the heat source as needed. The chicken will take about 12-15 minutes to cook through and should be golden brown on the outside. You can use a meat thermometer to check and see if the chicken is cooked on the inside, but take the chicken out of the oil once before checking, or the juices coming out of the chicken will make the oil splatter.
- As the chicken is done, remove them from the oil and drain on a paper towel lined wire rack. Let the fried chicken rest for a few minutes and serve.