Fried chicken (also referred to as Southern Fried chicken) is
chicken pieces usually from broiler chickens which have been floured or battered
and then pan fried, deep fried, or pressure fried. The breading adds a crispy
coating or crust to the exterior. What separates fried chicken from other fried
forms of chicken is that generally the chicken is cut at the joints and the
bones and skin are left intact. Crispy well seasoned skin, rendered of excess
fat, is a hallmark of well made fried chicken.
Left: Pieces of
First the chicken must be cut up. Generally the chicken is segmented at the joints and the breastbone is split
lengthwise. Care is usually made to leave the skin intact, though many people
today remove the skin completely for dietary reasons. The chicken pieces may be
marinated in buttermilk, or simply dipped in buttermilk or milk, but neither of
those steps are essential.
The chicken pieces are then dredged in white wheat flour (or
a mixture of ingredients like: wheat or other grain flours; courser ground
grains like cornmeal; and breadcrumbs). Seasonings such as salt, pepper, cayenne
pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and ranch dressing mix can be
mixed in with the flour.
There are three basic methods which are used to fry chicken.
Lard is the traditional fat, but today corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, or
vegetable oil is used. The flavor of olive oil, is generally considered too
strong to be used for traditional fried chicken.
Left: Fried chicken
and french fries of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Pan frying (or shallow frying) requires a frying pan (cast iron is traditional)
and an amount of fat that may vary by recipe and technique, usually from a
quarter inch to halfway up the chicken pieces. The chicken pieces are prepared
as above, then fried. Generally the fat is heated to a temperature hot enough to
seal the outside of the chicken pieces. Once the pieces have been added to the
hot fat and seared, the temperature is reduced. There is debate as to how often
to turn the chicken pieces, with one camp arguing for often turning and even
browning, and the other camp pushing for letting the pieces render skin side
down and only turning when absolutely necessary. Once the chicken pieces are
close to being done the temperature is raised and the pieces are browned to the
desired color (some cooks add small amounts of butter at this point to enhance
browning). The moisture from the chicken that sticks and browns on the bottom of
the pan become the fonds required to make gravy.
"Maryland Style Fried Chicken"
is made when the pan of chicken pieces, and fat, is placed in the oven to cook,
for a majority of the overall cooking time, basically "fried in the oven".
Deep frying requires a deep fryer or other device in which the chicken pieces
can be completely submerged in hot fat. The pieces are floured as above or
battered using a batter of flour and liquid (and seasonings) mixed together. The
batter can/may contain ingredients like eggs, milk, and leavening. The fat is
heated in the deep fryer to the desired temperature. The pieces are added to the
fat and a constant temperature is maintained throughout the cooking process.
Almost like a hybrid of both previous methods, a pressure cooker is often used.
The moisture inside the chicken becomes steam and increases the pressure in the
cooker, lowering the cooking temperature needed. The steam also cooks the
chicken through, but still allows the pieces to be moist and tender while
maintaining a crisp coating. Fat is heated in a pressure cooker. Chicken pieces
are then floured or battered and then placed in the hot fat. The lid is placed
on the pressure cooker, and the chicken pieces are thus fried under pressure.
This method (deep or shallow frying in a pressure cooker) is also known as
The possibilities for seasoning
combinations are basically infinite. Southern fried chicken can be prepared with
the addition of many different seasonings that can evoke the cuisines of the
world. Ingredients like curry powder, Chinese five spice, sesame seeds, and
tandoori powder convey distinct Asian flavors not common to traditional fried
chicken. While those unique creations are technically fried chicken, they are
generally represented by their dominant flavor (i.e. five spice fried chicken)
and are presented as distinct (either in homes or on menu's) from fried chicken.