Tuesday, May 15, 2012

the holy grail of southern food

Fried chicken. What tastes more like the South? Okay, so sweet tea, biscuits, collards, peaches, boiled peanuts, and cornbread could all give it a run for its money, but when I think of Sunday dinner (served at noon, after church) I think fried chicken. I grew up in a tiny town in South Carolina, and every Sunday my sister and I went out to eat with our grandmother at one of two places: Frye's (a local meat-and-three buffet) or Pizza Hut. They were the only two restaurants open on Sundays, so we had our choice between fried food and stewed vegetables and faux-Italian. Of course, we often chose Pizza Hut (rutabagas didn't hold quite the same appeal as breadsticks), but when we went to Frye's I always got the fried chicken. I don't think it was actually that great, but my memory of it is. And isn't that all that matters?

I made my own fried chicken for the second time (and the first successful time) last week. On my second try I used the Lee Brothers' recipe, and I endorse it fully. It came out perfectly seasoned with a golden crisp crust--everything fried chicken should be. I followed the recipe to a T, and although it's not difficult it IS messy. From what I could tell, brining and oil temperature are key. The first time I fried chicken my oil was too hot, and the breading burned before the meat could finish cooking. If you keep the oil between 325 and 350 degrees, everything will turn out just fine.

almost done!

sunday fried chicken
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
serves 4

1 qt water
1/3 c salt
about 3 c peanut oil, lard, or sunflower oil (what I used)
1 recipe Lee Bros. All-Purpose Fry Dredge (combine the following):
   1/2 c all-purpose flour
   3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
   2 tsp salt
   1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 lbs chicken legs and thighs (about 6 legs and 6 bone-in thighs)

At least four hours (up to eight hours) before you begin frying, combine the water and salt in a very large bowl, stirring until salt dissolves. Place trimmed chicken pieces in brine, cover the bowl, and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before frying to allow chicken to come to room temperature.

When you are ready to make the chicken, place a large cookie sheet lined with a cooling rack (if you have one) or paper towels in the oven and preheat to 250 degrees.

Pour the oil into a large skillet, to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Heat over medium-high until oil reaches 325 degrees on a candy thermometer.

While the oil is heating, place the fry dredge in a medium bowl. Remove each piece of chicken from the brine and dredge it thoroughly, then place chicken on a plate within easy reach of your skillet.

Once your oil is at 325 and your chicken is dredged, start frying! Place enough chicken pieces (skin-side down) in the skillet to cover the bottom. Cover the skillet if you want (this will make it go faster, but I wanted to watch), and cook until the bottom side is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Make sure you monitor the oil temperature and adjust the heat to keep it between 325 and 350 degrees. Turn chicken and fry the other side until it is golden brown as well. Turn again and fry three minutes, and then once more, a final three minutes.

Use tongs to remove the chicken from the skillet and place it on a rack in the oven to keep warm. Follow the same procedure to fry the rest of the chicken.

When all the chicken is done, serve immediately--preferably with cornbread or biscuits and three vegetables, one of which should be macaroni and cheese (my other two were coleslaw and roasted summer squash).

fried chicken leads to happiness.


  1. I thought your first "failed" attempt was delicious, so this new and improved batch must have been amazing.

  2. Chris, while I appreciate the compliment, you just didn't know any better (being from Vermont and all). :)

  3. Haha - that's fair. I will just have to wait until you write a blog post about maple syrup.