Time to choose: southern fried chicken or deep-fried?
In Part I, we went over the first step of frying chicken, the preparation work. We know how to brine and bread, and it’s time to learn how to fry chicken!
There are two basic ways of doing it: deep fried or pan-fried. Pan-fried is often referred to as southern fried chicken.
Here we go!
Here it is. The part we’ve all been waiting for: how to fry chicken.
It can be pan-fried or deep-fried. If you’re looking for southern fried chicken, the traditional way of doing that is to pan fry it: it takes a bit more time to cook, and it’s a tiny bit trickier, but it’s also a less greasy way to cook.
Whether you choose to make deep fried or southern fried chicken, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- You need fat to fry. You’ll be frying chicken in some kind of fat or oil. You can pick lard, shortening, or vegetable oil, or even combine them. If you go for vegetable oil, pick something with a high smoke point and neutral flavor, like peanut oil.
- Let the breading set. It’s a good idea to start heating the oil only once you’re done breading the chicken. It may seem less efficient, but it’ll give the breading time to firm up a little. You don’t need to do this if you’re using a batter, though.
- Cast-iron works best. If you have a cast-iron pot or skillet, it’s a good time to take it out! It retains heat so well that when you add the chicken to the hot oil the temperature won’t drop so much – and that’s important, because if the oil isn’t hot when the chicken first goes in, you’ll end up with soggy chicken.
- Be careful. The oil you’ll be cooking in is extremely hot, and it’ll bubble and spatter when you add the chicken. Be very careful putting the chicken in the pot, and moving it around, or you could end up with serious burns or a grease fire. Don’t let the handle of your pot or skillet stick out where someone could knock into it accidentally.
- If you’re making deep-fried or southern fried chicken in batches, let the oil heat back up to 350F before cooking the next batch. If your oil is too cool, you’ll end up with soggy breading.
Pan-Fried or Southern Fried Chicken
Alright, now that we have a few basics down, let’s learn how to make southern fried chicken! Remember, if you coated your chicken with a batter (with the flour mixed in the liquid instead of two steps, soaking and dredging), you shouldn’t pan fry. Instead, try deep-frying.
- In a deep skillet, heat the oil to 350F. The oil should reach half-way up the meat, so half an inch to an inch of oil should do it.
- Make sure the oil doesn’t reach higher than halfway up your skillet, or you could end up with burns and oil splashes.
- You can see if it’s the right temperature with a thermometer, or by throwing in a pinch of flour. If the flour fries and the oil bubbles, it should be about hot enough.
- Gently place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down. Watch out for the oil spattering!
- If you just plop the chicken in the pan, it’ll disturb the coating. Even worse, it could cause the oil to splash and give you serious burns.
- Try not to disturb the coating too much. Using your hands can help with that, but if you’re worried about the oil burning you, you can use tongs – just be gentle!
- Be sure not to crowd the chicken, or it won’t cook properly. Cook it in batches if you need.
- Cook on one side until the bottom is a nice golden color, and blood starts to seep up at the top. This’ll take about 15 minutes for dark meat – it’s a bit shorter for white meat.
- Keep checking the oil’s temperature. If it gets much below 350F, turn the heat up.
- Once you put the chicken in, you either have to move it around regularly to keep it from sticking, or just let it be. If you leave it be, it’ll release naturally once the breading firms up, and it’ll be easy to flip.
- Flip the chicken over, and cook the other side. You should cook it until it has an internal temperature of 165F. You can also poke it to see if the juices run clear.
- The second side shouldn’t take quite as long as the first side.
- Let the southern fried chicken rest a bit on a wire rack for a few minutes. This’ll let the grease drip off, keeping your chicken crisp. It also lets the juices redistribute inside, and lets it cool down enough not to burn you.
- You can place something like a cookie sheet under the wire rack to catch the drippings.
- Do use a wire rack instead of paper towels or a paper bag. If your chicken is sitting directly on paper towels, the grease will make your chicken soggy!
And that’s how you make awesome southern fried chicken!
The alternative to southern fried chicken is deep-fried chicken. It’s not terribly different, but it’s not quite the same, either.
The chicken can end up greasier and it’s generally less healthy than southern fried chicken, but it also cooks faster and it’s easier to get a very pretty breading.
You can also use a batter breading if you deep-fry.
Here’s how you do it!
- In a pot or a very deep pan, heat the oil to 350F. The oil should be deep enough to completely cover your chicken pieces.
- The oil shouldn’t be more than halfway up the pot. It’ll get higher when you add the chicken in, and if it’s too close to the edge it could burn you or start a fire.
- You can check the oil’s temperature with a thermometer. If you don’t have one, try throwing in a pinch of flour. If it fries nicely and makes the oil bubbles, the oil is hot enough.
- Gently lower the chicken pieces into the oil.They should be completely submerged.
- If you can, try to avoid disturbing the breading. It’ll give you nicer looking chicken. Using your hands is the best way to go, but you have to be very careful not to burn yourself. Use tongs if you’re worried, just be gentle.
- Never just plop or toss the chicken in, since that can cause splashes.
- Don’t add too many pieces at once. It’ll reduce the temperature of the oil, making soggy chicken. You should also avoid overcrowding the pot. The chicken should float freely or it won’t cook evenly.
- Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165F. This’ll take about 10 minutes for white meat, 14 for dark, and maybe 7 minutes for wings.
- The chicken should float up to the surface when it’s done, but you can check the temperature with a meat thermometer, or poke the chicken to see if the juices run clear.
- If you like, monitor the temperature of the oil to keep it around 350F. It’ll drop a bit when you add in the chicken, so you may neat to turn up the heat. If the coating gets too cooked before the chicken is ready, just turn down the heat a bit. It’s important that it be very hot initally to make the breading crisp, but after that it can go a bit lower.
- Once the chicken is cooked, let it cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. It allows the grease to drip off and keeps the chicken crisp, and lets the juices redistribute. It also ensures that the chicken isn’t so hot that it’ll burn you when you eat it!
- Place a cookie sheet under the wire rack to catch the oil if you don’t want a real mess.
- Don’t let the chicken rest on paper towels or a paper bag. The grease and moisture will just make the bottom of the chicken soggy instead of crisp.
Making A Pan Gravy
Alright, we’ve learned how to make deep-fried and southern fried chicken. We’re almost done! The very last step is making a gravy to go with the fried chicken, or with whatever sides you’re planning on serving with the chicken, like biscuits or mashed potatoes.
First, I’ll go over the different elements that’ll make up the gravy, and then I’ll talk about how to put it all together, step-by-step.
- The base of the gravy is going to be the little pieces of breading and chicken left over in the pan you fried the chicken in. Those little bits are called the fond and they’re packed with flavor.
- Generally, southern fried chicken will give you a better fond than deep frying, because the chicken is in contact with the pan and more likely to stick.
- The next element in the gravy is the roux, which is an equal amount of fat and flour, cooked until it starts to become golden. This is what is going to thicken the gravy.
- For the fat, you can use a few tablespoons of the oil you cooked the chicken in. Just drain most of the oil, leaving a bit at the bottom, and make sure to leave the fond in!
- You can also use less oil and add some butter, if you prefer a slightly buttery taste in your gravy.
- You’ll need about 3-4 tablespoons of fat, and 3-4 tablespoons of flour.
- Next, we need some liquid in the gravy. Once the roux is made, we’ll add in about 2 cups of liquid.
- A creamy gravy goes great with fried chicken, so the liquid can be milk or cream or a mixture of both.
- If you don’t want just milk, you can add half milk and half chicken stock, or even just chicken stock on its own if you don’t want a creamy gravy.
- You can even add water, although I wouldn’t add water all on its own. It would make a pretty bland gravy. Half milk and half water would do, but if you have stock, I’d use that instead. It has much more flavor and body.
- Finally, we need seasoning. You don’t need anything too crazy to make a delicious gravy for southern fried chicken. The fond and stock, if you used any, add a ton of flavor. But, you can definitely add a bit of salt and pepper, and maybe some garlic or onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, or anything else you like. Keep it simple!
And that’s what makes a southern fried chicken gravy. Let’s see how to put it all together.
- Pour off the fat from the skillet you cooked the chicken in, leaving only 3-4 tablespoons in the skillet.
- Be careful not to pour out the fond, the little bits of chicken left in the pan.
- If you want to add butter to the gravy, pour out a bit more oil and replace it with butter. For example, leave only 2 tablespoons of oil and add 2 tablespoons of butter.
- Heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in 3-4 tablespoons of flour, whisking constantly to prevent any lumping. Heat it and keep stirring, until the mixture loses its floury smell and starts to turn golden.
- Try and scrape up the fond and blend it into the mixture.
- Pour in 1 cup of milk (or other liquid) in a thin stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumping. Pour in the other cup of liquid and add the seasonings. Stir well until the mixture in smooth and homogeneous.
- When you first add the liquid, the difference in temperature will cause the mixture to seize up a little bit. Don’t worry, it’s normal. Just don’t pour too much at once, and keep stirring to keep it smooth.
- Simmer for about 5 minutes. It should be hot enough so that steam is coming off the surface, but it shouldn’t be bubbling. The gravy is ready when it’s as thick as you like it!
- If you find that the gravy is too thick, you can just add a bit more liquid.
And that’s how you make a tasty gravy for southern fried chicken from the leavings in the pan! Just serve with the chicken or over mashed potatoes, and you’re in for a real treat.
Well, now you know everything about how to fry chicken. But frying chicken does take some practice. You have the basics, now just try it out a few times until you’re comfortable, and you’re sure to get great results!