I would venture to say that every Southern cook knows how to fry chicken. Not all recipes and preparations are the same; in fact, almost no two are exactly alike. I have read dozens of recipes about frying chicken and they all offer different tips and approaches that they claim are the key to the best fried chicken. I have yet to try any of them because I don’t know where to start.
I decided to go directly to the source of fried chicken in my life: Grandmother.
While visiting my grandparents in Kentucky last week, I requested fried chicken from my Grandmother, per usual, but I put in a special request for her to allow me to document the process so I could learn how to fry chicken once and for all. She obliged and thought it was cute that I wanted to take pictures of everything.
So we started out with 2 chicken breasts that had been cut into 2 pieces each, for a total of 4 pieces of chicken. Grandmother likes the pieces to be a little bit smaller so they cook evenly and all the way through without burning the crust.
(And by we, I mean Grandmother. She was handling all of the chicken because she knows what she’s doing and I didn’t want any chicken gunk on my camera. That would not be sanitary.)
It was just me and Grandmother, which is why we were cooking only 4 pieces, but when the whole family is together, she fries 2 or 3 times that amount (in several batches) and sometimes fries dark meat as well.
The first step is to brine the chicken (salt and water) to help the chicken stay moist and seasoned. While you can let the chicken brine overnight, Grandmother says a few hours is fine.
The next step is somewhat controversial: selecting the frying agent. This can be peanut oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, lard, vegetable shortening, etc. Part of the selection usually depends on if you are frying or deep frying. Grandmother fries her chicken with Crisco and uses enough of the vegetable shortening to cover the chicken about half-way, but not enough to deep fry it.
Grandmother added a couple of HEAPING cooking spoonfuls to the pot. Translation: a lot of Crisco.
I thought this was probably adequate. Grandmother said not quite. She then added another big spoonful of Crisco.
Surely this was enough.
One more spoonful. I would say this was about 2 cups of Crisco in all. Grandmother concurred, but like any good Southern cook, she doesn’t measure. She just goes by look and feel.
The phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. But even knowing about the quantity of grease involved, I’m going to eat the chicken anyway.
Then turn the stove top to 5 and heat the Crisco.
That’s what Grandmother told me and just laughed because of course she knows that 5 is not a universal stovetop temperature. We decided 5 was equivalent to about medium heat.
Meanwhile, coat the chicken liberally in self-rising flour. Grandmother uses self-rising because it creates a crispier, more airy crust.
Let the chicken hang out in the flour bowl until the Crisco is heated. Grandmother says it is ready when you sprinkle in a bit of flour and it sizzles. Be careful not to get it too hot that it crackles and pops and “carries on.”
When the Crisco is ready, place the chicken, meat side down, in the pot and cover. Covering the chicken helps to keep the meat moist, but you must let some of the steam escape so your crust doesn’t become soggy, says Grandmother.
To fry the chicken, Grandmother uses a Club Aluminum Dutch oven that has been in the family for approximately 75 years. She thinks it’s important to cover the chicken so she prefers a Dutch oven to an open cast iron skillet, but she says to be careful with some of the newer, enameled cast iron because they seem to hold in too much steam. She recommends cooking with the lid slightly askew to allow some of the steam to escape.
Check on the chicken after about 10 or 15 minutes. If the crust on the bottom is nice and golden brown, it’s time to flip the pieces! Then let cook another 15 minutes or so, covered.
And please wear an apron, velvet house shoes, and your best Wilma Flintstone necklace while fryin’ chicken. (Picture courtesy of Grandmother)
Then, as the chicken is finishing to its golden brown on the second side, allow it to cook uncovered for about 5-10 minutes to crisp up the crust.
When chicken is crispy and golden brown (after about 30-35 minutes of frying total), remove chicken from pot and allow to drain on a paper towel for a few moments before transferring to a serving dish.
Then, stand back and admire this beautiful work of art. (Don’t take too long or it will get cold.)
And then, most importantly, please eat it blissfully as you forget about the amount of Crisco used in its preparation.
Thanks for teaching me how to fry chicken, Grandmother!
Y’all come back now, ya hear?