Photo is courtesy of Husk restaurant, Charleston. www.huskrestaurant.com
Who doesn’t look forward to picking up and biting into a succulent piece of Southern Fried Chicken?
There was a time when I loved gardening, having a hoe in my hand, sandy soil between my toes, while digging into the good earth below. Now I’d rather leave it up to the farmers to grow those vine ripe tomatoes, cantaloupes, and watermelons. During this time of uncertainty, a drive into the countryside is good for the heart and soul.
Lately, the Brant Family Farm from Varnville has been delivering fresh produce to our little village of Habersham each week. Nothing is better than fresh produce like lettuce, turnips, and broccoli harvested in the morning and delivered that very afternoon. Boneless fried chicken with buttermilk ranch dressing is a lunchtime favorite of mine. I have it every chance I get!
Last week Susan Brant brought me one of their prize organic, grass-fed chickens. Since then I’ve read everything I can find about how to make the very best fried chicken. It’s the all-American meal with as many secret recipes as there are cooks. Here are some of the secrets I’ve discovered from some of our Charleston chefs.
Bertha’s in Charleston – famous for their fried chicken and good down-home Southern cooking. If you want to find out about the origins of Lowcountry cuisine, follow me to Bertha’s.
If you really try, you can almost see Charleston Harbor from the front stop at Bertha’s Kitchen. The teal-colored two-story cafe, trimmed in purple, is set in the working-class Union Heights neighborhood. Sometimes you have to step off the beaten path to find some of the region’s best eats.
Bertha’s is a place of pilgrimage for eager eaters in search of the honest roots of modern Lowcountry foodways. Fried chicken is a specialty of the house served with plenty of ice-cold lemonade.
Here’s what I learned from the brightest and the best. We owe a debt to those cooks who trace their ancestry back to Africa. There’s some mighty good cookin’ going on in the Gullah kitchens of the Lowcountry. The noontime table always serves okra soups, stewed lima beans, threaded with ham and plenty of red rice on the side with sausage.
Bertha’s Okra soup – pairs well with fried chicken as a first course
For the fried chicken: Watermelon and Fried Chicken is a taste of summer with every bite!
Brining is essential: this is pretty much true across the board. They all recommend brining for the most tender and juicy chicken on earth. Some swear by soaking the chicken in buttermilk. It’s easy and works well.
The best way to discover what you like is to experiment with the techniques for yourself. Here’s how to do it!
Drain the chicken.
It’s a good idea to let your chicken set out until it’s room temperature, about 30 minutes. This way it does not hit the frying oil ice cold and bring down the temperature of the oil. Whisk together two fresh eggs and add some hot sauce to the mixture. The chicken will not taste hot, but the hot sauce will give it a great taste. To the mixture add 1 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Whisk together and allow chicken to sit in this mixture while coming to room temperature.
Drain the chicken and dredge in flour. Throw away the egg mixture.
To get truly golden-brown and crispy chicken, use a cast-iron skillet. there is nothing better than a heavy cast iron pan for even distribution and reliable frying. A heavy-bottomed Dutch oven also works great
Choose oils with a high smoke point like vegetable shortening, lard, or peanut oil. I normally will use peanut oil. It’s a little more expensive but it’s worth the splurge.
The fat should be about 0ne- inch deep in the skillet, coming about halfway up the food. Keep the oil at 350 degrees to allow the interior to cook all the way through at the same time the crust turns golden brown.
Get the fat good and hot before adding the chicken. The fried chicken oil temperature should be about 350 degrees. Count on using about 1 quart of oil.
The most difficult thing about frying chicken at home is keeping the temperature consistent at 350 degrees.
Using tongs, carefully lower chicken pieces into the oil skin-side down. Start with the edge of the piece close to you, and lay it in the oil, working away from yourself to avoid splatters.
Fry in batches. Do not overcrowd. Overcrowding the pan will lower the temperature of the oil, causing more oil to be absorbed and results in soggy, greasy chicken.
Start with the dark pieces of chicken because they take the longest to cook. Try to find a small chicken, if possible because they will be the sweetest and most tender.
When the chicken pieces are a deep golden brown, remove them to a wire cooling rack. Do not use paper towels. Set over a baking sheet to catch any drips. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the chicken to make sure it is fully cooked before moving on to the next batch. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a thermometer to test to make sure it is between 165-170 degrees.
Salt the chicken while it is still hot and if you are frying in batches, keep the finished pieces warm in the oven at 200 degrees. Cover with foil lightly. THighs and legs take the longest, about 15-20 minutes for dark meat. Springer chickens are often smaller than the others.
Art by Bluffton, SC artist Murray Sease. www.shineonart.com
Leftover Fried Chicken Salad
Serve with seasonal ice-cold watermelon. It adds color and delightful flavor contrast.
4 pieces leftover fried chicken with meat pulled and chopped (2 cups)
1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed, ground
1 teaspoon mustard seed, ground
In a mixing bowl, combine ingredients. Add mayonnaise and spices and stir to combine. Add the leftover fried chicken and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve on rustic bread serve with pickles or serve on top of lettuce.