Southern Fried Chicken: Expert Tips for Amazing Results
Perfectly crispy on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside — what’s not to love about a basket of freshly fried chicken? For Matt Moore, self-taught chef and author of two cookbooks, including A Southern Gentleman: Adventures in Cooking, Eating, and Living in the New South, no family meal was complete without a basket of it. And it’s no wonder; his grandmother, Sitty, is said to have made some darn-near-perfect fried chicken. The secret? Simplicity.
In the book, you say that the secret to Sitty’s fried chicken is the simplicity of the dredge. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How does something so simple end up being so delicious?
Oftentimes, people fuss too much with ingredients and technique when making fried chicken. Most folks are brought up to season, flour, egg wash, and finish with bread crumbs to get a crispy crust — others swear by brining or soaking the chicken in buttermilk or other solutions. My Sitty's recipe is unique because it throws all of that nonsense out of the window — and it uses just five ingredients. A light flour/water dredge coating, combined with perfectly seasoned chicken using just salt and pepper produces a deliciously crispy crust, while still allowing the tender, perfectly cooked chicken to be the star of the show!
What’s the secret to keeping fried chicken juicy?
First and foremost, don't overcook it! Second, make sure your oil is at the right preheated temperature to fry/cook the chicken if it's too hot, the outside will burn, and if it's too cold, the chicken will be soggy. Don't be afraid to rely on an instant-read thermometer to make sure the chicken is perfectly cooked to temperature. I pull it out a few degrees shy of the desired temperature, as it will cook up to temp while resting outside of the hot oil.
Cast iron is a must for perfect fried chickenAnd the secret to a crispy coating?
The dredge, of course. And it's all about shallow frying in cast iron. Rather than entirely submerging the chicken, only about three quarters of the chicken should be immersed in the hot oil. The weight of the chicken will cause it to sit just above the surface of the cast-iron pan, which will create a really crispy crust without burning. Cast iron is a must for perfect fried chicken, and, in fact, most Southern dishes. I often joke that I have as many cast-iron pans as my wife does pairs of shoes!
Your recipe calls for peanut oil for frying. Are there other types of cooking oil that work well for fried chicken, or is there a reason to stick to peanut oil?
I prefer the mild flavor and high smoke point of peanut oil for most of my frying endeavors. That said, vegetable or canola oil will work just fine.
Anything else we should know about making perfect fried chicken or Sitty’s secret recipe?
Yes! Usually the first batch turns out a little less than golden brown and crispy… it's kind of like that first batch of pancakes or grilled cheese — the second and following batches always seem to turn out better. So don't fret! I often will add the first batch into the oil (after finishing the other pieces) to heat back through and crisp up to a golden brown. And lastly, remember that food is best prepared when served with my favorite ingredient — love.
For more about Matt’s most recent book, A Southern Gentleman: Adventures in Cooking, Eating, and Living in the New South, visit his website.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.