Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Southern Fried Chicken

I like fried chicken, a lot.  Most people would say that it is unhealthy.  I don’t think that is necessarily the case.  If the ingredients are of high quality, if excessive fat has been trimmed from the chicken, if the cooking oil is not saturated, hydrogenated or deteriorated from overheating or reusing, then it is not that bad in my book.  The key is to eat only good fried chicken and in moderation.

There are quite a few restaurants doing fried chicken right, and I eat in them.  I also make it at home, where I have more control of the ingredients and the cooking process.  The free range chicken, egg, and unbleached flour are organic.  Ritz crackers (or Hi Ho crackers) and cooking oil are not.  I cook with blended corn and canola oil simply because I have not figured out a better alternative.  

I do not deep fry.  That uses too much oil and deep fryer is hard to clean.  I prefer using a cast iron chicken fryer (basically a large skillet with tall walls) for making southern fried chicken.  It requires a relatively small amount of oil, just enough for it to be at mid-level of the chicken pieces in the pan.  

I made some southern fried chicken and a tomato corn salad the other night.  

My not-so-precise recipe:
1.       I use chicken thighs and drumsticks because I do not like eating white meat.  Leave the skin on, but trim off any loose skin and globs of fat on and embedded in the thighs.  Season the meat with a little bit of salt and black pepper.  Coat the pieces with flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper (go easy on the salt) and let them rest.
2.       Finely grind the Ritz crackers, add to some flour and mix well.
3.       Beat an egg, and thin it with some water.
4.       Add less than an inch of oil into the cast iron chicken fryer.  Set the burner to medium. 
5.       Coat a small batch of chicken with the egg wash and then the cracker-flour mix.  When the oil is hot, fry the chicken pieces.  The oil should come up to the mid-level of the chicken pieces.  (I do not use a thermometer to check the oil or the chicken; very unscientific, I know).
6.       Turn the pieces over after ten minutes to check the color of the thin coating and to fry the other side.  Adjust the heat level if necessary.
7.       Continue to turn the pieces every ten minutes to cook both sides and to make sure that the pieces are not burnt.  Total cooking time: about forty minutes.
8.       Rest the cooked pieces on a rack to cool and to drip off excess oil.
9.       Place the pieces on paper towel to soak off remaining oil before eating.

For the salad:
Cut tomatoes into bite size chunks.  Sprinkle gently some salt over them.  Add some freshly cut raw corn kernels and basil leaves.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil.  Let it rest for a few minutes.  Some tomato juice will form a pool at the bottom of the bowl.  The juice has a nice balance of acidity, sweetness and saltiness, and the aroma of fine olive oil and basil.  The salad is a lovely manifestation of summer.  It is easy to make, the hard part is to find flavorful tomatoes and corns.

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