Southern fried chicken at home is not as hard as you think.
On the first Tuesday of each month the phones at Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville light up with orders for their “Gourmet Take Away” fried chicken dinners. If you snooze, you lose, even at Belle Meade, because the kitchen only makes about 50 orders and not a one goes unclaimed. They sell out because the fried chicken is spectacular, simple as that. Two days later, reheated in a toaster oven, it’s still spectacular.
We don’t make fried chicken at home much anymore. It’s a messy project most of the world has delegated to restaurant chains and chicken wing joints, all of which have pretty much wrecked the dish with much too much thickly battered skin and salt. Not at Belle Meade, where the battered crispy skin-to-meat ratio is perfect.
We arranged a sit-down with BMCC executive chef John York because we had to know what he was doing back there. The North Carolina native who has enjoyed a successful career cooking in private club kitchens across the country much prefers working in the South with its “huge culinary tradition and plenty of real cooks.” And real eaters who clamor for his chicken, among other things. But, what about frying chicken at home?
Chef York’s secret is an innovative egg wash brine which handily combines a salt brine with an egg wash in one stroke. “Chicken needs a brine,” he said, “especially the breast meat. Lots of folks soak chicken in buttermilk, which is a great tenderizer, but buttermilk tends to turn the chicken dark and it doesn’t look too good when it’s fried.
The BMCC chicken rests in the salty egg wash overnight and the next day it’s ready for flouring and frying. Chef York is a purist about seasoning chicken for frying – just salt, freshly ground black pepper, and paprika for color. To test the seasoning in the flour, he fries a test wing. We recommend this step at home because you’ll want an incentive snack while you work. Chef York also recommends frying white meat separately from dark meat – the dark needs to cook a bit longer and it’s easier to manage same size pieces per batch.
Our results were spectacular, too, and well worth the effort and moderate mess. Chef York’s egg brine was so smart and easy that we’ll definitely fry chicken more often, and you should, too. A good, big pan for frying and a couple of thermometers (for chicken doneness and oil temp monitoring) are all you’ll need. Just take your time and be careful around hot oil. Really delicious Southern fried chicken at home will change the way you think about that big bucket.
- 1 whole chicken, cut into parts (cut the breasts into halves or thirds for easier cooking)
- Egg Brine:
- 6 eggs
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Seasoned Flour:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Paprika, for color
- Frying oil (canola, peanut, vegetable)
Rinse the chicken and set aside.
Whisk together the eggs, water, and salt in a mixing bowl and pour it into a large sealable plastic bag or deep pan.
Add the chicken pieces. Coat all the pieces well with the brine.
Add a little extra water if needed to submerge all the pieces. Seal the bag or cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.
In a chicken fryer or deep skillet with high sides, add enough vegetable oil to a depth of about ½ to 1 inch (enough to cover the chicken halfway but comfortably below the top of the pan).
Heat the oil to 350°F. As the oil heats, combine the flour, salt, pepper and paprika in a large dish or pan.
Remove the chicken pieces from the egg brine and dredge them in the flour mixture, coating all sides well.
Discard the egg brine.
When the oil reaches temperature, carefully and slowly place one piece of chicken at a time into the oil until the pieces are snug but not touching. Do not overcrowd the pan; better to cook another batch separately.
Cover the pan (a glass cover lets you watch the oil to see if the heat needs to be adjusted).
Fry the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes (10 minutes for small pieces like wings).
Carefully remove the cover with a hot pad or oven mitt and turn each piece over.
Cook uncovered an additional 10 to 15 minutes (10 minutes for wings) or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F in the breasts and 175°F in the legs and thighs.
Place the cooked pieces on a paper towel-lined plate and let rest about five minutes to cool slightly before serving. They will be very hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.