Woody Allen once said that sex is like pizza, even if it is rubbish, it’s pretty damn good. I feel the same about fried chicken. At its worst, it is still finger-licking good. Last month, KFC revealed that they are giving away Colonel Harland Sanders’ cookbook/autobiography for free. Yes, the original celebrity chef now has a cookbook and much to everyone’s disappointment, there is no revelation of his secret spice blend for his fried chicken. But the truth is, it takes a lot of effort to screw up tender succulent meat, dredged in flour and spices, then cooked in boiling fat. Professional and domestic cooks alike have their tricks to the perfect fried chicken from the type of spice to the type of oil. And as much as we like to think that we have a sophisticated palate, no hot blooded foodie can resist golden brown, crispy, succulent fried chicken.
Historically, fried chicken was introduced to southern United States by the Scots who fried their chicken in fat. When the slave trade brought Africans to the southern plantation, they introduced spices to the chicken to enrich the flavour. Since then, southern fried chicken became a staple and one of the region’s top choices for ‘Sunday dinner’. The preparation generally involves portions of chicken being dredged in flour usually after marination in buttermilk. The flour is spiced with seasonings such as salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and sometimes chilli. Traditionally cooked in lard, now the modern household uses more neutral-flavoured oils like canola oil and vegetable oil.
Fried chicken traverses all cultures and some global variants that are worth a mention are: chicken karaage – this Japanese variation involves marinating the chicken in ginger, soy sauce and sake before dredging it in potato starch; chicken katsu – another Japanese wonder using panko crumbs to give extra crunch; Cantonese-style fried chicken – this uses a red fermented beancurd as part of the marinade; and chicken Buldak – a Korean-style that incorporates hot pepper paste.
Chefs and celebrity cooks have their own version to keep the meat moist while achieving that crispy outer coat. From the simple to the complex, here are my top three picks; 1. Nigella cooks her chicken pieces in milk before letting them dry and coating them in flour seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper. 2. Thomas Keller soaks the chicken in lemon brine overnight before dipping the pieces in buttermilk and then dredging them through a flour seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper. 3. For a more extensive and precise method, try David Chang’s which involves soaking the chicken in brine for no more than 6 hours, steaming the chicken, chilling the chicken overnight then deep frying the pieces. David’s method ensures that the chicken spends less time in oil and the sugar in the brine will make sure that the chicken browns deeply, and quickly.
For David Chang’s and Thomas Keller’s recipes of fried chicken, plus the 11 secret herbs and spices revealed, go to my website.