Since they were old enough to decide, Maggy and Sharon have always gotten to choose what they want for their birthday dinner. I especially remember all the years Sharon requested roast turkey with all the trimmings for her July 20th birthday!
This year Maggy requested fried chicken. I was thrilled because everyone in our family loves it, and frying is probably one of the simplest, cleanest ways to cook chicken. I developed this recipe nearly twenty years ago when I was the food editor at Cooks Illustrated. Over the years I’ve made a few tweaks to further improve the recipe, but I believe this method makes the best classic fried chicken.
First, the preparation is neat and tidy. For the chicken’s briny buttermilk bath I use a zipperlock bag (a used one is fine, just test it for pin holes first). For shaking the parts in flour, I suggest doubled brown paper bags. No wash up required. When you’re done, simply toss both bags in the trash bin.
The process is equally efficient. I use a wire rack set over newspaper for laying out the flour-coated parts and the same set up for draining the fried chicken. Don’t use separate racks for each process. Simply wash the rack in between. If you want to keep the chicken warm, just place the wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and set it in a 200 degree oven.
Covering the chicken the first half of frying not only helps the frying oil return to temperature, it also holds in the moisture, giving the chicken a wonderfully crunchy—not just crisp texture. Frying chicken in batches doubles the cooking time, which is why this recipe calls for a small chicken, which fits nicely in a large skillet in one batch.
And don’t toss that frying oil. Strain out the crumbs and refrigerate it, because now that you’ve realized how simple and clean frying is, I’ll bet you’re going to be doing it a lot more of it.
- 1 whole chicken (3 to 3½ pounds), cut into 10 pieces (2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 2 breast halves, halved crosswise) neck, giblets, wing tips, and back reserved for another use
- 11/2 cups buttermilk
- 4 teaspoons fine salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- A generous 2 cups vegetable oil (or enough to measure ½-inch deep in a 12-inch skillet)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Place chicken pieces in a gallon-size zipper-lock bag. Mix buttermilk with 2 teaspoons of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. Pour over chicken; seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- When ready to fry chicken, measure flour and remaining 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper into a large doubled brown paper bag; shake to combine. Working in 3 batches, drop chicken pieces into the flour mixture and shake thoroughly to completely coat. Place coated chicken pieces on a large wire rack set over newspaper.
- Meanwhile, measure oil to ½-inch deep in a 12-inch heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast-iron); bring to 350 degrees over medium-high heat.
- Drop chicken pieces, skin side down, into hot oil (It will be a tight fit.); cover (with a cookie sheet or pizza pan) and cook for 5 minutes. Lift chicken pieces with tongs to make sure chicken is frying evenly; rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others. Cover again and continue cooking until chicken pieces are evenly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Turn chicken over with tongs and cook, uncovered, until chicken is browned all over, 8 to 10 minutes longer. While chicken fries, wash wire rack and set over fresh newspaper near skillet. Remove chicken from skillet with tongs and drain on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Strained cooled oil into a heat-safe container and refrigerate for future frying.)
Goodness sakes! Can it be that you’ve given me courage and guidance to actually make real fried chicken on the stove? Thanks 🙂
Sarah from 20something cupcakes says
Hi, Pam! I recently met your wonderful daughter Maggie in Louisville. I am a huge fan of you and your cookbooks! “How to Cook Without a Book” taught me so much. I’ve also bought it as a gift for friends just learning to cook. And it seems we both are on the same page with recipes lately…I just posted fried chicken, too! http://www.20somethingcupcakes.com/2012/05/how-to-video-thomas-kellers-buttermilk-fried-chicken/
Pam Anderson says
Hi Sarah, Maggy told me about you when she got home from Louisville. Hope to meet you in person some day. In the meantime, I enjoyed your fried chicken video. Thanks for your kind words about my books and good luck in all you do.
Kathy - Panini Happy says
You’ve convinced me – can’t wait to try your nice and clean method. I make decent fried chicken but the process is kind of a disaster. Your tips make a ton of sense. Happy birthday, Maggy!!
this looks amazing – I’m almost ready to try it, given that you use only 2c/1/2 ” of oil instead of deep fat frying. How long do you keep the strained, cooled oil? Is there a limit to the number of times you would re-use it during that period?
Pam Anderson says
Hey Laura, strained oil can be refrigerated for months. As long as it smells good, you can use it over and over again. You’ll recognize the smell of rancid oil. I think you should give this a try. Frying is so much easier than people think. Let me know if you do it.
Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon says
Pam, I have FOND memories of my grandmother’s fried chicken…but have been too scared to ever try it myself. Guess you could say I was chicken! But maybe it is time I get over that fear because you make it sound completely within my reach.
Thanks for another great recipe.
Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon says
PS, Happy Birthday Maggy. Can’t wait to see the Anderson clan next month. I am giddy with anticipation!
I swore that I would never make fried chicken in my home because of the mess and inconvenience….might just change my mind this summer. I don’t, however think I have a proper skipper. Is cast iron the best for all frying?
Your fried chicken recipe has been my go-to for years! Always just perfect, juicy on the inside, crunchy and perfectly seasoned on the outside. Delicious!
I’ve made this dish out and it’s really a hit!! Everyone at home loved it. By the way, thanks for the recipe, I would definitely do it again. 🙂
Jane DeLung says
Can you speak at the Present Day Club in Princeton New Jersey on December 5, 2012. YOu gave your card to Christine Larking about 4 months ago and hope that you can come and talk about preparing for Christmas. My number is 609 921 0907
I made this for dinner tonight. It was my first attempt at fried chicken, and it was delicious! Thank you!
I laughed when you wrote about Sharon’s July birthday with turkey and all the fixings. My birthday is July 19th and I always request Thanksgiving dinner. MY dad(the main cook in the family as we were growing up) always said he got the strangest looks at the grocery store that week, buying all the usual November fair. At 22, it is still something I always look forward to in July. My dad now calls it is practice run for the actual holiday.
I made it tonight for Father’s Day! I used my grandmother’s cast- iron skipper. It was delicious, perfectly cooked, and very easy cleanup! Thank you for helping me conquer an irrational fear.
Betty Ann @Mango_Queen says
I keep seeing this on FB and the networks and I am so drawn to it. Can’t wait to have some of your famous fried chicken at this weekend’s “Big Summer Potluck”. Thanks for sharing the recipe, Pam! Must try this soon.
what can i substitute for buttermilk? we are kosher so I can’t mix chicken and dairy. i could use rice milk, soy milk, almond milk???
Pam Anderson says
Not sure about a milk substitute for the buttermilk bath. If I were you, I’d start by substituting water and lemon juice for the milk–sort of a lemony brine. Without testing, I can say for sure, but I’d figure an equal amount of water and salt, along with the juice of one lemon. After squeezing its juice, I’d toss the lemon shells in the water too. If you end up trying it, let us know how it works. Thanks for being in touch–your question was a good one!
Got this recipe from your book. Tried it & loved it. It brought up many childhood memories of my mother’s fried chicken. So simple and so delicious!