You may not know this about me, but I’m not really that big on frying. I know, I know – some of the most delicious foods out there are dipped in a batter, thrown in scalding oil, and fried until hot, crisp, and finger-licking good. This genre of cuisine includes masterpieces like the french fry and fried Oreo, with everything in between. But I’ve just never been able to get on board. Aside from the obvious implications that eating fried food can have on your health, heart and waistline, frying foods has always seemed to be to be, well, kind of a pain in the butt. Who wants to unload a gallon of Canola oil into a pot on their stove and babysit it while it heats to just the right temperature, only to throw in some food that probably would have tasted fresher and more flavorful if roasted or sautéed, and subsequently wind up covering your kitchen and yourself in a fine layer of grease? So not worth it.
I knew this day would come, and sure enough, last Monday was “Fry Day” at culinary school. We walked into the classroom to see a heap of empty plastic oil jugs in the recycle bin, and the stoves covered in huge 5 gallon pots of golden liquid. I sighed and took a big bite of my roasted veggie sandwich, hoping that on some level the fiber in the vegetables would ward off the appeal of greasy food that was sure to set in before long. Did I mention that french fries are my ultimate weakness?
We dove right in, noting that the mise en place for the several fried food recipes we’d be preparing was extensive. Ten pound bags of all-purpose potatoes were attacked on the mandolin; bottles of Corona were popped and dumped to prepare quarts of beer batter; chickens were cleaned, then halved, then quartered, then cut into eighths. Suddenly, we were ready.
I’d never owned a deep fry or candy thermometer before I started school, but I quickly learned that this little tool takes nearly all of the guess-work out of deep-frying. Most foods are fried at around 360 to 390 degrees F; get too much higher than that, and the oil will start to spontaneously combust, and trust me, that’s something you just don’t want to get into. You think a grease fire is bad? Try grease explosion…
Once we learned the secret to frying – keeping the oil temperature under control – we realized that this cooking method was not only easy, but downright relaxing. You drop something in a pot, walk away, come back in 5 minutes, and it’s cooked? This I can handle.
Added benefit? A crispy, crunchy, savory, rich Buttermilk Tarragon Fried Chicken. Marinated overnight in a herbaceous buttermilk mixture, this chicken is tender, moist and rich with a thick, crunchy and flavorful crust. It’s best eaten fresh, moments after it has finished cooking, hand to mouth. And it beats the pants off of that soggy bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken garbage, I promise you that. You don’t need to be a Southern fry master to make a practically perfect, extremely impressive, summertime-match-made-in-heaven batch of Fried Chicken. In fact, I’ll teach you how to do it right now so you can go make it tonight. How do you like that?
Buttermilk Tarragon Fried Chicken
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
- 1 (3.5 pound) broiler-fryer hicken, broken down (two legs, two thighs, two breasts, two wings)
- 1 cup of buttermilk
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 tablespoons of Dijon or whole grain mustard
- 4 teaspoons of fresh Tarragon leaves, minced (you can also substitute 2 tsp dry Tarragon)
- Plus canola oil, for deep-frying
You will also need some tongs, a large pot for frying, a candy or deep fry thermometer, and a sheet pan, ideally with a cooling rack.
The best way to make this chicken is to marinate it for a full day before you fry it – this will dramatically increase the flavor and tenderness of your finished product. Start one day ahead by prepping your chicken. If you have a whole chicken, break it down into eight pieces, trim and clean it; if you bought a whole chicken in pieces (you can get this at most grocery stores), just clean up the pieces a little bit to remove any excess fat or grizzle. Remember to leave the skin ON.
Next make your marinade by combining the buttermilk, mustard and tarragon in a large bowl. Add the chicken, toss to coat, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
When your chicken has marinated and you’re ready to fry, set up your fry station. AllRecipes recommends the following technique:
“Heat 1/8 to 1/4 in. of oil in a large skillet; fry chicken until browned on all sides. Cover and simmer, turning occasionally, for 40-45 minutes, or until juices run clear and chicken is tender. Uncover and cook 5 minutes longer. Remove chicken; drain on paper towels and keep warm.”
While that certainly works, I prefer the fry-then-bake method. Fill a large pot about two-thirds of the way up with canola oil. Please please use a candy or deep fry thermometer to monitor your temperature – this is not the time for guesswork. Heat the oil to 360 degrees F. Also preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and set up an area where you can allow your fried chicken to drain – a cooling rack over a cookie sheet, or a tray lined with paper towels works well.
Right before you are ready to fry, you want to season and flour your chicken. Start by setting up a tray or bowl of flour and a clean tray for your prepped chicken. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, season well with salt and pepper, and toss in the flour to coat well. Place the floured chicken on the tray.
Now, if you want a super-duper extra thick and crunchy crust on your chicken, I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can double dip. Simply dip your flour chicken pieces back into the buttermilk marinade, and then give them another toss in the flour. This will make the difference between a light, thin and crispy exterior, and a thick, crustier one. It’s all in how you like it!
Now that the chicken is all floured and laid out, we’re ready to fry. Grab your tongs and head to the pot. Using your tongs or your hands (be careful!), gently lower each piece of chicken one at a time into the oil. Depending on the size of your pot, you may be able to fit all eight pieces in, or you might not – use your judgement and make sure you don’t over crowd the pot. The chicken pieces should have enough room to bob around in the oil without constantly touching.
Check the chicken after five minutes or so. It should be developing a nice golden brown crust on the outside. Remove the chicken from the oil once it is completely golden brown and crisp all over, about six to eight minutes. Allow it to drain on the cooling rack for a minute or two.
While your chicken has a nice crust, it will not be completely cooked through at this point, so pop the whole tray, cooling rack and all, into your 400 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. It’s important to use a rack when cooking the chicken in the oven because if the underside of chicken rests on a sheet pan, the intense heat from the pan will cause it to burn, rather than remain crispy on that side. I know, ugh! But I don’t make the rules – I just follow them, and trust me, this is what works.
After 10 to 15 minutes, remove your chicken and check for doneness by cutting open your thickest piece of dark meat; if the meat is cooked all the way through, you’re good to go! Let the chicken cool for a moment or too, but not tooooo long, and dig in!
The moral of my story is this: Deep Frying has its place, and it’s a very important one. Will I be breaking out the canola oil and frying up everything in sight in my tiny little kitchen on the regular? Probably not. But the thought of laying down a bright, piping hot platter of this fried chicken on a red checkered table-cloth at a backyard barbecue at the height of summertime turns me on just a little bit. Maybe with a big old pitcher of lemonade. Catch my drift?