I am southern. I thank God for it. Being southern means I was raised on lots of good, home-cooked foods like fried chicken, ham-hock seasoned collard greens with corn meal dumplings, fried squash, home-canned string beans, sweet potatoes, biscuits or corn bread and so many other yummy things. In the summer time, it’s common to put fresh slices of juicy tomato right out of the garden on the table, along with a dish of cucumbers that have been marinating in a little bit of vinegar with salt and pepper.
Southern food is the good life, or at least one version of it.
That said, I think people make fried chicken far too complicated. For instance, why add garlic powder or eggs to your fried chicken recipe? What’s the point? To make the simplest fried chicken, you really don’t need anything but chicken, salt, flour and oil, and ideally a cast-iron frying pan or dutch oven.
I have a few ways of making fried chicken, depending on my mood. Here are a couple…
Simple, Old-Fashioned Fried Chicken – The real deal!
- Cut up chicken, lightly salted all over
- Self-rising flour or all-purpose flour (I prefer self-rising, because it lets me use less salt and it makes for a crispier crust)
- Fat for cooking (Lard, vegetable oil, or coconut oil)
First, start by heating your oil in a heavy skillet or dutch oven on medium heat. I like to have a couple of inches of oil in my dutch oven for frying chicken. It takes a few minutes to heat up, so while that’s happening, you can get your chicken ready.
Now, make sure chicken is fairly wet when you salt it. That way, when you coat it in flour, the flour will have something to stick to. One trick my mom taught me for when we’re frying up a bunch of chicken is to put one or two cups of self-rising flour in a paper grocery bag and then toss the pieces of chicken into the bag, close it and shake to get everything dusted really well with the flour. If you don’t have a paper grocery bag, don’t worry. The point is just to get the chicken well-coated with flour. The bag just makes easy work of it, and a quick clean-up.
You’ll know your oil is hot enough for frying if you sprinkle a bit of flour in the oil and it starts to sizzle. Once the oil is hot enough, start adding your pieces until the pan has a single layer of chicken cooking.
Once the chicken is golden brown on one side, it’s time to turn it over to cook the other side. Keep an eye on it, because it’s easy to scorch the bottom of your chicken if you leave it unattended for too long.
You’ll know the chicken is done when the juices run clear and the flesh is opaque. If you want to be on the safe side, take out the thickest piece and test it with a cooking thermometer. Make sure it’s at least 170º at the thickest part. Drain all of your cooked chicken on some paper towels and Voila! Delicious, easy, old-fashioned fried chicken.
Variation: Buttermilk Fried Chicken
My mom says this is the way to handle a chicken that’s just not as tender as it should be. She’s always made sure to get young, tender birds from the store, and she cooks them up fresh, but I have a habit of buying chicken on sale and putting it in my freezer, and it’s just never as tender like that as it would be cooked from fresh.
If you end up with a bird like that, you can still make tender fried chicken. Thaw your chicken in the fridge (if it’s frozen) and then you’re going to follow the same recipe as above, EXCEPT, first prep the chicken by letting it soak at least a couple of hours (I actually like to soak it overnight) in buttermilk before salting and dredging in flour. This fried chicken will be super tender, but it does require some planning, unlike the recipe above which can be made spur-of-the-moment.
Stay tuned for more old-fashioned southern recipes — the simple way that our grandmother’s made them, not the new-fangled fancy way that TV chefs try to pawn off as “Traditional Southern Food.” 😛