Cracking The Code: Perfectly-Crisp Fried Chicken


The above image isn’t perfect in any manner, but the chicken was downright amazing.

Over the years, I’ve tried lots of other peoples’ techniques in making my own fried chicken. Back in a college dorm in 1983 a young man attempted to teach me his family’s method for pan-frying chicken, which was a complete failure for me. Too crispy on the outside to the point of being burnt, while still being bloody near the bone … I know now the oil was too hot. Later attempts resulted in soggy coatings, which is normally a combination of oil being too cool, along with putting a lid on the skillet as I had seen others do, which creates condensation.

Whenever I’m frying chicken in restaurants, it normally includes some kind of “cheat”, i.e., starting with par-fried pieces. I could do this at home as those same pieces are sold at local food service supply shops. The other method involves the pressure fryer, which was invented by Col. Harlan Sanders himself. (No joke, look it up.) But home pressure fryers don’t exist, and using a pressure cooker as Sanders did in his earlier work did is inherenty dangerous, as he described in detail in his autobiography. So I won’t go there at home.

But restaurant chicken generally has a batter that’s almost brittle, and the chicken itself in many instances really isn’t cooked nicely enough for me.

Something’s always been missing.

I have an ideal when it comes to fried chicken. The skin on the chicken itself should be crisp, the batter lightly fried and golden brown, and the chicken cooked all the way through, to the point where it has a nice “bite” while simultaneously almost falling off the bone.

That was the whole point of this experiment.


The fried chicken at Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan, on November 12, 2016.

Just a few days before receiving my pacemaker a couple months back, Mary and I enjoyed the all-you-can-eat chicken dinner at Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The restaurant seats 1,500 people at a time, and with their volume they are constantly rated as the independently-owned restaurant serving the most “covers” or individual meals in the U.S. annually, generally around 950,000 meals per year.

Coincidentally, they also serve fried chicken that’s almost exactly my ideal fried chicken.

Biting into my first piece two months ago, it hit me: It’s not the overall recipe or equipment that’s the trick.

It’s the technique as a whole.

I’m not saying this is Zehnder’s actual technique, but in my mind it seems a distinct possibility.


A frying thermometer from an outdoor fryer clipped to my 8-quart pot.

Holding that single bite of chicken in my mouth, three thoughts collided:

  • Getting chicken done to the point where it’s cooked all the way through, to the point where it has a nice “bite” while simultaneously almost falling off the bone, requires slow-roasting.
  • Slow-roasting chicken with the skin on results in a fairly crisp skin.
  • Getting the batter on fried chicken a light golden brown while still getting crisp skin requires relatively quick frying.

The technique then becomes simple:

  • Slow-roast the chicken to about 165F internal temperature.
  • Then, batter and fry the chicken, just till the outside is done.

That’s it, really. Cook it twice, but for different reasons.

Here’s the full technique. I only describe a dry dredge here, but you can also use your favorite wet batter to get the ridges of a classic southern fried chicken, too.

Crisp Fried Chicken Technique

Ingredients
Chicken pieces
Frying oil (Wesson works well)
All-purpose flour
Seasoning (personal taste)
Buttermilk (optional)

Equipment
Roasting pan, or sheet pan, with strainer
Meat thermometer
8 quart steel pot or larger
Frying thermometer
Tongs
Bowl (for dredging)

If desired, soak the chicken pieces in buttermilk for 24 hours.

Preheat an oven to 275F. Remove the chicken pieces from the buutermilk and pat them dry. Roast the chicken in the oven till a meat thermometer tests for an internal temperature of 165F (about two hours or so, which will vary depending on the oven.) Remove the chicken from the oven and allow it to drain.

Clip the frying thermometer to the pot and add about 3″ of oil. (This is deep frying, not pan frying.) Heat the oil to a temperature of 350F. Add the flour to the bowl and season it with salt, pepper, garlic, marjoram, and/or any other herbs and spices you’d like. While the chicken is still hot, dredge each piece individually in the flour mixture and gently add it to the oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the oil. (I only fried four pieces of chicken at a time.) The chicken will float when it is almost done frying, and will only require maybe four minutes for each piece. Use a pair of tongs to remove the chicken from the oil and set aside on a strainer to drain and finish crisping.

Allow the oil to cool completely before disposing it.

That’s it. It’s actually really simple. It does create a huge mess, though, so be ready to bribe the kids to clean up the kitchen afterward.

3 Comments

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  1. Ok Dave, you did it again. I would imagine using Sous-vide method for the first cooking level would be very easy. Comments?

    Sherlock

  2. I’m already a msssy cook, but seems like something I will try.

  3. Sherlock, using the Sous-vide method would be easy, sure … but too expensive for me.

    Carolyn, when it comes to messy I’m right there with you!

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