Juicy inside with a crispy-crunchy exterior, fried chicken is good hot out of the fryer or cold from the fridge. It’s the iconic dish for picnics, reunions, and holiday celebrations. It’s a dish deserving of a national food holiday.
To celebrate National Fried Chicken Day on July 6, we asked Atlanta chefs their tips and tricks to finesse greatness from America’s favorite yard bird. How do they transform chicken to the mouthwatering crowd pleaser?
“Brine it!” is Kitchen Six’s Jason Jimenez’s quick response to our question. “I believe this is what makes great fried chicken—for the flavor and it not turning out dry.”
Brining chicken not only creates a juicier bird, it seasons the meat as well. Salt is a constant in recipes, but brine can take on many forms.
Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market and Chop Shop can demonstrate how to cut a whole chicken into precise pieces. He uses water, salt and spices to infuse flavor. “I always brine to season the chicken and keep it juicy. Simple brine: ½ gallon water, 4 oz Kosher Salt, 4 oz Dark Brown Sugar, 2 sprig rosemary, 2 sprig sage, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2 Tbsp black peppercorn. Boil to dissolve, once cooled to room temperature brine chicken parts for 3 hours in the fridge.”
Nick Melvin, founder and co-owner of Doux South Pickles, incorporates pickling spice for flavor. “I actually will do a standard salt water, brown sugar, and pickling spice brine, then poach in equal parts chicken stock and Doux South Pickle brine, and then chill and bread and fry. It fries super quick and gets very crispy without all the grease.”
Sleep on it
You would think there would be a French secret to AIX/Tin Tin chef/owner Nick Leahy’s fried chicken, but his secret is time. “I like to overnight brine and then soak,” he says.
For Chef Daniel Chance (Watchman’s, WH Stiles Fish Camp, East Pole Supper Club) brining overnight is important, as are spices and aromatics. For his brine he uses: ½ c salt, 1 gallon water, ¼ c brown sugar, and aromatics (garlic, bay, peppercorns, thyme, jalapeno). “After the brine, soak in buttermilk,” he says “until ready to dredge.” For that he uses 2 pounds all-purpose flour, 2 pounds cornstarch, ¾ pound kosher salt and ½ cup Cajun spice mix.
For Seven Lamps’ Drew Van Leuvan, one day is not enough. To make the best fried chicken he says, “First- soak the chicken in buttermilk and whatever spices for two days. One day is not enough. Second- the breading needs to be three parts bread flour and one part cornstarch. There is no need for additional seasoning; just add salt to the flour mix. The addition of cornstarch adds a layer of crunch.
Sous chef Sanje Harris brings an Antigua version of fried chicken to the new Parkwoods at Crowne Plaza Perimeter. He seasons chicken with a special blend of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne. He brines it for two days, dips it in all-purpose flour, and then it’s straight to the oil for frying.
Chef Brandon Hughes of soon to open Aziza in Westside likes to use the big Green Egg for the finest fried chicken. “I brine mine in three parts buttermilk and 1 part hot sauce, then cold smoke it,” he says. He fries with three parts flour and 1 part cornstarch for crunch.
Let it Rest
Chef Todd Richards serves a lot of fried chicken by the piece at his restaurant Richards’ Southern Fried and waxes poetically in his critically acclaimed book Soul: A chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes. One of his best tips is to let chicken come to room temperature before frying. This will ensure even cooking throughout, he says.
Shake Things Up
Craig Richards, chef/partner of Midtown’s forthcoming Lylalila likes to get his chicken evenly coated. “Shake it in a brown paper sack,” is his simple advice.
Sit a While
Hudson Rouse of Avondale Estate’s Rising Son makes super crunchy fried chicken, so we asked his secret. “Letting the seasoned flour sit and get sticky on the chicken before frying makes it crunchier,” he says. “I never brine my fried chicken. All the flavor is in the crust.”
The Secret is in the Skillet
Savannah Sasser of The Expat prefers a certain skillet over a deep fryer. “For me brining the chicken is important. Brining it with lemon, rosemary, thyme and salt. Then I use a buttermilk mixture and seasoned flour and cornstarch dredge. Cast iron skillets are great for frying!,” she says.
Low and Slow
Zeb Stevenson of soon to open Redbird in Westside wants you to watch the heat. “Don’t fry it a single degree over 325°,” he says. “Hotter is not better, faster, or smarter. The coating will be burned and bitter before the chicken is fully cooked.”
Fry and Fry Again
Chef and cookbook author Seung Hee Lee (Everyday Korean) says that the secret to crispy chicken with a light batter is to double fry it. For her craveable Garlic Soy Fried Chicken, she fries each batch, places them on a cooling rack with paper towels, then fries again in order.