Fried chicken is one of the world’s great basic dishes. In America it ranks as a national institution—albeit one subject to infinite variations from region to region and cook to cook. Some people insist that the chicken be fried in the fat from smoked bacon; others swear by lard, still others by peanut oil. Inventive cooks test their ingenuity by devising original and sometimes exotic coating mixtures. Although the dish demonstrated here uses ordinary white flour, some cooks supplement it or replace it with buckwheat, rye or whole-meal flours; others add ground-up nuts and cereals flavored with different combinations of fresh or dried herbs and spices.
In some parts of the world, chicken is marinated before being coated for frying, as in the Greek recipe on page 102—a process that both flavors the flesh and increases its tenderness. The cooking method, too, can be subject to variations: although chicken is normally pan fried until done, an alternative is to give the pieces an initial browning in the frying pan and finish by baking them in a moderate oven.
However frying is done or the coating prepared, there are two keys to accomplishing a perfect finished dish. Do not wipe the chicken pieces dry first, as you would for sautes; a slight moistness helps the coating to adhere. Flour the pieces an hour or so before frying them; this allows time for the coating to stick firmly, making it less likely that bits of flour will become detached during the cooking period and burn. Unlike the more elaborate sautes, with their garnishes and sauces, simple fried chicken tastes as good cold as it does hot. If it is prepared a day in advance, it makes excellent picnic fare.
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Time needed: 20 minutes.
- Coating the chicken:
An hour or so before frying, salt and pepper the chicken pieces on all sides. Spread flour on a plate and roll each piece in the flour until it is evenly coated (above). Or if you prefer, put flour in a paper or plastic bag, add a few chicken pieces at a time, close the bag tightly and shake it vigorously to coat them.
- Firming the coating:
As you flour the chicken pieces, place them on a wire rack so that air can circulate around them. Leave them there until you are ready to fry; doing so gives the flour a chance to blot up the surface moisture and then dry, so that the coating will cling to the pieces while they cook.
- Frying the chicken:
Fill a heavy frying pan with oil or fat to a level of 1/4 to 1/2 inch [1/2 to 1 cm.]. Heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Using your hand to protect the flour coating, place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Do not crowd the pan. As the skin begins to color, flip the pieces with tongs.
- Cooking until done:
Turn the chicken pieces occasionally so they cook evenly. After about 20 minutes, the breasts will be cooked through; place them on a platter in a warm oven. After another 10 minutes remove the pieces of dark meat, add them to the platter with the breasts, and serve.