Arguably, my sister makes the best fried chicken on the face of the planet. It's mouth-watering, beautiful to look at, and it tops the 'comfort food' category in my mind, right up there with a superb pot pie, or home-made mac and cheese.
After a visit down south, where my sister lives, seeing how hard she worked in the kitchen to make her fried chicken for the family, and so many other wonderful dishes, I decided I could learn to fry my own chicken. I didn't just want to copy her recipe, and while it still holds a spot in my mind as some of the best I have ever had, I created my own version that's pretty darn good, too.
The process is similar, but the ingredients are different.
There are only two major tricks to frying chicken that I have discovered. The chicken should be room temperament (fresh from the fridge creates to much of an oil temperature drop when you begin frying your pieces because the chicken is so cold), and you need to keep your oil at as consistent a temperature as possible. I live at 3300', and I find the ideal temperature for frying is right around 375 degrees.
No matter how neat you are in the kitchen, frying chicken is a messy job.
I find a splatter shield over my frying pan really helps, and I don't think I would want to fry chicken without it. I also use a candy thermometer, clipped to the side of the pan, to keep tabs on my oil temperature. This is really quite important, from a safety stand-point, as well as a texture and doneness stand-point.
My sister fries mainly only chicken wings, and taking a lead from her, I fry only party wings (the first and second segments). I find the party wings lay flatter in the pan, and I don't need as much oil. In frying chicken, I found a real benefit to sticking to party wings. They are small, fry quick, and you end up with less trouble keeping your oil temperature consistent for each batch you fry.
Canola or Safflower oil (or any higher smoke point oil)
4 lb. bag of party wings, thawed and patted dry
2 cups buttermilk
6 cups flour
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried sage
6 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground, black pepper
Into a large frying pan, add enough oil to come up about an inch on the sides. A little more is okay, but you shouldn't need more than about 1-1/2". Clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pan, making sure the tip is submerged, but not touching the bottom of the pan. Set oil to heat over medium to medium high heat.
Layer paper towels into a cookie sheet, and place a wire rack on top of the paper towels. I use my cookie cooling racks, and just overlap them.
To a medium mixing bowl, add buttermilk. Set aside.
To a shallow baking dish, add flour, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, sage and salt/pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside. If you prefer stronger flavors, increase any/all of your spices. This just happens to be the combination I found the most flavorful, and balanced.
Set out a plate to catch the prepared chicken before frying.
Dredge chicken through buttermilk, then through flour mixture, and set on the plate. Prepare enough chicken for one batch at a time. In my frying pan, that's about 8 party wing segments.
When the oil is heated to 375 degrees, carefully place your chicken into the hot oil. It hardly needs mentioning that this is a very hot pan of oil, and care should be taken to keep from burning fingers, or any other body part(s). It's also very important to keep your eye on the temperature of the oil. Do not let it creep much past 375 degrees.
Cover the pan with a spatter shield. Do NOT cover with a lid. Condensation will build on a lid, and drip into the pan, creating a fire hazard!!
Fry the chicken until it's deep golden brown on all sides, turning frequently to keep it from burning.
Remove the first batch of chicken to your prepared cookie sheet, using a pair of tongs, and start dredging again with your next batch.
I use one pair of tongs to place the chicken into the pan, and another pair to remove it.
Let the chicken cool for at least 15-20 minutes, more if you use larger pieces of chicken. It will remain warm, and any juices will re-distribute through the chicken, which will only enhance the flavor and texture.
When I make fried chicken, which isn't very often, because, well, it's quite high in fat, I make enough to keep leftovers in the fridge. Cold chicken for breakfast is pretty good, too. It also beats fast food on road trips!