Before last week, I had never made real fried chicken. I've fried plenty of chicken wings, tortilla chips, and tempura-ed everything. But true, homemade, brined-in-buttermilk, dredged-in-flour, and fried-in-a-skillet Southern-style chicken had never graced my kitchen table. Between the perceived mess and my worry of serving burnt-but-still-raw chicken, I knew I'd need a commanding voice to guide me through my fears and persuade me to give it a shot.
The buttermilk skillet-fried chicken recipe in Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart's Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking offered just the direction I was looking for. Reading the recipe was akin to having an artful chicken fryer explain the process right in my kitchen. In the end, it wasn't even that difficult—control the heat and you'll control the chicken.
Why I picked this recipe: There's a first time for everything; this week, it was frying chicken.
What worked: Adding butter to the fry oil (in this case, shortening) made for a particularly flavorful crust. The buttermilk brine kept the meat moist and just a bit tangy, ready to drip chicken juice all over eager hands.
What didn't: I'd advise against trying to fit all of the chicken in one batch. Even though everything fit without a spill, I had to crank the heat up really high to regain the lost heat.
Suggested tweaks: Let the chicken come up to room temperature before battering and frying it (or at least let it sit out for a while to lose the chill from the fridge). This will help with temperature loss. If you don't want to use shortening as the main fry oil, you can use any refined vegetable oil or peanut oil. But don't skip the butter.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American and Berkeleyside NOSH, and she blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.