I've had my share of retro recipes growing up, but this is one my family missed: Corn Crisped Chicken, a Kellogg's recipe from 1966 that seems too simple to be true. Dip chicken pieces in evaporated milk, coat with cornflake crumbs, and bake. I gave it a try, and though it wasn't half bad, I ran a few tests and tweaked a few ingredients to turn this crunchy baked chicken into something truly terrific.
Brining is a time killer, but I like to brine my chicken for a recipe such as this. It's easy to overcook chicken that's laid out and baked on a pan, especially if you're using lean breast meat. To ensure the chicken turns out moist, juicy, and flavorful throughout, I soak it for at least four hours, usually overnight. If you're really pressed for time, forgo the brine and just stick to dark chicken meat such as the leg or thigh.
I compared two brines: a simple salt-sugar brine and buttermilk. The simple brine worked best to keep the chicken dripping with juice. However, I liked the tang from the buttermilk, so I incorporated it into my next test: the dipping liquid.
Dipping Liquid: Evaporated Milk vs. Buttermilk
Evaporated milk had the perfect viscosity to allow the cornflake coating to stick, but it lacked flavor. Buttermilk rocked. Its tanginess is an ideal partner to the corn coating. Because buttermilk is a little on the thick side, I thinned it out a bit with some milk.
Use Corn Flakes and Cornmeal for a Crispy Corn Coating
Part of the original appeal of this recipe for Kellogg's, I believe, was to promote their corn flake crumbs, but crushing corn flakes by hand worked fine, and I liked the bigger pieces that gave the coating added crunch. Still, the corn flakes didn't coat the chicken as thorough as they should've. Dipping the chicken in flour before dipping it in the buttermilk left a bit of a slimy layer in between. Dipping it in straight cornmeal, on the other hand, not only coated the chicken really well but added another layer of earthy corn flavor. For the gluten-conscious, this is an awesome gluten-free dish, as long as you make sure you're using gluten-free corn flakes (Kellogg's are not gluten-free). For extra flavor, I tossed in a bit of cayenne and oregano.
Skin On or Off?
This was a dilemma for me. If you choose to bake drumsticks or thighs, it's easier to leave the skin on. Leaving the skin on not only resulted in juicier chicken, but the little bit of fat in the skin seemed to contribute to a crispier coating as it baked. Still, that layer of skin stayed flabby, and I just could't get over that. I recommend pulling the skin off before brining. You'll be happier later.
And with only a small amount of oil used to grease the pan, Corn Crisped Chicken is a great lower fat/non-fried option for crunchy coated chicken.
About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), and available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.