Why It Works
- A blend of potato starch and wheat flour enhances the batter’s crispiness, inhibits gluten formation, and limits oil absorption.
- Baking powder enhances the crispiness of the crust and encourages browning.
Batter-fried chicken is something of a rarity. Due to tradition or cultural preference, battering isn't the go-to method, and dry-dredged Southern fried chicken reigns supreme.
The Case for Batter-Fried
And yet, while you can't go wrong with the classic dry-dredge, I'd argue that batter-fried chicken is cleaner, faster, and requires less effort to make. Batter also has another benefit, which is it creates a thin, crispy shell, which you see in the double-fried crust of Korean fried chicken, and in the light and puffy shell of tempura. But what if you could have a batter-fried chicken with a light and crispy crust and also some of dry-dredged fried chicken's heft? That was the question I set out to answer with this recipe.
Many recipes for batter-fried chicken recommend using wheat flour or a combination of wheat flour and cornstarch. In side-by-side testing, I found that recipes with wheat flour tended to produce a dense, tough coating that was all too reminiscent of bad tempura batter. In contrast, recipes that used a blend of wheat flour and cornstarch were much better, but the coatings were either too delicate or too brittle.
The Perks of Potato Starch
I turned to potato starch. In a wheat flour-based batter, potato starch and cornstarch perform a similar function. They both inhibit gluten formation, limit oil absorption, and produce a crispier texture. But because of its larger granule size, batters with potato starch can form a rigid, semi-brittle network when fried that’s crunchier and more robust than a batter made with cornstarch.
Given potato starch's properties, you might wonder why I include any wheat flour at all in this recipe. Early on in my recipe testing, I tried mixing batters of mostly potato starch, but these batters produced coatings that were glass-like and excessively crunchy, and they didn't brown that much, even after lengthy frying. I got the best results when using a 50-50 blend of potato starch and wheat flour by weight. The wheat flour facilitates browning, while the potato starch provides structure, cohesion, and that all important crunch factor. What comes out of the fryer is super crispy fried chicken that's easier to make than your go-to dry-dredge method, but with a similarly substantial crust.
- For the Brine:
- 1/3 cup (50g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; if using table salt use half as much by volume or same weight
- 3 tablespoons (40g) sugar
- 2 quarts (1.9L) water
- 3 1/2 pounds (1.6kg) skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs)
- For the Batter:
- 3/4 cup (145g) potato starch
- 1 cup (5 ounces, 140g) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal Blue or Brown Label
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons (6g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 3/4 cup (420ml) water
- 2 quarts (1.9L) vegetable oil, for frying
For the Brine: In a large bowl or container large enough to hold all the chicken, whisk salt and sugar in the water until salt and sugar are dissolved. Add chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours. Drain chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
To Batter and Fry: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 200°F (95°C). In a large Dutch oven or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat to 375°F (190°C). In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together potato starch, all-purpose flour, black pepper, baking powder, salt, paprika, and cayenne, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the water until a smooth batter forms, about 30 seconds.
Set a wire rack in a second rimmed baking sheet. Add half of chicken to batter and toss until well coated. Working with one piece at a time, lift chicken from batter, allowing any excess batter to drip back into bowl, and carefully add to hot oil, lowering it gently from as close to the oil’s surface as possible to minimize splashing; repeat with remaining battered pieces of chicken. Fry chicken, turning occasionally, until thickest part of breast pieces registers 155°F (68°C) and drumsticks/thighs registers 165°F (74°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 8 to 12 minutes for breast pieces and 10 to 14 minutes for thighs and drumsticks; adjust burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 325°F (160°C) and 350°F (175°C). Transfer chicken to prepared wire rack, season with salt, and place in oven to keep warm. Return oil to 350°F (177°C) and repeat battering and frying with remaining chicken. Serve.
Be sure to use unmodified potato starch such as Bob’s Red Mill Premium Quality Unmodified Potato Starch. Using modified potato starch may produce slightly different results in texture and appearance.
Large Dutch oven or wok.