Why It Works
- Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are juicier and more flavorful than white meat.
- Four hours in a briny buttermilk marinade ensures extra-juicy and tender chicken.
- Adding liquid to the dry coating mixture makes clumps of flour that give the finished chicken extra surface area and crunch.
These days, chicken-fried steak and chicken-fried chicken have spread far beyond the boundaries of Texas, and you'll see the latter on menus as either "chicken-fried chicken" or "country-fried chicken." The gravy is also served under a range of monikers. Cream gravy. White gravy. Sawmill gravy. Country gravy. Whatever you want to call it, this is stick-to-your-ribs country cooking at its finest and most comforting.
- For the Chicken:
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 ounces each), or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8 ounces each), cut and pounded into 4 cutlets (see note)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil, for frying
- For the Cream Gravy:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Chicken: Combine the paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.
One at a time, sandwich each piece of chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap or inside an opened zipper-lock bag and pound with a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy skillet until approximately 1/4 inch thick.
Whisk the buttermilk, egg, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture in a large bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Transfer the contents of the bowl to a gallon-sized zipper-lock freezer bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight, flipping the bag occasionally to redistribute the contents and coat the chicken evenly.
For the Gravy: When ready to fry the chicken, make the gravy: Heat the butter in a 10-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high until foamy. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes (lower the heat if the butter starts to brown). Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the milk in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Add the cream, whisking, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer, whisking, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and plenty of pepper. Keep warm while you fry the chicken.
Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, 2 teaspoons salt, and the remaining spice mixture in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the marinade from the zipper-lock bag and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Remove the chicken from the bag, allowing the excess buttermilk to drip off. Drop the chicken into the flour mixture and toss and flip until thoroughly coated, pressing with your hand to get the flour to adhere in a thick layer. Shake the chicken over the bowl to remove excess flour, then transfer to a large plate.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 175°F. Heat the shortening or oil to 425°F in a wok or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, about 6 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature, being careful not to let the fat get any hotter.
Carefully lower 2 pieces of chicken into the pan. Adjust the heat to maintain the temperature at 325°F for the duration of cooking. Fry the chicken pieces without moving them for 2 minutes. Carefully agitate the chicken with a wire-mesh spider or tongs, making sure not to knock off any breading, and cook until the bottom is a deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip the chicken and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown, about 2 minutes longer.
Transfer the chicken to a paper towel–lined plate to drain for 30 seconds, flipping once, then transfer to a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of chicken. Serve with the cream gravy.
cast iron chicken fryer, 12-inch cast iron skillet, or large wok; rimmed baking sheet; wire rack
For juicier results, use chicken thighs. If you prefer light meat, you can buy 4-ounce chicken cutlets at the supermarket, or follow our guide to cut your own chicken cutlets from boneless, skinless breasts.