Once upon a time I wanted a chicken sandwich, so I made one. But I wasn’t happy with the end product. This resulted in a spiral of making concerning amounts of fried chicken with different mixes until I found a satisfactory level of light and crispy. My cholesterol suffered a major blow, but for the sake of progress it is but a small sacrifice.Jump to Recipe
Frying Chicken 101:
Pound it out:
Do yourself a favor and flatten out the chicken to a nice even ½ inch thickness all around. Frying will be so much easier if your meat is an even thickness. Do this in a bag or under plastic wrap to prevent contaminating your kitchen with sprays of raw chicken juice.
Brine (or is it marinate?):
Fast food joints brine their chicken en-masse, and for good reason too. Brining, especially in buttermilk, helps tenderize meat and retain juiciness. Let it brine for an hour at minimum but no more than 12.
The all important crispy coating. Whisking in a little bit of the brine into the flour before dredging results in those nice crispy nuggets on the outside of your chicken. Let the coated chicken rest before frying to ensure it sticks nicely on the meat.
Frying is a game of chicken, pun intended. You want the oil temperature to be high enough to ensure the crispiest and least-oily coating, but go too high and the coating will burn before the chicken is cooked. 325 to 350F is a good frying range.
The Chicken Coating Experiments
Flour is the main component to fried chicken coatings, but some fried chicken recipes add other ingredients that they swear make the chicken crispier and less oily. Mainly cornstarch and baking powder.
I tried four dredging combinations:
- Flour + Baking Powder
- Flour + Cornstarch
- Flour + Cornstarch + Baking Powder
Then I fried them all at the same temperature for the same amount of time. After letting them cool for a few minutes I taste tested each one for crispness level.
The test results were surprising. I recognized the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder combo to be the crispiest, but the difference was not clear cut. Truthfully, every single piece was wonderfully crispy. I’d say if you have cornstarch and baking powder, go ahead and throw them in. But if you only have flour at hand, it’s not worth an extra trip to the grocery store. You can still make perfectly crispy and juicy fried chicken with just flour.
How to be a Crispy Connoisseur
Adding cornstarch and baking powder can slightly improves crispness, but a more important lesson that i’ve learned throughout my trials is that there’s a lot of things that can drastically diminish the crunch levels. Here are all the pitfalls to avoid.
Overcoating the chicken
This is the biggest mistake beginners make. In the pursuit of fully coating the chicken in starch, it’s understandable to really press the chicken in the coating. But you want to avoid pressing. Pressing will form a thicker flour layer, which will fry up hard instead of light, and soak up a lot of oil. Instead, you wanna drip off excess buttermilk and lightly toss the chicken in the flour. Toss as long as you need to to get the chicken fully covered, but do not press the flour on. Finally, be sure to shake any excess flour off the chicken as well.
Frying directly after dredging does not give enough time for the flour to really stick to the chicken. The flour will start to fly off into the oil, a very messy affair that will leave you with naked chicken. The best way to avoid this tragedy is to let the coated chicken rest for at least 10 minutes before frying. This lets the moisture from the wet ingredients really bond the flour to the chicken. This also has the added benefit of letting the chicken come up to room temperature, which makes it easier to cook.
Resting on Paper Towels
Resting the freshly fried chicken on paper towels smothers the resting surface of the chicken with moisture. That in turn will make the crust go soggy as it cools. A much better alternative is a cooling rack. This allows ample space and airflow to ensure the chicken stays crispy.
It’s all in the SAUCE
Think about all the greatest chicken places: Zaxby’s, Popeyes, Chic-fil-a, Raising Cane’s. What do they all have in common? SAUCE. Great chicken is the bare minimum for a good chicken sandwich, but the sauce is what separates the good from the great. Every iconic chicken sauce shares two commonalities that are the cornerstones to their massive flavor: A ton of sugar and MSG. Yep, news flash, fast food is unhealthy. But if you want to beat them at their game you gotta play the game too. If you’re worried about your waistline maybe try a lower calorie recipe.
A Better Fried Chicken Sandwich (Scientifically Tested)
4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
4-6 sets of burger buns
3 cups neutral oil
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup mayo
¼ cup ketchup
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp msg
- Combine all the seasonings in a bowl and mix to form a spice mixture. Set aside.
- Place the chicken in a ziploc bag and gently pound into an even thickness. Pour in buttermilk, half of the spice mixture, and egg. Mix thoroughly until evenly coated. Gently massage the brine into each chicken piece. Set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
- Combine flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. Add the rest of the spice mix. Whisk together to combine.
- Whisk in about a tablespoon of chicken brine into the flour. Remove one piece of chicken from the brine, shaking off any excess buttermilk. Then lightly toss all sides of the chicken in flour until fully coat. Shake off excess flour and set aside to rest. Repeat with the rest of the chicken. Let rest for at least ten minutes.
- In the meantime, make the sauce. Mix mayo, ketchup, mustard, garlic powder sugar, and msg. Optionally add a sprinkle of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne. Toast buns as well.
- Heat oil in a pot to 350F. Gently lower chicken into oil with tongs, no more than two pieces at a time. Adjust heat to maintain a temperature between 325F and 350F. Fry for 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- Assemble. Sauce up the bottom bun. Add the chicken, pickles, and then a sauced up top bun. Enjoy.