It’s National Fried Chicken Day! What better reason do you need to fry up a batch of everyone’s favorite comfort food?
For fresh ideas, we turned to Lee Brian Schrager, author of the new book Fried & True: More Than 50 Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides. The book spotlights roadside fry shacks, four-star restaurants and other people and places serving some of the best fried chicken around, sharing their best recipes and how-to tips.
Read our interview with Lee below, then get started with a few recipes from the book, created by some of the country’s top chefs.
There’s a lot to love about fried chicken – it’s an iconic American comfort food that everyone has a great memory with.
Tell us one of your fried chicken memories from your childhood.
I can still clearly see the Volkswagen Beetles of Chicken Delight pulling up to my house while growing up in Massapequa – there’s no forgetting a car with a giant chicken attached to the roof!
Why is fried chicken important in American history?
Many don’t realize that fried chicken is actually a dish that originated in Scotland and was brought over to America. It gained popularity in the South during pre-Civil War times, but it’s importance is really due to the fact that it is one of the simplest foods that can be found everywhere – from a roadside fry shack to a white tablecloth dining establishment. Fried chicken spans all social classes.
Why do you think it’s so popular on restaurant menus right now?
Everyone can relate to fried chicken, and many chefs have their own great memories with it. It’s a simple dish that allows for a lot of room to put your own twist on it.
How did you go about sourcing recipes for this book? Did you know which chefs you wanted to approach from the beginning, or how did you identify the best fried chicken out there?
We did have a hit list to start off with, and as the trip got started and people heard about it they started chiming in on social media with recommendations. The hit list grew city-by-city. The original list to where we ended up is universes away!
It’s hard to choose a favorite with such a variety of recipes out there – I love each one in the book for a different reason. There’s a chicken to fit my mood in every city!
What are some of the craziest riffs on fried chicken you’ve seen?
Adam Fleischman’s new ChocoChicken concept is really interesting – I’m looking forward to trying it.
What’s the secret to making the ultimate fried chicken at home?
Regardless whether you’re using a home fryer or an old cast iron skillet, using the right oil at the right temperature is key to the process.
What’s your fried chicken style: hot out of the fryer or cold from the fridge?
I do tend to let it sit for a bit before eating it, and I’ll never turn it down cold out of the fridge the next day.
TYLER FLORENCE: Fried Chicken and Velvety Mashed Potatoes
1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Crystal or Tabasco
Peanut oil, for frying
¼ bunch fresh thyme
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary
¼ bunch fresh sage
½ head garlic (about 12 cloves), smashed, husk still attached
Lemon wedges, for serving
Brine the chicken: In a large (at least 5-quart) bowl or container, cover the chicken with 3 quarts cold water. Add 3 tablespoons salt, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Make the dredge: In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt and black pepper to taste until well blended. In another large shallow bowl, whisk the buttermilk and hot sauce with a fork and season with salt and black pepper. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
Dredge the chicken: Remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry. Working a few pieces at a time, dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, then dip them into the buttermilk, then dredge again in the seasoned flour. Set the pieces aside to rest on the parchment-lined sheet while you prepare the oil.
Fry the herbs: Pour about 3 inches oil into a large (at least 6-quart), deep pot. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and garlic to the cool oil and gradually heat over medium-high heat to between 360°F and 365°F on a deep-fry thermometer (the herbs and garlic will perfume the oil with their flavor as the oil heats).
Fry the chicken: Working in batches, add the chicken to the oil, 3 or 4 pieces at a time. Fry, turning the pieces once, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 13 minutes. Remove the chicken and herbs from the pot, shaking off as much oil as you can, and drain on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle all over with more salt and black pepper. Arrange the chicken on a platter and scatter the fried herbs and garlic over the top. Serve hot, with lemon wedges. Serves 4.
Velvety Mashed Potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes (2½ to 3 pounds), peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil (optional)
Chopped chives, for garnish
In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter over medium heat until the butter melts; remove from the heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, add the salt, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, then pass the potatoes through a food mill or a ricer into a large mixing bowl. Gently stir in the warm cream and butter mixture until it is entirely absorbed by the potatoes and the mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pepper, then finish with the olive oil (if using). Garnish with chopped chives. Serves 4.
MICHELLE BERNSTEIN: Michy’s Fried Chicken and Watermelon Salad
For the Brine:
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
For Dredging and Frying:
Safflower, peanut, or grapeseed oil, for frying
2 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Cholula brand
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
Honey, for serving
Brine the chicken: Place the chicken in a large nonreactive container or dish. In another bowl, stir 8 cups water with the sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, celery seeds, and fennel seeds.
Pour the brine over the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain the brine from the chicken and rinse and dry the meat completely with paper towels.
Dredge the chicken: Fill a large (12-inch) skillet just under halfway with the oil and heat to 275°F. Set a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet and set aside. In a baking dish or bowl, combine the buttermilk and hot sauce. In another dish, combine the flour, Old Bay, salt, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, then dip into the buttermilk mixture, then back into the flour mixture, shaking the dish to coat the chicken evenly.
Fry the chicken: Working 4 pieces at a time, fry the chicken in batches until golden and fully cooked through, 8 to 9 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on the rack; cool for 10 minutes. Heat the oil back up to 350°F. Refry the chicken in batches until it darkens and crisps, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain the chicken on the wire rack. Drizzle with honey. Serves 4.
Watermelon Greek Salad
1 1¾-pound wedge of watermelon, rind removed and cut into medium dice (about 4 cups)
2 large beefsteak tomatoes (1¼ pounds), seeded and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 large English hothouse cucumber (¾ pound), peeled and cut into small dice (about 2 cups)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons torn dill, uncut
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of onion powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and dill. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and onion powder; season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle half the vinaigrette over the salad and toss very gently. Add the remaining dressing to taste and gently toss again. Serves 4.
CHARLES PHAN: Hard Water’s Fried Chicken
For Air-Chilling the Chicken:
1 whole chicken (3 pounds maximum), cut into 8 pieces and patted dry
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
For the Sriracha Butter:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup Sriracha sauce
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the Dredge:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3 quarts canola or peanut oil, for frying
Season the chicken: Season the chicken with the salt and garlic powder and arrange, skin side up, on a baking sheet, leaving space between pieces if possible. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow the chicken to come to room temperature.
Make the Sriracha butter: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Place the Sriracha sauce, lime juice, salt, and sugar in a blender or food processor. Blend on high for 1 minute, adding the melted butter in a slow stream to create an airy, emulsified sauce. The sauce will keep in an airtight container refrigerated for up to 1 month.
Dredge the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cayenne pepper, salt, turmeric, and coriander. Fill a 6-quart pot halfway with the oil and heat to 340°F. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, and place it on a clean baking sheet. Set a rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Fry the chicken: Working in batches, fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until evenly browned and the internal temperature reaches 165°F, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain the chicken pieces on the rack; serve hot or at room temperature, drizzled with the Sriracha butter. Serves 4.
Reprinted from Fried & True by Lee Schrager with Adeena Sussman. Copyright (c) 2014 by Lee Schrager. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Random House, LLC.
Photo Credit: Evan Sung