• Stir It Up: Fried chicken made fright-free
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     | June 06,2014
     
    Photo by Evan Sung

    Pan-fried chicken gives you all the delicious crunch you could ask for, but without as much hassle as deep-frying. The photo and recipe are from “Fried & True,” by Lee Brian Schrader.

    Actress Whoopi Goldberg “really, really, really, really” loves fried chicken. “Nothing makes me or my mouth happier,” she writes in the foreword to a new book on the subject. “Fried chicken is my one true love.”

    If fried chicken is your one true love, you are always on the hunt for restaurants that can satisfy your cravings. If you live in a big city, or in the South, you’ve probably found dozens. If, however, you live in certain areas of the country (rural New England springs to mind), you may be pining away, fried chickenless, or forced to get your fix at neighborhood bars where a platter of “Buffalo wings” is as close as you are going to get.

    If such is the case, you may simply have to do it yourself. “Fried & True,” by Lee Brian Schrager, will walk you through it. Schrager offers many variations on “Southern fried” and “country fried” chicken, and fried chicken with exotic pedigrees (from Senegal, Vietnam, Hawaii and China).

    Doing it yourself, of course, means frying, a process that can terrify the neophyte. The oil-splattered stove, the third-degree arm burns, the oil disposal problem — these loom large in the home cook’s terror-stricken mind.

    Fortunately, Schrager offers several recipes for pan-fried (as opposed to deep-fried) chicken. The splatters will be fewer. The burns? Hopefully less severe. And there’s way less oil to dispose of at the end. Think of this as “starter” fried chicken.

    This recipe — which “establishes the perfect balance between levity and crunch,” according to Schrager — comes from Charles Gabriel, owner of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken in New York’s Harlem. Gabriel grew up working the cotton fields of North Carolina with his 12 siblings, writes Schrager, and learned the art of pan-frying chicken from his mother when he was about 10 years old.

    Migrating to New York City at the age of 17, Gabriel worked in several restaurants and then began frying chicken in his apartment kitchen and selling it from a folding table set on a street corner. He graduated to a food truck, and eventually to a permanent restaurant, where he has cooked since 1985.

    Here’s an abridged list of frying tips:

    Be prepared: Assemble all ingredients and utensils before you light the stove.

    Start with the right chicken: Buy smaller (more tender) chickens, in the 3- to 3½-pound range. Look for chickens that have been fed a vegetable-based, hormone- and antibiotic-free diet, and that have been air-chilled (as opposed to chilled in chlorinated water; Bell & Evans is a suggested brand.) Buy the whole chicken and cut it up yourself; you’ll pay less than buying parts, and you won’t lose vital juices.

    Use a thermometer: This will ensure that you preheat the oil to the right temperature for frying and, just as important, adjust the heat as needed to maintain that temperature.

    Don’t crowd the pan: Crowding can result in uneven cooking and longer-than-necessary frying times.

    Be patient: Different pieces of chicken take different amounts of time to cook (breasts, for example, take longer than wings or thighs).

    Dispose of oil properly: Cool it, pour into a shatterproof container, cap and discard it in the trash, or find a local business that recycles the oil for biodiesel.



    Country Pan-Fried Chicken

    Yield: 4 servings

    1 whole (3 to 3½-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces

    1 tablespoon kosher salt

    ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1 teaspoon garlic powder

    Soybean oil or canola oil, for frying

    2 cups whole milk

    3 large eggs

    2 cups all-purpose flour



    In a bowl or Ziploc bag, season the chicken with the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover or seal and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

    When ready to cook, line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Set a wire rack over the paper and set aside.

    Pour 1 inch oil into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and heat until a pinch of flour sizzles upon contact (355 to 360 degrees). While the oil is heating, whisk together the milk and eggs in a bowl. Place the flour in a separate bowl. Dip the chicken in the egg wash, drain the excess, then dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess.

    Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and fry in batches for 3 minutes without moving. Continue to fry, turning the chicken every 1 to 2 minutes to ensure even browning, until the chicken is cooked through, 13 to 15 minutes. Drain on the rack and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

    (Recipe from “Fried & True,” by Lee Brian Schrager, with Adeena Sussman; Clarkson Potter, 2014)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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