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June 11, 2014

From Martha: The Finest Fried Chicken

It’s crisp, moist, and full of flavor -- and the centerpiece of wonderful summer meals. Learn my secrets for making this down-home classic.

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I might think of them as “my” secrets for the best fried chicken, but in fact these excellent tips for crispy, golden, moist, tasty, incredibly delicious fried chicken were shared with me one night in Amarillo, Texas. It was a tradition in Amarillo on Tuesday nights that local cooks would gather together to prepare their personal-favorite recipes for one another, not just their respective bosses. One week everyone might make Texas barbecue; the next, fried fish; the next, chili. I was fortunate to be invited to fried-chicken night, and it was in the kitchen of one of the cattle barons that I was made privy to the fried-chicken secrets.

This was quite a few years ago, but I remember the evening clearly. It was a hot night. The winds were blowing, and the air was heavy with the scent of the feedlots not far away. But my attention was focused on the big frying pans on the huge gas ranges in the ranch-house kitchen. Maybe 10 fryers had been cut into 10 pieces each and soaked overnight in salted ice water. That morning the cooks had drained off the salted water and placed the chicken pieces in big earthenware bowls filled with buttermilk seasoned with coarse salt, black pepper, cayenne, and dry mustard.

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Giant cast-iron frying pans were lined up on the tops of two large ranges, and globs of white vegetable shortening were plopped into each pan. After the guests had arrived and were sipping cocktails, the flames were ignited, and the shortening started to melt. Deft fingers lifted the chicken parts from the buttermilk, dipping them quickly but thoroughly into flour that had also been seasoned with coarse salt, black pepper, and cayenne (cornmeal was added for extra crunch).

After being sorted into like sizes, the chicken pieces were carefully slipped into the now perfectly heated fat and quickly and expertly fried to a deep golden brown. As they were finished, the pieces were removed to trays covered in brown-paper bags to drain, sprinkled with a bit more coarse salt, and then served on white platters.

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The sides were delicious, too: farm-fresh sliced tomatoes, thick slices of sweet Texas onions, coleslaw, potato salad, and pitchers of beer -- the perfect dinner for a hot summer night.

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Comments (15)

  • 9 Jun, 2014

    I grew up on a farm and after killing and dressing the chicken none of us wanted to eat it that day, so we always covered
    the cut up chicken with water in which about 2 tablespoons of salt had been added. This went in the frig until the next day when it was fried for whichever meal

  • 9 Jun, 2014

    My family always has loved my fried chicken....but I would so love to do the soak in brine step. My problem is I have never done it so I do not know how much salt to how much water. And should I use pickling (coarse) salt or regular. Anyone know the ratio?

  • 8 Jun, 2014

    Yummy! Skin on , of course!

  • 7 Jun, 2014

    Skin on or off?

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    My mom actually willed her large cast iron skillet to my husband. It was her mother's and everyone wanted it! They are priceless!

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    Living in TX my mom would come home from a full days work and whip up this kind of fried chicken! Her favorite saying was "Now your cooking with Crisco"

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    My grandmother always fried chicken in a cast iron pan with Crisco vegetable shortening. Her chicken was the best. Then everyone was screaming about how the solid shortening was BAD, it would Kill you, so you Must move to oil! We just got into the habit of oil. Since we don't have fried chicken every Sunday anymore, I think I'll go back to the old way. The brining sounds like it would make it flavorful, too. This weekend, it's fried chicken!

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    This sounds so yummy! I want to know WHY the markets don't sell "Frying chickens"?? Thighs look like they came from turkey's, wings the same, the breasts look like they came from chicken's on steroids! You can't find fryers anywhere!
    Unless you raise chickens and do your own butchering for a fryer...we're out of luck.

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    You can't beat: Cook 'til it's perfectly golden brown. I'm assuming that soaking overnight in iced salt water will take care of the moistness.

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    Wow! That sounds good. My biggest issue is getting the chicken done enough. Really don't like legs that are not super tender. How does one know how long to fry it????

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    SMELLovision, please!!! lol

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    Wonderful recipe.

    To sweet codi - The paragraph under the photo shows:

    Giant cast-iron frying pans were lined up on the tops of two large ranges, and globs of white vegetable shortening were plopped into each pan. I would think that would be Crisco. Hope this helps

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    Wow- never heard of brining chicken before frying! makes sense, though! I always struggle with how hot, how long, and what kind of oil to fry in. Suggestions?

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    Wow loved hearing of that memory and could almost smell the chicken cooking. Better yet could taste it all and ready for summer to begin :) good stuff and thanks Martha

  • 5 Jun, 2014

    This type of meal really takes me back to lazy summer evenings. The recipe looks quite traditional, but with a couple of twists to brighten up the taste of the crust. I'd never thought of soaking the chicken in cold salted water (my mother used buttermilk). Will try it soon!