It seems like frying food is effortless, doesn't it? Can you really make perfect Southern fried chicken without ever checking the oil temperature. Every grandma Down South seems to be able to do it. It's like magic!
Well, there is a rule book when it comes to frying, and I'm here to share it all.
For some people, there's an element of fear when it comes to frying. But if you push past it, each time it gets easier. So, crank those burners, grab that big pot, and let's get to it!
Know your audience. Start small. Fried food tastes best hot, so don't attempt a recipe that feeds too many people. A few months ago, I had a dinner party where I fried schnitzel for eight people. That is precisely how I learned the lesson that large-batch frying isn't fun for anyone, least of all the cook. So, save frying for small-batch stuff and date nights. This doesn't really apply if you own a large deep fryer with temperature controls and a removable basket --a.k.a. a total changer! If that's the case for you, fry away! For all others, proceed to step 2.
Fill a deep pot with plenty of oil. A deep pot will protect you from any splatters. A lot of people worry about fried food absorbing oil. But I've measured it. I measured my oil before and after I fry. Hardly more than a few tablespoons went missing! Divide that by a number of servings, and it's pretty reasonable. It's all about using the right oil and temperature.
Use a thermometer. I know that the fry "experts" don't use one, but this is your first time. Get it right, and the food won't absorb oil and will cook properly. When food hits cold oil, it sits and soaks up oil. But when food hits hot oil, the crust starts to cook immediately (which seals in the juices ... yum!) and the food cooks evenly. You really must use a thermometer! When frying chicken or other large cuts of meat, an oil temperature of about 350 degrees Farenheit is ideal.
Step 4: Test the oil before frying, even if your thermometer says it's at the proper temperature. The best way to test the oil is to sprinkle in a small amount of flour. If it sizzles immediately when it hits the oil and floats on the top, the oil is ready. You could also use a small amount of your batter to test the oil. It may sink to the bottom and then rise to the top immediately, and that's fine too. The sizzle is key!
Step 5: Grab your favorite recipe and get to it! Have no fear!
I think chicken is one of the easiest and most satisfying things to fry. The outside crust is crispy, and the meat inside is tender and juicy. I share my recipe for Alabama Fried Chicken Sandwiches in my new cookbook "Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two." Or you can try Martha's recipe for Southern fried chicken.
Bonus fried chicken tip: I prefer to work with boneless chicken thighs when making fried chicken. Dark meat stays moist during the frying process, and I highly recommend it -- the flavor is amazing! If all you can find at your supermarket or local butcher is thighs with the bone, it's surprisingly easy to cut the bone out with a pair of kitchen shears. Whip up the special Alabama white sauce, grab some hamburger buns, and you'll be in fried-chicken sandwich heaven!