Seattle celebrity chef Tom Douglas is a big fan of Southern culinary icon Edna Lewis, especially her famous fried chicken. At his Hot Stove Society cooking school, he recently showcased the ridiculously delicious recipe and shared pro tips on making fried chicken truly magical, part of his series on his all-time favorite cookbooks. Here’s how to make that dish soar:
1. Brine the Bird
Think of this step the same way you’d think of marinating steak. It infuses flavor and makes for extra juicy meat. Add 1 cup of salt to one gallon of cold water and let the chicken pieces brine for at least an hour, or overnight.
2. Add Buttermilk + Hot Pepper Sauce
After draining the brine, add the chicken pieces to buttermilk, seasoned with hot pepper sauce like Tabasco or Crystal. Go mild or hot, depending on your love of spice. This can be a quick bath, followed by a flour dredge, or let it sit for up to 4-6 hours. Because buttermilk and hot pepper sauce add even more flavor and tenderness.
3. Bump up the Crunch
Add a little cornstarch to the flour dredge. That lighter-than-flour ingredient makes for a crispier bird.
4. Praise the Lard
Edna Lewis and her friend, chef Scott Peacock, updated the combination of liquids used to pan fry the chicken, but lard remains an important part of the mix. It adds a surprisingly subtle flavor, along with rendered country ham and clarified butter. Sounds complicated? Trust me, it’s so worth it.
5. Be Patient When Frying
Heat the frying liquid to 350 degrees before carefully placing the dredged pieces of fried chicken into the pan. (Cast iron’s best, says Douglas, and every fried chicken cook worth their salt!). Let it cook for about 10 minutes before turning.
6. Drain Finished Chicken on a Rack
Paper towels might seem like the best plan, but placing chicken on a rack — and placing it into a 200 degree oven, if you’re not serving immediately — is the best way to preserve the crispy coating you’ve worked so hard to create.
7. Serve it With Tomato Gravy
Chef Douglas flips the Southern tradition of smothering fried chicken in some sort of gravy, including the Creole-inspired Tomato Gravy, suggesting instead to place the saucy finish on the plate and arranging the chicken on top.
8. Double the Batch So There are Leftovers
This process is pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of steps. And you’ve already got the oil ready, so, why not make extra? Serving cold fried chicken is one of the essential pleasures of summer in the South, especially at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C.
And BTW’s National Fried Chicken Day is July 6, 2017, not that you need a food holiday to prepare this classic dish. Check out nearly 100 fried chicken recipes on our site, and the full Edna Lewis recipe, as shared by our friends at Serious Eats.