Fried chicken, also known as Southern fried chicken, is a dish consisting of chicken pieces that have been coated with seasoned flour or batter and pan-fried, deep fried, pressure fried, or air fried. The breading adds a crisp coating or crust to the exterior of the chicken while retaining juices in the meat. Broiler chickens are most commonly used.
The first dish known to have been deep fried was fritters, which were popular in the European Middle Ages. However, the Scottish were the first Europeans to deep fry their chicken in fat (though without seasoning). Meanwhile, many West African peoples had traditions of seasoned fried chicken (though battering and cooking the chicken in palm oil). Scottish frying techniques and West African seasoning techniques were combined by enslaved Africans and African-Americans in the American South.
American-style fried chicken gradually passed into common use as a general Southern dish, especially after the abolition of slavery, and its popularity spread. Since fried chicken traveled well in hot weather before refrigeration was commonplace, and as the growth of industry reduced its cost, it gained further favor across the South. Fried chicken continues to be among this region’s top choices for “Sunday dinner”. Holidays such as Independence Day, and other gatherings often feature this dish. During the 20th century, chain restaurants focused on fried chicken began among the boom in the fast food industry. Brands such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, and Bojangles expanded in the United States and across the world.
Generally, chickens are not fried whole. Instead, the chicken is divided into its constituent pieces. The white meat sections are the breast and the wings from the front of the chicken, while the dark meat sections are the thighs and legs or “drumsticks” from the rear of the chicken. The breast is typically split into two pieces, and the back is usually discarded. Chicken fingers, which are boneless pieces of chicken breast cut into long strips, are also commonly used.
To prepare the chicken pieces for frying, they are typically coated in a flour-based batter that may contain eggs or milk, or they may be dredged in flour or breadcrumbs. Seasonings such as salt, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, or onion powder can be mixed in with the flour. Either process may be preceded by marination or dipping in buttermilk, the acidity of which acts as a meat tenderizer. As the pieces of chicken cook, some of the moisture that exudes from the chicken is absorbed by the coating of flour and browns along with the flour, creating a flavorful crust.
Traditionally, lard is used to fry the chicken, but corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, or other vegetable oils are also frequently used. The flavor of olive oil is generally considered too strong to be used for traditional fried chicken, and its low smoke point makes it unsuitable for use.
There are three main techniques for frying chickens: pan frying, deep frying, and broasting.
Pan frying (or shallow frying) requires a frying pan of sturdy construction and a source of fat that does not fully immerse the chicken. The chicken pieces are prepared as above, then fried. Generally, the fat is heated to a temperature hot enough to seal (without browning, at this point) the outside of the chicken pieces. Once the pieces have been added to the hot fat and sealed, the temperature is reduced. There is debate as to how often to turn the chicken pieces, with one camp arguing for often turning and even browning, and the other camp pushing for letting the pieces render skin side down and only turning when necessary. Once the chicken pieces are close to being done, the temperature is raised and the pieces are browned to the desired color (some cooks add small amounts of butter at this point to enhance browning). The moisture from the chicken that sticks and browns on the bottom of the pan becomes the fonds required to make gravy
Deep frying requires a deep fryer or other devices in which the chicken pieces can be completely submerged in hot fat. The process of deep frying is placing food fully in oil and then cooking it at a very high temperature. The pieces are prepared as described above. The fat is heated in the deep fryer to the desired temperature. The pieces are added to the fat and a constant temperature is maintained throughout the cooking process.
Broasting uses a pressure cooker to accelerate the process. The moisture inside the chicken becomes steam and increases the pressure in the cooker, lowering the cooking temperature is needed. The steam also cooks the chicken through, but still allows the pieces to be moist and tender while maintaining a crisp coating. Fat is heated in a pressure cooker. Chicken pieces are prepared as described above and then placed in the hot fat. The lid is placed on the pressure cooker, and the chicken pieces are thus fried under pressure.
Info and Image from Wikipedia (Image: Fried chicken, fried okra and mac & cheese from Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta)