The first step toward really great fried chicken: a really great brine. Consider a buttermilk brine a two-for-one deal: You get the salt of a brine, plus the great, tangy flavor of buttermilk. Add a few aromatics such as fresh herbs, lemon and garlic to bring in more flavors.
Let the chicken rest after you pull it from the brine. That way the salt can redistribute throughout the meat. You're also letting the meat come to room temperature, which is important so that the oil doesn't drop greatly when frying. Trust us, you don't want to put fridge-cold chicken parts into bubbling, hot oil.
Don't forget to salt again at the end. Fleur de sel adds a nice bit of extra salty crunch.
To learn more, read "Fry a Little Tenderness."
Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Prep Time: 35 minutes, plus brining time
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus brining time
1 quart buttermilk
2 tablespoons salt
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs rosemary, bruised
3 sprigs of sage, bruised
3 sprigs thyme, bruised
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably Crystal brand
zest and juice from 1 lemon
One 3 ½ to 4 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fleur de sel, to garnish
1. Combine the buttermilk, salt, garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, hot sauce and lemon zest and juice. Add the chicken to the buttermilk brine and cover; refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Remove the chicken from the brine and transfer to a wire rack placed over a parchment-lined sheet tray. Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for 2 hours to allow the salt to redistribute.
3. Pour enough oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven until it reaches a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°. While the oil is heating, combine the flour and cayenne together in a large bowl.
4. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture; making sure that every piece is coated evenly with flour.
5. Fry the chicken in two batches, cooking the larger pieces first, until golden brown and crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 155°. Transfer chicken to a wire rack placed over a paper towel-lined sheet tray; season with fleur de sel and serve with honey or hot sauce.
TT Tip: If you achieve a golden brown exterior before reaching the correct internal temperature, remove the pieces from the dutch oven and finish cooking them on a roasting rack in the oven at 400°.