Is there anything better than freshly fried chicken? Since we all know the answer to that question, we've gone ahead and taken our classic recipe for this ultimate comfort food and given it triple the love with not one but three unique spins. That crispy, golden crust is getting the Japanese, ranch and Nashville hot chicken treatment. And since your table should be filled with fried chicken all summer long, you'll have plenty of time to taste-test these variations and let us know which one you like best.
But first, what makes the ideal fried chicken? "You want that perfect crunch on the outside matched with that juicy, tender inside," Jaime Young, executive chef of NYC hot spot Sunday in Brooklyn, says about his popular fried drumsticks. "Whenever my mom served fried chicken, I always got the drumstick. That was my piece in the proverbial bucket."
Richard Hales, the executive chef of Bird & Bone in Miami, located inside The Confidante Hotel, came by our Test Kitchen and shared three top fried chicken tips.
① "Always brine your whole chicken, and it doesn't have to get fancy—just salt and water for 24 hours."
② "Leave your chicken in the flour dredge for as long as possible. Let it get tacky, and then flour it again just before you fry."
③ "Never fry ice-cold chicken. Let your chicken come to room temp before hitting the oil. The chicken will cook faster, and the juicy inside will be done before the outside gets too dark."
And if you're not into our method of deep-frying, rest easy knowing it isn't the only option. Sarah Simmons, chef and owner of Birds and Bubbles in NYC, prefers shallow-frying for a great crust. "You should fry each piece for two to three minutes on each side until a golden crust forms. Then transfer the chicken (shaking off any excess oil) to a resting rack-lined sheet pan and finish in a 350-degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees," she advises.
Now that we have the basics down, let's make some fried chicken.
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—Make It Japanese—
When we tried Sunday in Brooklyn's drumsticks, we were immediately blown away. This fried chicken is coated in a thick batter crust speckled with Japanese shichimi togarashi, a spice blend of chile pepper, dried orange peel, seaweed and sesame seeds. Though Young makes his own togarashi mix, you can buy the premade kind at any Japanese market or spice shop.
To create our own homage to this incredible dish, glazed with a mixture of fish sauce and honey, our recipe has a secret ingredient: To lend a true punch of rich umami flavor, we mix in a flavor packet from a package of instant ramen (yep, the one you used to eat in college). It imparts a savory kick in the meat and adds a touch of spice and citrus to the crust.
For Brining: 4 c buttermilk + 1 tbsp kosher salt + 1 ramen flavor packet + 1 chicken, broken down into 10 pieces
For Dredging and Frying: 2 c all-purpose flour + ½ cup togarashi + 2 tbsp kosher salt + 1 tbsp light brown sugar + vegetable oil
—Make It Ranch—
Plain and simple: We love ranch. We've given you recipes for ranch dressing, chicken salad, cheese balls and even a spice blend to sprinkle all over popcorn. It's only fitting that we throw fried chicken in the mix.
Marinated in buttermilk laced with fresh garlic and garlic powder, the chicken is dredged in flour spiced with all the dried spices and herbs you would find in your favorite dressing. The resulting bird is garlicky, tangy and extremely addictive. Feel free to dunk your finished chicken into more ranch, of course.
For Brining: 4 c buttermilk + 1 tbsp garlic powder + 2 garlic cloves, finely grated + 1½ tbsp kosher salt + 1 chicken, broken down into 10 pieces
For Dredging and Frying: 2 c all-purpose flour + 2 tbsp kosher salt + 2 tbsp garlic powder + 1½ tbsp dried parsley + 1 tbsp onion powder + 1 tbsp dried chives + 1 tbsp light brown sugar + vegetable oil
—Make It Nashville Hot—
When Hales came by our Test Kitchen to feed our editors buckets of his hot chicken, we knew we needed the recipe. "Adding hot sauce to fried chicken is a Southern tradition, but dunking it in the hot spice oil is uniquely from Nashville," Hales explains. To keep things simpler, we keep his spice blend in the dredging instead of the oil, but you can feel free to stick to tradition and dunk the fried chicken directly into hot oil laced with his secret blend.
For the brine, we suggest a range of cayenne, because as we learned during the tasting, everyone has different heat thresholds. If you can't handle a ton of spice (like myself), stick to just two tablespoons. But if you're daring, double it for an extra kick. Then, we suggest finishing the fried chicken with some hot honey for a final layer of sweet heat.
For Brining: 4 c buttermilk + ¼ c hot sauce + 2 to 4 tbsp cayenne pepper + 1½ tbsp kosher salt + 1 chicken, broken down into 10 pieces
For Dredging and Frying: 2 c all-purpose flour + 3 tbsp cayenne pepper + 2 tbsp kosher salt + ½ tbsp smoked paprika + ½ tbsp garlic powder + ½ tbsp dry mustard + ½ tbsp freshly ground black pepper + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar + vegetable oil
1. Brine the chicken: In a large bowl, combine all the brining ingredients and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. The next day, dredge and fry the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together all the dredging ingredients, except for the oil. Drain the chicken from the brine and toss to coat with the dry ingredients. Let it sit in the flour mixture at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°. Toss the chicken once more in the flour to evenly coat, then shake off any excess flour and fry, in batches, until golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. You want the chicken to drop the temperature of the oil to 300° while the chicken fries, but make sure to let the oil return to 350° before adding in another batch. Once golden and cooked through, transfer the chicken to a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack to drain, then serve.
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