Until last weekend, I’d never made fried chicken at home. This is primarily because I grew up in a household that did not deep-fry. My mother preferred the kind of cooking that employed a nonstick skillet and the barest coating of heart-friendly olive oil. When we’d go out to eat, she would expound on the many dangers of fried foods and point my sister and me toward lighter, more healthful options. French fries were a very rare treat and chicken fingers came only in baked varieties.
It wasn’t until high school that I had my first piece of fried chicken. A dear friend’s mother prided herself on her perfectly cooked, crisp, tender drumsticks and delighted in making it for us. I gobbled it down hungrily and didn’t tell my family.
In recent years, fried chicken has gotten increasingly trendy. It’s got a pleasantly retro-kitsch appeal, so higher-end restaurants have begun to add it to their menus. I’ve taken advantage of those offerings on occasion, all the while believing that it was still something best left to professionals or those families with a serious fried chicken tradition.
Then, last Saturday, that all changed. My husband and I woke up to a city covered in snow and decided that we’d venture out early for a few provisions, before heading home for a cozy day. We picked up groceries at our local market and included a cut-up fryer among our dozen eggs, broccoli and bag of oranges. Instead of stewing, baking or roasting that chicken, I decided to spend my Saturday making Giada’s Pollo Frito. Truly, there’s no better time to tackle The Weekender than on a snowy Saturday in January.
Before you start heating your oil, here are a few things you should know:
- The recipe instructs you to marinate your chicken for 2 to 24 hours. I managed to have mine in the fridge for 3 1/2 and I wish I’d had a few more hours. Next time, I think I’ll mix it up the night before, for maximum flavor infusion.
- People always say this about frying, but I was reminded of just how true it was with this project: Don’t crowd the pan. Giada suggests frying the chicken in two batches, but if your pan is small, opt for three.
- The one flaw in this recipe is that there’s no instruction as to the temperature you should shoot for with your oil. I did a bit of research and found that the sweet spot is somewhere just between 350 degrees F and 375 degrees F. Pull out your candy thermometers and make sure you stay on top of your heat adjustments.
- After you’ve pulled your chicken from the oil, use an instant-read thermometer to ensure that it’s fully cooked. Insert into the meat, making sure not to touch the bone. The goal is to reach 165 degrees F.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in spring 2012.