Michael Symon may be a guru of all things pork, but at the 2014 South Beach Wine & Food Festival, he switched the focus from pig to chicken as he demonstrated to a standing room-only crowd the fundamentals of fried chicken. “If you learn the technique, you can make a thousand dishes,” he said, explaining his philosophy in the kitchen, which surely applies to the batter-fry process of chicken. He offered sun-soaked fans on the beach a how-to for making the crispiest, juiciest fried chicken yet — a set of must-know strategies that will yield consistent results every time. Read on below to learn Michael’s secrets, then after mastering his approach, update the process with your own ideas to accommodate your tastes.
1. “Buy the best chicken that you can afford.” The overall taste of the dish will be affected by the quality of ingredients that you use, and he says of the meat, “If it can be organic, great.”
2. Proper and frequent salting is key to any recipe. Not only does it add bold flavor, but it also acts as a tenderizer. “Make it rain,” he suggests of this crucial seasoning.
3. He opts for “a quick brine” of buttermilk to offer moisture and enhanced taste when making his fried chicken. This process is different from a traditional long brine, which many do to Thanksgiving turkeys, as this will not break down the meat too much.
4. While Michael added jalapeno and chili to his liquid mixture, he stresses, “This is a technique; make it your own.”
5. For the coating on the chicken, try a one-to-one ratio of flour and cornmeal, which “gives you a little extra crunch” in the finished product, he explains.
6. “Season in layers as you go,” he notes, adding smoked paprika to his flour mixture for a punch of flavor in the crust.
7. “My favorite cut of meat for chicken is the thigh,” Michael told the audience.
8. When it comes to deep-frying the chicken, Michael prefers schmaltz — chicken fat — although he added that “lard would be delicious,” and “peanut oil is a good frying fat” as well. Aim for an oil temperature of about 350 degrees F to ensure that the meat won’t absorb excess grease and become soggy, but also won’t burn in the cooking process.
9. Be sure to leave enough room in the pan when cooking the chicken, as adding too much meat will lower the temperature of the oil and may cause the crust to become mushy, since the chicken would have to stay in the oil longer.
10. “You want the oil to dance,” he says, adding that you’re looking for “movement” when you add a piece of chicken to the pan.
Inspired to try your hand at fried chicken? Check out these indulgent recipes: