Brine, marinate, dredge, fry, devour: Fried chicken practically has a culinary road map to ensure a juicy, delicious bird hits the plate. However, every good map needs a few detours. What happens if you simply don’t have the time, space or resources to execute every step of the recipe precisely? Are you supposed to abandon the recipe completely, and perhaps seek solace with the Colonel instead? Nonsense.
Try these quick hacks to simplify the process of great fried chicken, without sacrificing any of the flavor.
Stick to one cut of chicken
When preparing fried chicken in its purest form, the first step is often butchering the chicken into eight or ten separate pieces. If you have some doubts about your knife skills or simply lack the inclination to break out a plastic cutting board and a boning knife, try sticking to one particular cut of chicken, such as thighs or drumsticks. And yes, if you prefer white meat, you can certainly pick up a pack of chicken breasts instead.
Frying only a single cut of chicken requires no butchery ahead of time, and this shortcut also carries the benefit of a streamlined cooking time. No need to keep track of how long the drumsticks and thighs have been in the hot oil before adding the breasts and wings. Bonus: If legs and thighs are your preferred cut, you’ll likely save some money, too.
Lose the bones
Fried chicken purists may disagree, but with a little love, you can still get a tasty meal out of boneless fried chicken. It’s true that bone-in poultry stays juicier throughout the cooking process; however, removing the bone cuts the cooking time almost in half. If you do chose to go this route, try to let the chicken spend a little time in a brine or marinade.
Try frying a skin-on, boneless thigh for a fantastic time-saver that still evokes the essence of classic fried chicken. If using boneless breasts, use a mallet to flatten the meat to create more surface area. This allows more area for breading, and further decreases the cooking time.
Aggressive cures and marinades
Most traditional fried chicken recipes call for anywhere from 8 to 24 hours of marinating time, either in buttermilk or a salt-sugar brine to tenderize the chicken and help maintain its juiciness. While this process is effective, it offers little to no leeway if your fried chicken craving must be addressed immediately.
Instead of a brine, you can make a very aggressive cure from kosher salt, brown sugar and whatever spices you like. Let the chicken cure for just 30 to 60 minutes, then rinse and pat dry. Another method? Substitute plain Greek yogurt for buttermilk. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and your preferred spices. Coat thoroughly in Greek yogurt and let stand for 30 to 60 minutes. Wipe off most of the yogurt, then dredge in seasoned flour.
Batch your seasoned flour
The perfect spice blend for fried chicken can contain upwards of ten ingredients. Who wants to break out the spice rack and measuring spoons every time you want to fry? Making a large, multi-purpose batch of seasoned flour will streamline all subsequent frying sessions.
Once you find a spice blend that works for you, scale up the recipe for a base of at least 12 cups of flour, or even up to an entire five-pound bag. Store your seasoned flour in a labeled container or zipper-lock bag (so you don’t accidentally make cookies that are laced with onion powder and paprika) and use it any time you need to fry chicken, seafood or even vegetables. If you ever want to set up a standard breading station, use your prepared flour as part of your first dredge. This ensures time saved not just on fried chicken, but on fried foods in general.
Use the right tools
Perhaps one of the biggest deterrents for people attempting fried chicken at home is the daunting task of cleaning up. From mixing bowls to cooking surfaces, cleaning all the buttermilk, spilled flour and splattered oil after a proper fried chicken session can become tiresome. Save some precious time by using a few common tools for containment.
First, brine or marinate your chicken in a zipper-lock bag. Place your chicken parts inside the bag, add your marinade, tightly seal the bag and massage the outside to mix up the contents. Once combined, place in a baking dish inside the refrigerator. When you remove the chicken from the marinade, simply throw away the bag. Next, instead of using a mixing bowl in which to dredge the chicken in seasoned flour, pour the flour inside a brown paper bag. Add the chicken parts, clasp the top to seal, then lightly shake to cover the chicken. The flour will remain inside the bag while you remove the chicken with tongs; throw away the bag with the flour when finished. Finally, cover your frying vessel with a $15 wire mesh splatter screen to protect your kitchen from all that splattered oil. It's one of the best investments you can make if you enjoy frying foods at home.