Fried chicken inspired by Steve's Kentucky upbringing.

Fried chicken inspired by Steve’s Kentucky upbringing.


Serves 4 – 6

This is a recipe from my long-time friend and radio co-host Steve Garner. We’ve been doing a food talk show on Saturday mornings in Northern California (KSRO Good Food Hour for more than 25 years. Raised in Kentucky, he has spent a life-time eating and researching fried chicken.

About the following recipe, Steve says: “Although it seems like frying chicken should be a very simple process to master, finding the perfect balance between a light, crisp, non greasy crust and flavorful, juicy meat has proved elusive for many an accomplished cook. This method is the result of years of practice, refinement and serendipity. I have experimented with scores of marinades, coatings, seasonings, techniques, fats and apparatus in search of the Holy Grail. Friends and fellow fried chicken devotees who have never tasted my chicken preach the latest low fat, skinless, ‘oven fried’ recipes that they swear are “just as or almost as good”. There is also the “partially fried, then finished in the oven” camp as well. I have tried them. I am polite to these well meaning but misguided souls. My recipe is for traditional ‘skillet fried chicken’-the texture and flavor of which is heavenly and can’t be duplicated in an oven.”

4 whole chicken breasts, halved (8 pieces), brined* for at least 30 minutes
1/2 cup kosher salt plus more for seasoning
6 cups buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola or other frying oil
3 cups all purpose flour
2 – 6 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
Seasoning mix of your choice such as lemon pepper blend, smoked chipotle powder, etc.
2 egg whites, beaten briefly
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cast iron skillets
2 wooden spoons
A small strainer
Wire rack with paper towels
Thermometer to measure oil temperature

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Add kosher salt to 4 cups of buttermilk and stir till dissolved. Add chicken and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 4. We’re brining the chicken for flavor and juiciness. Remove chicken from buttermilk and discard buttermilk brine. Place chicken on a wire rack on a rimmed sheet pan, season well with salt and pepper and refrigerate uncovered for at least one hour.

Add oil to each pan to a depth of 3/4 inch for shallow frying and heat to 375 degrees. While oil is heating place flour into a heavy paper bag. Pour remaining 2 cups buttermilk into a bowl and add hot sauce to your taste. Be bold here because coating on chicken will soften a lot of the heat. Add a teaspoon or two of seasoning mixture and the egg whites and whisk until well combined.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and place in the buttermilk mixture, coating well. With tongs to allow chicken to drain briefly, place chicken two pieces at a time into the flour bag, tightly close and shake joyously to coat. Remove each piece and shake gently to shake off excess flour. Place pieces on a wire rack until all are coated.

Carefully place each piece of chicken skin side down into the hot oil, 4 pieces per pan. Turn every 4 or 5 minutes using wooden spoons instead of tongs which lessens the chance of breaking the crust. There are always hot spots in pans so gently move chicken to another part of the pan if some pieces are darkening faster than others. After 10 minutes gently add onions to the pans. Be careful because this will cause the oil to bubble vigorously. Total cooking time will be between 16 and 20 minutes depending on size of breasts. When chicken is beautifully golden brown and crisp, remove and place on a wire rack with paper towels under to drain. Remove crisped onions when they are done and drain on paper towels. Cool for a few minutes than arrange chicken on a platter, scatter onions over and serve.

Recommended beverage: A crisp, refreshing glass of sweet ice tea or lemonade.

Side Bar: Pickled Corn

My grandmother cooked a pretty mean fried chicken too. In the summer time she always served it with pickled corn on the side. Here’s her recipe which makes about a quart:

1 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1 tablespoons kosher salt
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons curry powder
3-1/2 cups corn kernels (from 4 ears of corn)
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (1 cup or so)
3/4 cup diced red onion

Add vinegar, water, sugar, fennel, salt, garlic and curry to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add corn, red pepper and red onion and bring back to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Place mixture into clean glass jars and refrigerate. Will keep for up to 6 weeks refrigerated.

John Ash © 2011