The best fried chicken I ever had came from the unlikeliest source – my mother. Born and raised in Ukraine, my mother never heard of southern home-style cooking, didn’t know the origins of the dish and probably didn’t have any idea what the ideal fried chicken should look or taste like. She made it her way and it was the crispiest, juiciest, perfectly seasoned, finger licking goodness.
The dish came to the Southern United States with the Scottish immigrants, who had a tradition of frying pieces of chicken in fat, as oppose to their British counterparts who boiled or baked their chickens. There are hundreds of recipes out there for a “traditional southern chicken”, some call for buttermilk and flour, some for batter; some use the deep fryer and some advice to pan fry. My mother did it by the book, although I am sure she didn’t have any idea of what that book was.
It was called, if literally translated, “Chicken in batter” in our house. I remember my mother dipping the skinless, bone in chicken pieces in thin, lumpy batter and dropping them into a huge cast iron oil bath of a skillet. I tried to re-create that perfect batter on many occasions, but my chicken never came out as crispy or good as hers was. It took an accident to make this childhood memory real.
I was skillet frying some sea-bass and thinking of my upcoming trip to the U.K., as well as the beer-food-fest I promised my husband. My thoughts appropriately drifted toward pub fare and I remembered that I had a few bottles of dark stout in the basement, which according to my husband, where not that good. I decided to experiment and mixed some flour, sea food spice blend, salt and beer until I had a thin, lumpy batter. When the first piece of fish was fried and tasted, I knew I hit the jackpot.
I must confess that I do not fry anything often. I am not a fan of grease for many reasons, my waistline mostly, but also the mess in the kitchen. The mess is the main reason why I have not made doughnuts or fried desert ravioli. But having just figured out the batter recipe and having two farm-fresh chickens in the fridge, I decided to give it a go.
The chicken came out just how I remembered it, my mother would be proud. Juicy and perfectly cooked on the inside, crispy, crunchy, salty on the outside. Pure haven! Served with crispy baked mashed potatoes and a little simple salad (you got to have the salad to counteract the grease!), it will be a meal I will not soon forget. And the batter recipe is getting written down, so that when the time comes, my daughter will not need to rely on memory alone.
Beer-Batter fried chicken and Crispy Baked Mashed Potatoes.
For the Chicken.
A whole chicken cut up into small pieces ( or Southern style) at the joints. Bone-in and skin removed.
2 Cups of buttermilk
Poultry seasoning (I use Montreal Grill Chicken Seasoning)
Peanut oil for frying (You can use any other oil that has a high smoking point, such as sunflower, soy or canola, but I find that the peanut oil is a little more aroma neutral )
For the Batter
2 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 bottle of beer ( I used a mild stout, which is a darker beer)
1 tbs of a kosher salt
½ tbs of poultry seasoning
For the Crispy – baked Mash potatoes
2 lbs of potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the tins
½ cup of cream or milk
4 strips of bacon
1 cup of shredded parmesan
Marinate the chicken by seasoning with salt, pepper, smoked paprika and poultry seasoning. Toss with buttermilk, making sure each piece is coated evenly, cover and refrigerate for a few hours, ideally overnight.
When ready to cook, pat the chicken dry and let it come to room temperature. In a heavy cast iron skillet heat the at least 1 ½ inches of oil. Check the oil temperature with a reliable digital thermometer; you are looking for a 340F – 350F frying range.
Prepare the batter by mixing the four, poultry seasoning and salt. Add the beer, a little at a time, mixing the batter by hand. Do not over-mix; you should end up with a thin, lumpy consistency.
Coat the chicken evenly in batter and fry about 4 min on each side or until golden and crispy and cooked through.
Couple of advise points:
1. Do not over-crowed the pan. The chicken will be steaming rather than frying
2. Do use the splatter screen. You will thank me later
3. Your stove’s flame adjustment knob is your friend. Remember, the oil will rapidly loose it’s temperature as soon as you add the chicken, so keep fidgeting with the know to keep the temperature constant.
4. Drain on the cooling rack placed over the tray to catch all the extra oil dripping.
These potatoes make a great side dish or in my case a main course or a snack around the clock. I can eat these exclusively for the rest of my life and not miss a thing…
Preheat the oven to 375F. Cover the peeled and quartered potatoes with cold water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once boiled, salt lightly and simmer until just fork tender. Do not overcook; the potatoes should be al dente.
While the potatoes are cooking, crisp up the bacon by either baking on a rack in 425F oven, frying it up or use the neatest trick my husband taught me. Place the bacon in single layer between a generous amount of paper towels and microwave on high for about 3 minutes or until crispy. Wola! No mess, no grease! Perfectly cooked bacon in 3 minutes!
Add 2 tablespoons of butter and cream and mash the potatoes to desired consistency ( I like mine with a bit of texture). Stir in ¼ cup of parmesan crumbled up bacon. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed. Grease 8 muffin tins with butter. Fill each tin with Mashed potatoes and top with remaining parmesan cheese. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and stir in the breadcrumbs. Top each tin with the breadcrumb mixture.
Bake for about 30 -35 min or until the tops are golden brown and crispy.
Can you smell this? You can't? To Bad... go make your own!