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Did you know that July 6 is National Fried Chicken Day? Why not make it a holiday twofer by whipping up a big batch for Independence Day? If you double the recipe you'll have extra to serve cold or at room temperature on the 6th.
There are a few things to know about preparing this famous Southern dish. You will need a large cast iron skillet, tongs, lots of paper towels and a baking sheet. Plan on spending some time on this project because once a year it's worth it!
Many recipes now call for oven-baking "fried chicken" but this recipe is the real McCoy. One of the secrets of crispy, non-oily fried chicken is keeping the temperature of the fat high enough to cook the meat without letting the crust get soggy. It should be bubbly hot throughout the frying process. With all the talk about unhealthy fats, you may want to use corn oil instead of vegetable shortening. Another secret is not to move the chicken when it is frying until the coating is set and looks firm. And by all means don't overcrowd the skillet.
If fried chicken is a favorite dish, take a look at "Fried and True: More than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides," just published by Clarkson Potter. You will find tons of recipes and tips for making every fried chicken version you can imagine.
Serve this with potato salad and/or coleslaw. I like to serve cornbread or corn muffins alongside. Absolutely perfect picnic food!
Diane's Fried Chicken
3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon paprika, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided
2 cups all purpose flour
4 cups vegetable shortening like Crisco or corn oil
1. Begin the recipe at least 3 hours before you want to serve the fried chicken. Rinse and dry the chicken pieces with paper towels. In a large mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk with 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon each of the black pepper and paprika, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat evenly. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight, turning the pieces occasionally.
2. When you are ready to cook the chicken, put the flour in a pie plate along with the remaining salt, pepper, and paprika and cayenne and stir well with a fork.
3. Place three layers of paper towels on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet in a spot close to the stove for easy access. Put the shortening or oil into a 10 inch to 12 inch cast iron frying pan or Dutch oven. Over medium high heat, heat the shortening until it registers 365 F on a deep-fry thermometer or (if you don't have a thermometer) until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil browns in about one minute. You should have between 1 to 1 1/2 inches of oil, depending upon the size of your skillet.
4. Remove the thighs from the marinade first, letting the excess marinade drain off over the bowl for a moment. Dredge in the flour mixture, turning to coat evenly. Shake off excess flour over the pie plate, then put the pieces skin side down in the center of the hot oil. Proceed to coat all the pieces in the same manner, removing any bits of flour clumps that accumulate in the pie plate and placing the other pieces around the thigh.
5. Do not move the chicken until the coating is set and looks firm, about 4-6 minutes. Check the underside by lifting with tongs. Rearrange the pieces when they are a deep golden brown. Fry on the other side until that side is also deep golden brown, rotating pieces as necessary. Remove from the heat when done (about 17-20 minutes for breasts and 20-25 minutes for the other pieces.) If you are not certain if a piece is done, pierce the thickest part of the piece with a sharp knife and the juices should run clear. Place on a prepared baking sheet to drain and serve hot, cold or at room temperature.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Holidays," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)