How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

My Fried Chicken Waterloo

I know – it’s been a while since I’ve done a cooking post. Too busy trying to sell books and thinking about other stuff. But food is one of my passions and I want to write more about it. Especially since I’ve hacked my way through more cooking than most of these kids out there have eaten.

Chicken thighs in the fry pan about to be fried.
Boneless Thighs – cooking at room temp worked here, but….

That being said, I do have one problem. I can’t fry chicken. I want to re-create the fried chicken my mother used to make. The kind where you flour the chicken pieces, toss it in a pan with oil, and it comes out fully cooked and golden brown. What I usually get is blackened on the outside and raw on the inside. I have turned down the flame, I have measured cooking temps. I’ve started it in cold oil.

I even (shudder) googled it and searched the SeriousEats.com site. I like Serious Eats, but if there’s a complicated, fussy way to do something, that’s one of the places you’ll find it. I don’t need complicated and fussy in my kitchen. I need a meal on my table.

But, for the sake of form, I tried their method of brining the pieces (which I’ve taken to doing anyway with buttermilk, because it tastes so good), then essentially patting the flour onto the wet pieces to make what amounts to a dryish batter. They also cheat and cook the pieces in the oven after the initial fry. I even measured the temp of the oil. It still didn’t make very good chicken.

I complained on Facebook, and one of my friends not only went into the whole long complicated process but explained the science of why. Which was interesting, but totally missed the point. My mother, and millions of women like her, for generations have floured their chicken, put some oil or shortening in a pan and freaking made gorgeous, lightly crispy fried chicken. They didn’t use thermometers. They didn’t soak and drain and whatever. Some used deep fryers, but a lot just used a pan. So why the hell can’t I?

I tried asking Mom, but she really didn’t have much to say. She hasn’t made fried chicken in decades and said that she just floured the chicken, put it in a pan with oil, and fried it. I’m probably going to have to get her into the kitchen with me so that the old body memory can kick in.

Close of up the current attempt at fried chicken - still too dark, dummit.
Still too dark, but it’s done.

Last night I did come close to success by pulling the chicken out of the fridge two hours before I fried it so that it was at room temperature. But the second batch was considerably darker than it should have been, and the first batch almost got that dark before the breast meat was cooked.

So, we’re getting closer. I think next time, I’m going to only soak those pieces I can fit into my pan in one go and start the oil cold. I did have some success a couple years ago with boneless thighs. Still, that ain’t what Mom did and that’s the goal.

This isn’t rocket science, nor should it be. Cooking good, tasty food shouldn’t be that big a hassle.

Anne Louise Bannon

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.

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