One of the best food memories I have of growing up on a farm is watching my mother prepare chickens that we raised and frying them in a cast iron skillet (in lard, of course). That succulent chicken was a favorite then, and is still. Over the years I've tried various methods for making the best fried chicken, and this is my favorite. A soak in brine overnight does amazing things, the buttermilk flavors and acts as "glue" for the breading, and I recently discovered from a Southern cook how to get a more substantial "crust" on my chicken, something I had tried to do for years. This fried chicken recipe will make you a rock star with your family and friends! Serves 4
2 quarts cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup hot sauce (I like Frank's)
3 pounds chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, thighs, drumsticks)
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup buttermilk
4 cups vegetable or peanut oil
Combine the water, salt, and sugar in a 6-qt. plastic container with lid. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the hot sauce. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate 3-8 hours, or overnight.
One hour before cooking the chicken, remove it from the brine and place in a gallon freezer bag with zip-top. Combine the buttermilk, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne in a glass measuring cup and pour over the chicken. Press out the air and seal the top. Turn the bag and massage the chicken to coat with the buttermilk mixture. Allow to set on the counter for one hour.
Whisk together the flour, salt, garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne. until well-combined. Pour the buttermilk over the mixture and, using your fingers, rub it into the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. (Small clumps will form that add texture to the finished chicken-who knew!?)
Heat the oven to 400-degrees. Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Place about 3/4-inch of oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is 375-degrees (use a thermometer).
Carefully place half of the chicken pieces, skin side down into the oil. Fry until deep golden brown on both sides, about 6-7 minutes. Adjust the burner to keep the temperature of the oil between 350-375 degrees. Transfer the chicken to the rack in the pan, then fry the remaining chicken, and add that to the rack.
Bake the chicken in the preheated oven until an instant-read thermometer registers 165-degrees, 12-18 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.