When Matthew said he wanted to make fried chicken inspired by Winston-Salem restaurant Sweet Potatoes‘ original recipe, my head starting filling with my own visions of what fried chicken means for a southern kitchen. My mom never made fried chicken, at least not the kind that actually comes with a bone inside it. So my frame of reference for fried chicken was limited to fast-food experiences (Bojangles, KFC, Popeye’s) and what I read in books. Yes, books. In my imagination, fried chicken is the kind Minny Jackson teaches Celia Foote how to make in “The Help” – the kind soaked overnight in buttermilk, seasoned with simple ingredients, then fried in a huge vat full of Crisco, which, as Minny points out, is just as vital for a southern cook as our mayonnaise.
Sweet Potatoes’ recipe follows much the same pattern. We used chicken legs and soaked them for at least 6 hours in the buttermilk mixture. Then, we “dredged” the chicken in a flour mixture and popped it in the pan, which was full of hot oil. When our chicken was finally done frying (we used a meat thermometer to be sure), we sure did enjoy it with our homemade biscuits, seasoned green beans, and a sweet potato hash Matthew came up with on the spur of the moment. It was a feast worthy of any southern kitchen, and it certainly lived up to the best of my imagination.
Here’s the recipe we used, which we tweaked for our own tastes. Feel free to change as needed, add your own sides, and enjoy!
1 1/2 lbs. chicken
Oil for frying
1/2 quart buttermilk
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tbsp. pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1. Combine buttermilk, salt, garlic, thyme and pepper. Add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
2. Heat the oil (about 1 inch deep) on medium-high in a large cast-iron pan.
3. Combine flour and cornstarch in a bowl. (The original recipe called for adding a tablespoon of chicken or seafood seasoning to the flour mixture. We didn’t, so it’s optional.)
4. Dredge the chicken in the flour+cornstarch mixture and coat it thoroughly.
5. Add the chicken to the pan and brown on one side for 10 minutes.
6. Turn the chicken over and keep frying until it is done, turning when necessary. Chicken is done when a thermometer (in the thickest part) reads 165 degrees.
7. Remove from the pan and place the chicken on a plate covered with paper towels or another material for removing some of the grease. Serve and enjoy!
Matthew’s take: Just watch chef Stephanie Tyson fry chicken and talk about her method. I believe your mouth will be watering afterward, just like mine was (unless you don’t like chicken altogether). This fried chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside when we enjoyed it fresh from the pan. When I took a couple of pieces to work for lunch a couple of days later, I was amazed that it was even more flavorful and even better. The buttermilk soak makes all the difference in the flavor. The time you fry and the rotation of the chicken as it cooks inside and fries outside is the key to getting a combination of a nice, golden brown colorful appearance and the delicious taste of meaty chicken on the inside. I would recommend this recipe against any fried chicken prescription out there. Knowing the story of the chef who passed down the recipe certainly makes a difference as well. (And so does the memory of eating in her delightfully Southern, North Carolina restaurant.)
Molly’s take: This chicken, as I said, lived up to my expectations. Soaking it in the buttermilk really makes the meat tender and flavorful. It is perfect when prepared and cooked this way. The frying took longer than I imagined, but I didn’t have enough oil in the pan and my burner was on too low. So that’s why I suggest turning it up to medium-high heat and frying in at least an inch of oil. Once it was done, it was delicious! Crispy outer covering with a tender, juicy inside. We can’t wait to try it again!