I missed it. July 6 was National Fried Chicken Day and I wasn’t aware of it until the following day. A registered dietitian talking about fried chicken? I’m of the generation that still went on Sunday afternoon drives and took a picnic lunch along. The best lunch that I remember was when my mom made fried chicken and we had it cold for lunch, by the side of the road, somewhere along our drive.
There are health benefits of eating chicken. Chicken is a good source of lean, high-quality protein, which is an essential nutrient for growth and development. Chicken contains the B vitamin niacin that helps protect against cancer. We can obtain about 72 percent of our daily niacin requirement from a 4-ounce serving of chicken. Selenium, a trace mineral, is found in good quantities in chicken. Selenium is involved in many of the major metabolic pathways of the body, including thyroid hormone metabolism. The mineral phosphorus is found in chicken. Phosphorus helps maintain teeth and bone health and helps with functioning of the kidneys and liver.
One of my favorite cooking magazines is Cooks Illustrated. The editor, Christopher Kimball, also hosts the cooking show “America’s Test Kitchen” that airs Saturdays on public television. Their mission is to test recipes until they understand how and why they work and to arrive at the best version.
Recently, the program offered the recipe Easier Fried Chicken on their Southern Faire Reinvented episode. Here’s the recipe and the explanation behind the process. Happy (belated) National Fried Chicken Day.
Easier Fried Chicken
A whole 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, can be used instead of the chicken parts. Skinless chicken pieces are also an acceptable substitute, but the meat will come out slightly drier. A Dutch oven with an 11-inch diameter can be used in place of the straight-side saute pan.
1¼ cups buttermilk
Dash hot sauce
3 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or a mix with breasts cut in half), trimmed of excess fat
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1¾ cups vegetable oil
Whisk 1 cup buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, hot sauce, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon paprika and pinch of cayenne together in large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 2 teaspoons black pepper, ¾ teaspoon garlic powder, ¾ teaspoon paprika and remaining cayenne together in large bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk to flour mixture and mix with fingers until combined and small clumps form. Work with 1 piece at a time, dredge chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto pieces to form thick, even coating. Place dredged chicken on large plate, skin side up.
Heat oil in 11-inch straight-side saute pan over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Carefully place chicken pieces in pan, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Carefully flip and set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake chicken until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 160 degrees for breasts and 175 for legs and thighs, 15-20 minutes. Let chicken rest 5 minutes before serving.
Explanation of techniques
• Brine in buttermilk: Soaking the chicken in seasoned buttermilk enhances the flavor and ensures that the meat retains moisture. If not soaked, chicken will be dry and tough. Soaking without the salt will produce tender but not terribly moist chicken.
• Coat in buttermilk: Adding a little buttermilk to the dry ingredients of the coating creates irregular texture, which translates to extra crunch. Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which activates the cathepsin enzymes naturally present in meat as it penetrates mostly the outer layers of the chicken. The enzymes break down proteins into smaller molecules, tenderizing the meat. The salt help change the protein structure of meat so that it can retain more moisture as it cooks, producing noticeably juicer results.
• Starting on the stovetop: Frying in 1¾ cups of oil jump-starts a super-crisp coating with minimal cleanup; traditional fried chicken recipes call for at least 5 cups of oil.
• Finish in oven: Transferring the chicken to a 400-degree oven allows it to cook through without overbrowning.
Editor’s note: Fried chicken is something to make on a rare occasion, a special summer outing or celebration. Choose lower-fat chicken dishes for everyday meal planning and preparation.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.