Must be a response to the stress - I want to eat lots of really good cold weather food and then sleep it off, only to rise and repeat.
The first thing on my list was home fried chicken.
I just want to go on the record as saying that KFC sucks ass. Back when I was a kid it was still acceptable - but now? I think the Colonel is whirling in his grave like a dervish. I think I can hear him - kinda sounds like a high speed drill gone haywire! If I am forced to eat commercial fried chicken - we head over to Popeyes. Get the spicy.
My fried chicken has evolved over the years - from my mother's recipe (which was O.K. - hence my love of the Colonel's bird) to something I am proud to serve to family and friends. That meant eating a lot of O.K. fried chicken until I hit on the perfect recipe.
There are a couple of items you must have to make really good fried chicken. The first is a good cast iron pan. If you didn't inherit one or more - then get on Ebay and buy one. The new ones - especially the preseasoned ones - just don't seem to be as good. The newer one I bought about 5 years ago just won't hold its seasoning. The older Wagner I inherited from Mom still performs beautifully after 40+ years of service.
The second thing is the right sized pieces of chicken. While everyone loves breasts, the ones you pick up at the groceries are DDD size. It's like being set up for disaster. If you cook the breasts until the outside is brown, they are underdone inside. If you cook the breast through, then the outside layer of meat is dry and the crust almost burnt. Smaller pieces that will finish cooking through by the time your crust is done is crucial. I tend to cook a lot of thighs and legs for that reason - and debone the breasts and make strips from them. It's not as good as being on the bone - but it does mean the crust isn't compromised.
I bet you can't guess what my secret ingredient for making the coating is? Yeah - it shows you read my Spice is Right entry. Seasoned Salt, plus black pepper and cayenne pepper. Mixed with some flour - I have found it is the perfect coating.
The wet part of the equation? Eggs, milk and hot pepper sauce. I know some people swear by buttermilk. I tried that - it was OK. The best thing about it was the thickness of the liquid. The viscosity kept a good layer of liquid on the chicken without being too wet. But - I don't always have buttermilk on hand, so I decided to try sour milk. (For those who don't know what sour milk is, it is whole milk that has had vinegar or lemon juice added to it so it will "clabber". My mom used to use it all the time when buttermilk was called for - and I have seen references to it in older cookbooks. I have a feeling it was a practice that has fallen out of favor, but one that seems to be well worth reviving.) The sour milk was acceptable, then I saw someone on TV do a recipe that involved using hot sauce as the wet ingredient. BINGO! Most pepper sauces are made mostly of vinegar so, milk + hot pepper sauce= flavor and thickness. I always add egg - no reason - just have and it works for me...
Measurements? Ummmmm.... I don't measure stuff too much. Making fried chicken is a zen kinda thing - I go with what feels right. I know that does those of you looking to make fried chicken no damn good - but there it is... I would say for the wet ingredients that I take a cup of milk, an egg and 1/4 cup of hot sauce to make a small batch. For the dry, I would say a cup of flour is seasoned with two tablespoons of seasoned salt plus generous shakes of the cayenne and black pepper, maybe some garlic powder if I am feeling frisky.
Method - Rinse the chicken pieces parts in cold water. Trim off any excess fat, especially on the thighs. (If you are using leg quarters, get the kidneys out of there for Pete's sake! They can make the whole thing bitter...Yes it means sticking your finger into a recess and digging out chicken guts - stop being a sissy and just do it!) Mix the wet ingredients in a fairly large bowl. Several pieces of chicken can be put in at once. Put your flour mixture in a big ole zip lock bag. The routine goes like this - Dip, pick up and let drain for a second and then put into the flour bag. Shake vigorously until well coated. Some people like to do this ahead and let the coated chicken set for a few minutes - others like me just toss it into the pan.
The cooking medium - I usually put in enough oil to come about half way up the sides of the chicken. It's OK - you won't die from using that much oil. Honest. Heat that oil up until it is good and hot. The chicken should sputter when you put it in - almost like you are doing a deep fry in a shallow pan. DO NOT PUT A LID ON THE PAN!! (I was reading the Amateur Gourmet lately and he said his chicken did not come out crisp. It is because he put a lid on the pan. The lid traps escaping moisture and that is bad. If you are worried about spatter, get a splatter screen. It is a flat mesh disc with a handle, sort of like a a flattened strainer. Moisture escapes, oil doesn't!)
What kind of oil?? I generally use a nice all purpose veggie oil. My ex-mother-in-law swore by shortening though - I think lard would be great, but I do not keep it in my kitchen on a regular basis. No butter though - it burns too easy.
Let your chicken set undisturbed in the oil until the crust is brown on that side and then using tongs, gently turn. Keep this up until all sides are brown. Test the chicken for doneness. I poke it with a knife and watch the juices. I tried measuring the internal temperature with a instant read this last time and 150 degrees Fahrenheit seemed to do the trick. If it is not done, rotate chicken to least done side and cook a little more.
When a piece is done, transfer to a rack set over paper towels and drain. My mom used to set the stuff right on brand new brown paper bags. Repeat until all the pieces are cooked.
If you are doing a large batch of chicken, you may need to change out the oil a couple of times. Once the oil gets full of bits of flour, it will start to burn and leave a nasty taste.A note on storage - the crust is going to get soggy over night in the fridge. I've never found a way to make sure it doesn't - but it still tastes damn fine for breakfast!
That's pretty much it. Now get out there, buy some legs and get to practicing...when you're finished, let me know and we'll have a fried chicken showdown.