By Mary-Alice Farina
Delicious Fried Chicken in LA
I was fortunate enough to spend the last 10 days in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Having never spent any significant amount of time on the west coast before, sampling the distinctly Californian cuisine was a waist-expanding treat. If you're not enjoying the best Asian and Mexican food in the country, the local fare is among the most fresh and healthy I've tasted. Farm-to-table local produce grown in the mediterranean climate, a flare for fusion and an eye for presentation make the California dining experience really special. The only trouble is you have to eat slightly less of it than I did for it to really be "healthy"... but it's so darn good that it's hard to resist. I guess I know now why Californians work out so much.
One of the first places I tried that bowled me over was a small café called Simple Things. While they specialize in pies, I'm not much of a pastry person (I know, travesty!), preferring savory to sweet most of the time. So imagine my delight when I bit into my boyfriend's "Fried Chix" sandwich, a free range chicken breast atop onion focacca bread with coleslaw, tomato and tabasco mayo. The fried chicken - something I would not have ordered for myself thanks to the general slimey, soggy heaviness of 'typical' fried chicken, was unlike any I'd ever had - so light and fluffy that it practically melted in my mouth with each bite. The crispiness gave way to perfectly tender and moist chicken. It was almost uncanny how light and fluffy the whole thing tasted - I honestly had never realized fried chicken could be so delicious. The coleslaw provided the perfect pH and texture balance with its tangy crunch, with the focaccia bread just light enough to let the chicken shine in weight and flavor.
It was so good that I insisted on returning to Simple Things once for the sandwich more despite my relatively short stay. How can I replicate this deliciousness at home, I wondered? I did some research and here are the tips that seem the most important.
Thanks to LA food blog The Digest for this image.
How to Cook Fried Chicken: A Few Tips
The first thing to consider is the quality of the bird. California cuisine prizes free range, local and organic meats for good reason: it is going to simply be more fresh, healthy and tasty.
The second important factor is the marinade. Most recommend marinating the chicken in a brine overnight to help it retain moisture. This might not be necessary, however, if you have fresh high quality chicken.
The third variable is seasoning. Try a simple dry rub overnight in the refrigerator, for example: salt, a few herbs, pepper, garlic, and some lemon or lime juice and/or zest. Buttermilk is a good addition as well, and best tossed in the morning before you cook the chicken (not the full overnight).
When you're ready to fry the chicken, "dredge" your chicken by dipping it first in an egg wash and then another layer of the buttermilk. Then dip into a mixture of flour and cornstarch. Cornstarch adds the light, crispy flakiness.
Choose an oil with a high smoke point like lard, vegetable shortening or peanut oil. Your best bet for a great pan is a cast iron skillet for even heat distribution and reliable temperature. The fat should be about an inch deep and around 350°F before you begin frying.
Using tongs, carefully lower the chicken into the pan. Only fry a couple of pieces at a time to avoid overcrowding the pan and reducing the temperature of the oil (that makes for soggy chicken).
Once the pieces have turned golden brown, set them on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Use a thermometer to make sure the chicken is a safely cooked 165°F.
What are your tricks for fried chicken? Let us know by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook wall!