Oh, is this Southern pan-fried chicken from Edna Lewis the real deal! The chicken is brined, soaked in buttermilk, and coated. It’s then fried but not just in any fat—in an inspired combo of lard, oil, ham, and butter. (Check your resistance at the kitchen door.) The results? Crisp, juicy, perfectly seasoned fried chicken.
Some things in life are apparent. Others are a little less clear. Typically trying to name a recipe as the best fried chicken, especially the best Southern fried chicken, falls into the latter category given just how many distinct variations and subtle nuances and personal preferences are at play. However, trying this recipe made things pretty apparent for us. We think it will for you, too. Originally published August 4th, 2003.–Renee Schettler Rossi
*How to Make Southern Fried Chicken Properly
Edna Lewis noted in this recipe that it blends fried chicken styles from both Virginia and Alabama. The chicken gets two long soaks, Alabama-style, first in brine and then in buttermilk. The frying fat is all Virginia-style, a special mix of lard and sweet butter flavored with country ham, which makes the chicken exceptionally rich-tasting. She added a few more thoughts and tactics to frying. We consider them to be fried chicken commandments.
- Brine the chicken. (That is, soak it in a saltwater solution before cooking, which serves a twofold purpose: it helps the chicken retain moisture and seasons it all the way through. To make a basic Edna Lewis brine, stir kosher salt into cold water until dissolved, using 1/4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart of water. Don’t use table salt; it will be too salty). Mix enough brine to cover the poultry completely in a non-reactive bowl or pot. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Drain and pat dry.)
- The best dredge always includes cornstarch for crispness.
- Be sure to pat off all excess dredge before frying.
- Fry evenly at the proper temperature.
- Drain the chicken well on crumpled-up—not flat—paper towels or a wire rack.
Special Equipment: Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
Southern Pan-Fried Chicken
- Quick Glance
- 1 H, 30 M
- 1 D
- Serves 4
- One (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces and preferably brined for 8 to 12 hours (see * above)
- 1 quart buttermilk (either low-fat or full-fat)
- 1 pound lard
- 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)
- 1/2 cup country ham pieces or 1 thick slice country ham, cut into 1/2-inch strips (90 g or 3 oz)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1. To prep the brined chicken for frying, drain it and discard the brine. Rinse out the bowl it was brined in. Return the chicken to the bowl and pour the buttermilk over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Place the chicken on a wire rack to drain, discarding the buttermilk.
- 2. Meanwhile, prepare the fat for frying by putting the lard, butter, and country ham in a heavy skillet or frying pan. Cook over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, skimming any foam as needed, until the butter ceases to throw off foam and the country ham is browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ham from the fat. Just before frying, increase the temperature to medium-high and heat the fat to 335°F (170°C).
- 3. Prepare the dredge by blending together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or on wax paper. Dredge the drained chicken pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then gently shake to remove all excess flour.
- 4. Slip some of the chicken pieces, skin side down, into the heated fat. (Be careful to not crowd the pan. Fry in batches if necessary.) Cook for 10 to 13 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. The exact timing may vary depending on the size of your chicken. Drain thoroughly on a wire rack or on crumpled paper towels. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.