Padma Lakshmi’s crispy fried chicken is an updated and intensely crunchy delight. Brined and rolled in a combination of crispy cereal, crushed saltines, and cayenne pepper, you’re going to love it as much as she does.
Okay, so what does a girl from South India know about crispy southern fried chicken? Well, in my defense, for years I’ve been dutifully following every path I know to find the best recipe for this beloved favorite. Even when I was a vegetarian, I would break off the coated chicken skin and eat the fatty bits. The key to moist, plump, juicy fried chicken is the marinating, either in salted water—a brine—or in milk. I’ve combined the two methods. The combination of salt and milk results in sheer, succulent pleasure because the milk makes the meat even sweeter. The second secret is the addition of Rice Krispies (you can also use corn flakes) and saltines, which creates an indispensable layered crunch.–Padma Lakshmi
Crispy Fried chicken FAQs
Amchur, made from dehydrated green mangoes, is an ingredient widely used in Indian cooking. It adds a bright tanginess to foods without adding any moisture. If you can’t find it, you can do without but if you have it on hand, we urge you to give it a try. It’ll add a layer of citrusy zip to your chicken.
First, we’re going to warn you against using the microwave. Sure, it’s fast but it’s just not worth it. Here’s our suggestion—take the chicken out of the oven and let it come to room temperature while the oven preheats to 400℉. Place it on a wire rack on a cookie sheet. When the oven comes to temperature, slide the chicken into the oven and give it 15 minutes, until it’s warmed through and the skin is crispy.
Padma Lakshmi’s Crispy Fried Chicken
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 5 teaspoons salt
- 1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken cut into 8 pieces
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal or corn flakes smashed just a little
- 12 whole saltine crackers crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried mango powder (amchoor) or lemon pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 to 3 cups canola or olive oil
- 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter or, preferably, ghee (optional)
- Mix the milk and 4 teaspoons of the salt in a large bowl. Pat the chicken dry. Add the chicken to the milk mixture, cover, and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.
- In a shallow dish or on a plate, combine the flour, smashed cereal, saltines, remaining teaspoon of salt, mango powder if using, and cayenne. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Remove the chicken from the fridge.
- Dredge each piece of chicken first in the flour mixture, then in the beaten egg, then in the flour mixture again, rolling to coat each time.
- Fry the chicken, working in batches, on medium-low heat until golden and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes on each side (7 minutes for wings, 10 minutes for breasts). Don’t crowd the pan—cook just enough pieces at a time so that each is bathed in oil. Keep a careful eye on the flame, as the butter will turn brown before the chicken is properly cooked if the heat gets even a smidgen too high.
- Check the chicken for doneness. If the chicken isn’t quite done, transfer it to a wire rack placed on a baking sheet, slide it into the oven, crank the heat to 400°F (204°C), and come back for the chicken after 12 or so minutes. Slip a sharp knife into the deepest portion of 1 piece of chicken just to be sure it’s done.
- Drain the chicken on a brown paper bag. Resist the urge to consume it straightaway and instead wait for it to cool at least 5 minutes. Don't worry, the coating will remain crisp and you'll be able to better appreciate the slight sweetness from the saltines. Serve with lotsa napkins.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This crispy fried chicken was a hit at our football-watching party! I made it ahead of time so I could clean up the mess before people arrived. I tasted it both after cooking and cooling for 5 minutes and then after placing the pieces on a rack on a baking sheet in a warm oven for about 20 minutes. The chicken pieces maintained their crispiness and did not dry out. As the football played on, they still maintained their crispiness sitting out and were maybe even more delicious at room temperature.
The variety of sizes in the breading made for a beautiful coating, leaving no surface uncovered. This provided a diversity of crunch and flavor in each bite. You get a slight crunch from the flour, a softer, salty crisp from the saltines, and a sweeter, caramelized, sharp crunch from the corn flakes.
The sour lemon pepper played off the sweetness of the cereal. For my crew, I would double the cayenne next time, I wanted to be punched just a bit harder, I didn’t pick up on the spice with everything else going on. We put honey and BBQ sauce out in case anyone wanted to dip. The chicken was so moist and flavorful on its own, nobody touched the sauces.
I would absolutely make this recipe again, either exactly like this with more cayenne or maybe made with some chicken tenders for the kids. It’s a winner any way you go.
I didn’t know what to expect from this recipe, and I’m not quite certain words can explain the magnificently crisp coating that resulted. The saltines sort of melded into the flour mixture from a texture standpoint, though from a taste perspective they lent it a really nice, subtle salty sweetness. It’s sort of the fried chicken of my childhood—a little greasy, a little slippery, and gobs of flavor.
The coating slid off a few pieces as we tried to eat it, probably from having the temperature of the oil a little too low. I think next time I’ll forego the richness that comes with the butter and use just oil for frying so I can turn the heat just a little higher.
We used kosher salt and rice cereal in the coating and ghee for the fryingl. I ordered the mango powder but it didn’t arrive in time.
I’m giving this a Tester’s Choice because the flavor was really delicious. However, I did have some issues with the recipe that I’m hoping a more seasoned chicken fryer can address. We needed to place all the fried chicken into the oven for the additional cooking time as the times listed weren’t sufficient for any of the pieces to cook through. Also, while the coating was crunchy and yummy, with some lovely heat and sweetness, it didn’t adhere to the chicken skin. It didn’t fall off the chicken, but the skin under the coating was rubbery and unappealing. I’ve never had this happen before and I’m unsure why it did in this case.
When my mango powder arrives, I will endeavor to make this meal again, perhaps dusting the chicken in plain flour, then egg, then the coating mixture.
Originally published June 26, 2011