Fried chicken is made in dozens of different ways and they all have their zealous fans. This recipe deserves some of that love, too. Not just for its super simple technique but for the pile of crisp and juicy chicken you’re rewarded with.
I’m a big fryer of chicken, and I’ve done it all kinds of ways. I’ve soaked the chicken in buttermilk, I’ve flavored it with garlic powder and cayenne pepper, I’ve pan-fried it, I’ve oven-fried it. You name it, I’ve done it. In this recipe, a quick dip in the water is the most unexpected and unusual step, but it’s one of those mysterious recipe things you just trust once you do it.–Adam Roberts
WHY DO YOU DIP THIS FRIED CHICKEN IN WATER FIRST?
We’re sure that you’re familiar with dipping chicken in other things—milk, buttermilk, eggs, hot sauce—before breading but you’ve likely never used water. And if you’ve ever managed to spill any water into simmering oil, you know why. But in this technique, using water gives you an incredibly crispy, light crust. The water vaporizes, leaving just that delicate coating, whereas other liquids leave behind sugars or proteins that make the batter brown too quickly. Genius, right? Just be certain that you’ve dredged your chicken pieces really well—get into all those nooks.
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
- One to two whole (4-pound) chickens cut into drumsticks, breasts, thighs, and wings
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 to 8 cups vegetable oil for frying
- Three hours before you want to fry, clean the chicken. Get rid of any feather remnants (you’d be surprised, they’re there) and organs (including the heart and liver). Pat the chicken very dry with paper towels and then season it all over with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Arrange 2 bowls, 1 with room-temperature water, the other with the flour, next to the stove. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, pour in the oil until it reaches 1/3 of the way up, ideally, and definitely no more than halfway, as you don't want the hot oil to bubble over. Heat the oil until it reaches 370°F (188°C).
- Now, working piece by piece, dip the chicken in the water and then in the flour. (The water helps the flour stick.) Make sure the chicken is thoroughly coated in flour; you don’t want water to come in contact with the oil. Carefully lower the floured chicken into the oil, working in small batches so as not to crowd the pieces, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the chicken every so often. The chicken is done when you cut into a piece and the meat is white throughout with no trace of pink. (The breasts will cook faster than the legs or thighs.) Use the thermometer to maintain the oil temperature between 365°F (185°C) and 370°F (188°C).
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Have you, like me, been searching for the secret to the BEST Fried Chicken? Simply put, this recipe with the most common ingredients is IT.
I love this recipe. Let me tell you why. It’s the simple, straightforward way of cooking, and that makes for the best recipes. The resulting chicken was crispy and mostly (see below) juicy.
You may be thinking, “Hey, if I dunk the seasoned chicken into water, won’t all my seasonings wash away?” The answer is that some of the salt and pepper do release into the water. However, I assure you, the finished chicken didn’t need additional seasoning. I tested this by salting a few pieces fresh from the oil, and those pieces were too salty. As long as you generously season the chicken, to begin with, you’re good without any post-cooking seasoning.
Even in my 4 1/4 -quart Dutch oven I could only cook 4 pieces of chicken at a time. I used a fryer thermometer and was pretty good at keeping the temp at 370°F degrees. With that, I’d have to recommend lessening the cooking time to around 12 minutes instead of 15. My first batch, while crunchy, was also slightly dry inside from overcooking. For my second batch, I reduced the cooking time to 12 minutes. This worked better, as that batch was crispy while also juicy and moist. I’m not a fan of cutting meat open to test it for doneness so I’d recommend using a meat thermometer instead. Remember the chicken will continue to cook after you pull it out of the oil. I rested the chicken for about 10 minutes. Believe me, it was still steaming hot on the first bite. I’d say this recipe is a keeper!
I was intrigued by the water dunk for the chicken before flouring and frying. I followed the steps as outlined. The water really helped the flour stick and therefore gave it a nice crust. I used this recipe to fry some wings, which took a long time to brown. I’ll admit that I decided to fry them in a new, deeper pan, not my old, faithful, well-loved frying pan. That could be the issue with the frying time. I actually took them out when they were a light brown, then decided to put them back in the oil and brown them some more, which worked.
The advanced seasoning (for several hours) is something I generally don’t do, but will definitely do again in the future as I think it does “marinate” the meat well. I’ll try this recipe again using my old faithful frying pan.
Originally published May 29, 2013