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This summer, I’m claiming my independence from the fear of fat, fear of carbs, and fear of frying. Ok, I don’t really have those fears, but any excuse to make and eat fried chicken is good enough for me.
Let me be clear here – I don’t actually eat fried chicken as much as I consume it. I love the hot, juicy meat underneath that decibel-blowing, craggy crust. Super-spicy or savory, double crusted or honey-dipped – ask me what my favorite kind of fried chicken is and I’ll say, “Yes.”
Ok, so now that you know where I’m coming from, I hope to get some of you to make a batch for this holiday. Fried chicken is dead simple to make, and our recipe included within the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School is a great place to start. You’ll learn all the basics of frying chicken – how to prep, what type of oil to use, and how to fry. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Now let’s address the boogeyman in the room – frying in oil. This technique gets such a bad break – partly justified by bad cooking – that most people think fried food is fatty and greasy. That doesn’t have to be the case. Let me explain.
When you add food to hot oil, a sort-of culinary battle begins. The moisture from the food, in this case chicken, is trying escape the meat, while the oil is trying just as hard to get in. Who wins this battle has everything to do with the temp of the oil.
Oil Temp is Everything!
We want that moisture inside the chicken to be hot enough to bubble and steam (212 degrees) pushing against the oil and keeping it out of the food. In order for that to happen, we need to start with an oil temp around 350, and maintain a similar temp (250 to 325) to keep that pressure on the oil. Frying in lower temps will not bring the moisture inside to the bubbling point fast enough, and oil will start soaking into the food. Now you have that greasy chicken. Which, I’m assuming you didn’t want.
Now, can I call fried chicken healthy? Diet food? Hardly. But consider this: in the test kitchen we conducted a test by heating 3 cups of oil to 325 degrees, and fried a chicken. After the chicken was cooked, we measured the remaining oil. It was nearly 3 cups. Test after test we found the same thing – 3 cups in, and almost 3 cups out. How about that?
Now, I do hear a lot of complaints from folks saying that they don’t like to “waste” all of that oil. Or they don’t know what to do with leftover oil. Can you keep it?
I’m not sure how to answer the issue of waste – to me, there’s no difference between spending a couple of bucks on peanut oil to make fried chicken, and buying canned tomatoes to make pasta sauce. It’s just part of the recipe.
But I can help with that leftover oil issue. You can reuse oil a few times if you follow these rules.
Filter – Strain the cooled oil through paper coffee filters or cheesecloth (lining a strainer) into a sealable container. This will get rid of any crunchy bits in the oil that would burn the next time you use it.
Use for the same purpose – If you’ve made fried chicken, use the leftover oil for more fried chicken. Same thing with French fries, doughnuts, fritters, tempura, and fish. Oh, especially fish. Oil tends to take on the flavors of the fried food, so unless you want cod crullers, segregate your used oil.
Cold and dark storage – Used to be that the guideline was to keep spent oil in a cupboard – and it’s true that exposure to light will speed up the pace at which oil oxidizes and goes rancid.
A cold environment slows that process right down, and while a fridge is ok, the freezer is the best place to store the oil. Locked up an airtight container and stored in the freezer for 2 months, the test kitchen could tell no difference in taste or cooking ability between this oil and fresh.
Fears allayed? Excuses gone? I hope so, because fried chicken is so worth making. Let me know in the comments if you celebrated your independence from the fear of frying too.
See the original version of this blog post, as well as other posts, on the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Instructor Blog.