Crispy and tender homemade buttermilk fried chicken recipe. Each piece is brined first to ensure juicy flavorful bites then dipped and dredged in a bold flour spice blend for the most irresistible golden-brown crust.
The crunchy sound when you bite into a piece of perfectly fried chicken is music to the ears. This special meal is worth the greasy, burnt fingertips and ridiculous amounts of napkins.
I have tested many recipes, but I have found that Thomas Keller’s fried chicken served at his Ad Hoc restaurant in Yountville, California is the best. The techniques he utilizes guarantees undeniably delicious results.
How to make buttermilk fried chicken
The first step is to soak the chicken in a lemon-herb mixture for several hours. The brining process requires patience, but it’s worth the wait! The chicken is then double-coated in a robust spice and flour blend with a buttermilk dip in between. Deep fry until crispy, then wow family and friends with this incredible delight.
This recipe uses a larger 5-pound whole chicken, or two 2.5 pounders if they are smaller in size. I enjoy breaking down the chicken on my own, ensuring that there are ten pieces to fry.
If you’re uncomfortable with cutting up a whole chicken, buy pre-cut pieces from your local market. You can also use skinless and boneless cuts of chicken like breasts or thighs, however, the cooking time may be shorter.
Brine the chicken for juicy and flavorful pieces
Brining is a key step that should not be skipped as it helps the chicken retain moisture during deep frying. For this recipe, you’re going to use water, a generous amount of salt, whole black peppercorns, lemon, garlic, honey, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley. This herbaceous mixture can be made ahead of time, but plan for a 12-hour soak to ensure maximum flavor transfer.
Creating the breading mixture
The breading that coats the chicken is a combination of flour, garlic powder, onion powder, sweet paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. The salty crust will burst with flavor, and paprika gives it a gorgeous red hue.
I use a standard breading procedure to dredge the chicken before frying. First, a coating in flour to create a primer so that the buttermilk can adhere, otherwise, the meat would be too slippery. The chicken is then dipped in buttermilk and then one more time in the flour to create a thick double coating of extra crunchy skin.
Why use buttermilk?
Buttermilk is an acidic dairy ingredient that helps tenderize the chicken but not make it mushy. The lactic acid activates the cathepsin enzymes naturally found in poultry. This helps break down the proteins into smaller molecules that tenderize the meat.
Frying the chicken
The chicken is fried in a certain order so that each piece gets the right amount of resting time before eating. The dark meat, thighs, and drumsticks are fried first at a lower temperature (320 degrees) for a slightly longer time. The light meat, the breasts, and wings are fried 20 degrees higher for a shorter period of time.
Make sure to use an instant-read thermometer to constantly check the hot oil temperature to ensure it stays consistent, and adjust the heat as needed. I like to use a thermometer that attaches to the side of the pot so I can check it often and see fluctuations and make quick changes.
What to serve with this
Target internal temperature for safe to eating
Fry the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure fully cooked meat. When taking the temperature, test the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. Let the pieces rest for 7 to 10 minutes after frying to allow it to cool down. If resting for longer than 10 minutes, place the tray in the oven at 400°F for a minute or two to ensure the crust stays crisp right before serving.
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Buttermilk Fried Chicken
- 5 pounds whole chicken, or two 2 ½ pound chickens
- fine sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
- ¼ bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 6 sprigs of thyme
- 3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
For Dredging and Frying
- 6 cups vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- In a large pot combine water, salt, honey, lemon, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay leaves.
- Boil brine for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt.
- Remove from the heat and cool completely before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- Cut each chicken into 10 pieces each: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 boneless breast quarters, 2 wings.
- Add the chicken to the pot of cooled brine or pour into a re-sealable plastic bag large enough to hold the chicken pieces. Refrigerate for 12 hours, no longer or the chicken may become too salty.
- Remove the chicken from the brine. Discard the brine and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin.
- Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Let rest at room temperature for 1 ½ hours, or until it comes to about room temperature.
- Add oil to a large pot (about 4.5-quart size). The oil should fill the pot with at least 2-inches of oil, add more if needed. No matter what size pot you have the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides.
- Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
Coating and Dredging
- In a large bowl combine flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
- Pour the buttermilk into a separate bowl and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
- Set up a dipping station: The chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Just before frying, dip the chicken into the coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess.
- Dip chicken into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl.
- Dip the chicken back into the coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.
- Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken.
- Heat oil to 320°F (160ºF).
- Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry and move the chicken around as needed until the skin is deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp, about 8 to 12 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack, skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining pieces. Sprinkle with fine sea salt if desired.
- Bring oil back to 320ºF (160ºC), add the drumsticks, cook until golden brown, about 7 to 9 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack.
- Turn up the heat and increase oil temperature to 340°F (171ºC).
- Carefully lower the breasts into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack.
- Cook the wings until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the rack and turn off the heat.
- Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add some herb sprigs.
- Peanut oil or canola oil can be subsituted for vegetable oil.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Substitute gluten free flour for all-purpose flour using Bob's Red Mill 1:1 is recommended.
- Recipe adapted from Ad Hoc at Home cookbook by Thomas Keller.
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