A Hands-on Guide to Fried Chicken
Nothing fills the bill for a hot August event better than an order of crispy fried chicken.
For a picnic outing, a ballpark tailgate, or a dinner on the town, nothing fills the bill for a hot August event better than an order of crispy fried chicken. It’s as close to a universal favorite as anyone can find. And except in fine-dining establishments, it’s almost always a finger-food.
Hot or Cold—Served cold, fried chicken fits in when at picnics, tailgates, church socials, at the beach, aboard a boat, or in a bicycle basket. Served hot, it’s perfect for brunch, lunch, dinner, or sports viewings.
Fast-Food Chains—These started with the Colonel and “11 secret herbs and spices.” Today, nearly everyone has a favorite among the big three: Churches, Popeyes, and KFC.
I lean towards Popeyes, founded by Al Copeland of New Orleans in 1972. His spicy chicken is supported by some excellent sides, including buttery biscuits and red beans and rice that have won New Orleans accolades.
With Waffles—Local chefs prepare excellent versions of this savory-and-sweet treat. It’s the signature dish at Home of Chicken and Waffles in Jack London Square, Walnut Creek, and Daly City; and it’s part of the soul food menu at West Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen. If you have an aversion to deeply pocked Belgian waffles, the traditional variety is paired with the fried chicken at Ole’s Waffle Shop, the Alameda landmark.
Sandwiches—Fried chicken breasts hold center stage at Lola’s Chicken Shack in Alameda and Oakland’s butcher shop bistro Clove and Hoof.
However, locals readily crow about the unique buttermilk-fried chicken and coleslaw on a house-baked bun at Bakesale Betty’s on Telegraph Avenue with a telltale snaking-outside line that validates the popularity. You won’t find a better chicken sandwich anywhere.
Wings—Like beef tongue, oxtails, and lamb riblets, chicken wings are a culinary Cinderella story. Once considered a throwaway cut, Buffalo wings have developed into a nationwide favorite, while spawning franchises. Credit the success to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., and a coating of Frank’s Hot Sauce mixed with butter. Now, nearly every sports bar sells wings, and nearly every omnivore sports fan enjoys them, with mandatory celery sticks and blue-cheese dipping sauce.
Special Mention—For an ethnic approach, Kyle Itani’s Japanese-Southern twist on fried chicken is primo in the Bay Area. Served at Hopscotch, his upscale diner in Oakland’s Uptown, Itani mixes soy and ginger with potato starch and buttermilk and then deep-fries the pieces in soy oil.
DIY—Chicken pieces should be battered or breaded. Most commercial chefs deep-fry their chicken. Doing this at home will produce comparable results. The dig is managing, replacing, and disposing of the fry medium.
For occasional stovetop frying, choose a 14-inch cast iron skillet. It’s a misperception that cast iron conducts heat efficiently; copper and aluminum are much better. Quite the contrary, cast iron heats and cools slowly, but its mass forms a great heat sink that maintains temperature more easily.
Fry chicken in a half inch of oil, uncovered, turning occasionally until 160° F is reached internally. Worried about cleanup? During frying, use a spatter-shield, but it may slow steam release and impede browning.
A hybrid hack employs a thin coating of oil in the pan, turning the pieces frequently until evenly browned. Then pop the pan and contents into a 275° F oven until 160° F is reached internally in the chicken.
This report appears in the August edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.