Though my family might argue with me, I don’t believe any one of us are authoritative keepers of the secrets of Southern food (though the half-finished glass of bourbon in front of me might suggest otherwise). You see, when we say that we’re from the “south,” we really mean that we’re from Texas, which is a whole different kind of south than Alabama, or Tennessee, or Kentucky. Up until we moved to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, our sense of “southern” food was something more like Chili con Carne. There were neither chitlin’s, nor fried okra, nor Chow Chow on our table. And so, I had to fumble along with my mother and siblings to get a handle on what southern food was all about.
I still don’t think that I “get” southern food. I mean, I love it just as much as anyone else, but I don’t have the sense that I could rustle up a southern meal with little effort. I figured I’d take it one dish at a time. Where better to start than buttermilk fried chicken, right? Regardless of the result, I knew that I would end up with a piece of chicken with something vaguely crispy on the outside(and that ain’t so bad).I wish I could tell you that I sought counsel from some old Southern lady named Agatha or Agnes for the secret to this recipe, but to do so would be a lie. When I first made this buttermilk fried chicken, it was for my mother-in-law’s wedding. I foolishly told her that it’d be no problem, that I’d done it before, that it was old hat. And so, frantically, just days before the ceremony, I googled fried chicken recipes and was sent to Bon Appetit. Of course, I didn’t let on that I was indeed a dilletante, a fledgling neophyte who had little idea of what I was doing.But when it was all said and done and we sat down to the table, the result was something otherworldly. All I could do was smile and act as if I knew that it would taste so delicious.
My wife recently returned from a visit to her mother’s and the trip got me thinking about that meal of fried chicken, biscuits, roasted vegetables, and bourbon. Luck would have it that a good friend, in all his magnanimity, recently gifted me with a bottle of Basil Hayden’s bourbon after I invited him over for a small dinner party. The pairing was perfect, and the bourbon continues to flow as I write this entry. All is well here.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken (Adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
3 lb. chicken thighs and drumsticks
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Canola oil (for frying)
Mix all spices and season the chicken. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill for one hour or overnight. Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper.
Pour oil into a cast-iron skillet or other non-stick pan to a depth of 3/4″. Heat over medium-high heat. If you have a thermometer, it should read 350 degrees. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.
Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture. Dredge in flour mixture.Place 3 to 5 pieces of chicken into the skillet. Fry the chicken, making sure to turn it every 2-3 minutes until skin is deep golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs.
Remove chicken from the skillet and let it cool and drain on a wire rack.