Peggy is my momma. She passed away some time ago, but not before I learned her secret to the perfect fried chicken. She was a wiz in the kitchen and taught me the basics of cooking simply. She was a patient cook and knew that time was the most important elemental technique of cooking. Rush a recipe and you are sure to come up short.
Frying chicken is a Southern art form and family recipes are protected and passed down through generations. Techniques, ingredients and methods vary, but the end result is most always consistently good. Fried chicken is best cooked in the home kitchen, and while there are good restaurant fried chicken variations out there I have never tasted one that came close to my momma’s. Fried chicken – more than any other dish of the Deep South – is an emotional tie to memories of childhood and family. Most every family has a treasured recipe. Here’s my momma’s.
Those in the know, my momma for sure, understand that properly fried chicken can only be obtained through the heat-conducting magic of cast iron. Keeping an even high temperature throughout the cooking process insures that the chicken cooks evenly to a perfect crisp. Listen carefully– if the temperature falls, you are sure to fail. That said, always use a thermometer and start out with extra hot oil with a temperature reading of 400ºF. Once your chicken hits the pan, the hot oil will cool and you will quickly reach your ideal frying temp of 375ºF.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s talk ingredients and method. Take your time and brine is a cardinal rule of chicken cooking in the Graham kitchen. A good soaking in spiced up buttermilk with a healthy dash of Tabasco adds flavor to the chicken and gives the flour something to stick to. White Lily brand all-purpose flour is the go-to coating for most Southern cooks and my family recipe is no different. In South Louisiana, we like to season our flour with a good dose of Cajun seasoning mix along with an extra punch of paprika and black pepper. And that’s that.
It’s really all very simple, but it is an adherence to those few traditional rules that is the difference between making chicken and making memories.
- 1 whole 4-pound chicken, cut into individual pieces
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 8 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 1 gallon peanut oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- Kosher salt
- In a large covered container, add the chicken pieces and cover with the buttermilk. Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, and hot sauce. Stir to combine the ingredients and cover. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.
- Two hours before cooking, remove the chicken from the brine and place on a wire rack to drain and come to room temperature.
- In a large cast-iron skillet (or pot) over medium-high heat, pour enough oil to a 3-inch depth of the pan (no more than halfway up the side). With a cooking thermometer in place, heat the oil to 400ºF.
- In a shallow pan, add the flour, remaining 4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, paprika, and pepper and mix together to combine. Add several of the chicken pieces to the flour mixture and coat. Add the chicken to the hot oil being careful not to crowd the pan. As the temperature of the oil drops adjust the heat to maintain a consistent 375ºF level.
- Let the chicken cook uncovered until it begins to brown on one side and then turn. Cook the other side until golden brown and crispy, about 15 minutes total. Check for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest piece and look for an internal temperature of 160ºF. Remove the chicken and let drain on a wire rack. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Keep warm until all the chicken is fried.
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