Fried Chicken Four Ways for the Fourth

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

For every reason you can come up with not to make fried chicken, there's one that can't be denied: It tastes great, especially when served alfresco in the summer.

To hit the trifecta of tenderness, crunch and temperature, you've got to fry it at home. Some people make it better than others, of course, which sent us searching for finer points on how to do that.

Old-school hands keep the prep simple and the level of frying oil fairly low, and they rely on the heat control of an electric skillet. A few of Washington's own fried-chicken experts offered a variety of techniques, evident in their recipes. Strategies that lift their chicken to admirable heights include:

-- Add butter to the frying oil. Chef and co-owner Gillian Clark of the General Store in Silver Spring discovered long ago that it gives the crust a special flavor.

-- Infuse the bird's buttermilk bath with fresh herbs, and enhance the coating with panko and cornmeal. Brian Robinson of Restaurant 3 in Clarendon says those ingredients produce flavorful meat and crisp skin that stands up to refrigeration.

-- Start with the freshest possible chicken, brine it briefly and then let a dry rub do some magic overnight in the fridge; that's what Francine Helton, owner of Flavors Soul Food in Falls Church, recommends.

-- Up the crunch factor by mixing cornstarch into the coating. Nourish columnist and former Food section recipe editor Stephanie Witt Sedgwick says this fine-tuning makes for a light, crisp crust.

A word about the oil: Whether it's canola, corn or peanut, gallons for deep-frying are not necessary. A depth of an inch or less works fine. Once a batch of chicken goes into oil that has been brought to the desired temperature, the oil should remain in the 305-to-315-degree range during cooking. And, depending on where you live, there might be someone who will pick up your used cooking oil gratis (see our All We Can Eat blog today).

Would a combination of all the experts' recommendations produce the best fried chicken? Probably not. But with a long holiday weekend coming up, exercise your independence and try what you'd like best.

Gillian's Fried Chicken

Brian's Fried Chicken

Francine's Fried Chicken

Stephanie's Fried Chicken

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