Fried Chicken

4 servings

Fried chicken is one of those simple dishes that have a zillion variations. Many people brine the chicken first while others prefer to soak it in buttermilk. Some do both. Some cover it with a lid while frying; others never do. And that's not even getting into the issue of what the perfect coating is.

Here's a basic Virginia-style version of fried chicken -- flour coating only -- that lets you brine or buttermilk-soak the pieces if you have the time. (We recommend brining -- it helps the meat retain moisture and stay juicy.) If you want a more peppery chicken -- that is, Tennessee-style -- add a little hot sauce to the buttermilk.

3 pounds cut-up chicken pieces

Kosher salt for brining (optional)

Buttermilk for soaking (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt or seasoned salt, plus additional

1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus additional

Peanut oil or solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco

If you have the time, soak the chicken in a brine (salt water) solution for at least a couple of hours; this will help keep the meat moist. To make the solution, dissolve 1/4 cup kosher salt or 1 tablespoon table salt in 1 quart (4 cups) water. Add the chicken to the water, cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or up to overnight. Drain the chicken, discarding the brining solution. Rinse the chicken under cool running water and pat it dry. At this point, if you have additional time, you can give the chicken a soak in buttermilk. (You can also go straight to dredging the chicken in flour.) Pour 1 quart (4 cups) of buttermilk into a large container. Add the chicken, cover and refrigerate for several hours. When ready to fry, drain the chicken, shaking to remove any excess buttermilk.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a shallow bowl or resealable plastic bag, combine the flour, salt or seasoned salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. In heavy 10-inch skillet (preferably cast iron), pour enough peanut oil or melted solid vegetable shortening to reach a depth of about 1 inch. Heat until the oil registers 300 degrees on a deep-fat or candy thermometer or until it is hot but not smoking.

Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, shaking to allow any excess to fall off, and then slip a few of the pieces, skin side down, into the hot oil. Don't crowd the pan or the oil temperature will drop and the chicken skin won't crisp properly. Cook the chicken, without turning, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and no trace of pink remains. The timing may vary dramatically, depending on the size of the chicken pieces and the temperature of the oil.

Place the chicken on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest of the chicken. Serve hot, warm, at room temperature or cold.

Ingredients too variable for meaningful analysis.