Fried chicken

Fried chicken (also referred to as Southern fried chicken) is a dish consisting of chicken pieces usually from broiler chickens which have been floured or battered and then pan fried, deep fried, or pressure fried. The breading adds a crispy coating or crust to the exterior. What separates fried chicken from other fried forms of chicken is that generally the chicken is cut at the joints and the bones and skin are left intact. Crispy well-seasoned skin, rendered of excess fat, is a hallmark of well made fried chicken.

Generally, chickens are not fried whole, instead the chicken is divided into its four main constituent pieces, of which there are two each. The "white meat" sections are from the front of the chicken. These parts are the breast and the wing. White meat is ‘white’ because of the minimal activity of these muscles. The "dark meat" sections are from the rear of the chicken. Dark meat is ‘dark’ because the muscles are used for sustained activity – in the case of a chicken, chiefly walking. Since chickens don’t fly, breast muscles are not used as often as they would if chickens could fly. The higher activity of leg muscles increases their need for oxygen. The darker color of more active muscles comes from a chemical compound in the muscle called myoglobin,which is important for oxygen transport. Other species of poultry capable of flight (such as ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) have dark meat throughout.

To prepare the chicken pieces for frying, they may be marinated in buttermilk, or simply dipped in buttermilk or milk. The chicken pieces are then dredged in flour or a similar dry substance to coat the meat and to develop a crust. Seasonings such as salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, or ranch dressing mix can be mixed in with the flour. As the pieces of chicken cook some of the moisture that exudes from the chicken is absorbed by the coating of flour and browns along with the flour creating a flavorful crust. Traditionally, lard is used to fry the chicken, but corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil are also frequently used. The flavor of olive oil is generally considered too strong to be used for traditional fried chicken, and its low smoke point makes it unsuitable for use.

There are three main techniques for frying chickens: pan frying, deep frying and broasting. Pan frying (or shallow frying) requires a frying pan of sturdy construction and a source of fat that does not fully immerse the chicken. The chicken pieces are prepared as above, then fried. Generally the fat is heated to a temperature hot enough to seal (without browning, at this point) the outside of the chicken pieces. Once the pieces have been added to the hot fat and sealed, the temperature is reduced. There is debate as to how often to turn the chicken pieces, with one camp arguing for often turning and even browning, and the other camp pushing for letting the pieces render skin side down and only turning when absolutely necessary. Once the chicken pieces are close to being done the temperature is raised and the pieces are browned to the desired color (some cooks add small amounts of butter at this point to enhance browning). The moisture from the chicken that sticks and browns on the bottom of the pan become the fonds required to make gravy. "Maryland Style Fried Chicken" is made when the pan of chicken pieces, and fat, is placed in the oven to cook, for a majority of the overall cooking time, basically "fried in the oven".

Deep frying requires a deep fryer or other device in which the chicken pieces can be completely submerged in hot fat. The pieces are floured as above or battered using a batter of flour and liquid (and seasonings) mixed together. The batter can/may contain ingredients like eggs, milk, and leavening. The fat is heated in the deep fryer to the desired temperature. The pieces are added to the fat and a constant temperature is maintained throughout the cooking process.
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