Southern-style fried chicken uses a breading style that is different than the usual European three-step-style. Meats are first brined in a flavorful liquid, usually with an acid component such as buttermilk, pickle brine, or citrus. The meat is then breaded in a blend of flour, spices, and usually a chemical levener such as baking powder. Whereas the European-style, flour-egg-crumb breading relies on the already crunchy breadcrumbs to form its crust, flour breading actually cooks to a crisp during the frying process. This results in the thin, flavorful, crunchy crusts that we expect from delicious fried chicken.
- Brine your chicken. Brines can be built from a variety of bases, but are usually a combination of flavorful aromatics, spices, and salt. Two classic brining liquids are herbed buttermilk and leftover pickle brine – both have acid and salt components to help season and tenderize the chicken meat.
- Prepare a simple breading mixture. At its simplest, this can simply be self-rising flour, or a mixture of AP flour and baking powder. Many recipes also call for additional salt and seasonings in the breading.
- Remove the meat from the brine and add it directly to the breading, shaking it to coat. The very wet meat will allow the breading mixture to stick well, creating the little crunchy bits that make the crispy crust even crispier.
- Allow the breading to hydrate before frying.
- Fry as directed – time and temperature will vary based on the size of pieces.