I was feeling a little faint from my recent little bit of calorie counting and it’s at that point I realised I was in danger of purchasing fast food. Now most of us live near at least one purveyor of such edibles but in south London, the choice is very wide, 24/7. This was an emergency – so I made what I thought was on balance a good decision; namely, I knew I was going to cave, but at least I thought if I made it myself, I could mitigate the harm both in terms of what I was swallowing (and who hasn’t done damage control there I ask you?) – and to my reputation in terms of being seen in curlers and Brenda’s stained bed jacket. Long story. Not a good week.
When you factor in the improved quality and taste – not to mention the cost advantage – it’s well worth a go, particularly once you’ve done it a few times and are “set up” for it. Be warned though, you may find it so addictively good that you regularly exceed the Government’s recommended limits on consumption of “the good stuff”……..
4 chicken breasts – each cut into two, 4 thighs, 4 drumsticks - I had this number as I’d just cut up 2 chickens to use the carcass for stock. This quantity should easily feed around six people.
600ml (around a pint) of buttermilk. I couldn’t get this on the day, so I used sour cream – or could have used creme fraiche or even yoghurt, let down with a bit of water to make it a bit more liquid.
1 onion – finely diced or sliced. You could easily cheat here and use a dessertspoon or so of onion powder. In fact it would probably be better.
1 or 2 cloves garlic – crushed (or, as per the onion above, about a tsp of garlic powder)
Hot chilli sauce – like Tabasco or Encona
About 100g self raising flour – but you can get away with plain if that’s all you have – although half a tsp baking powder added in that case, would be nice.
2 medium eggs (or one extra large one)
splash of milk
good couple of big pinches of salt
around 1 1/2 litres cooking oil – veg, sunflower, peanut, canola etc – your choice.
(FOR THE SEASONING/SPICE MIX)
2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 tsp paprika (I used half in half hot- and smoked-)
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
Ideally, if you have time and the power to predict 24 hours in advance when you will have a craving, please do feel free to “brine” your chicken pieces overnight. The acid in the dairy tenderises the meat, helps keep it juicy after frying and really works the wondrous spicy flavourings well into the chicken. Because, also, the buttermilk both provides flavour itself to your crispy coating and a means by which your spice mix can stick to the chicken pieces, it’s absolutely fine to do this stage immediately before cooking. The chicken Brenda and I used for the video, had been marinating for 2 days. It’s up to you.
So, in a medium to large size bowl, pop in your chicken pieces, buttermilk, onion and garlic (slice, dice, or powder – up to you), salt and loads of hot pepper sauce – maybe a third or half a small bottle (I’d say around 50-75ml) It may seem excessive but don’t forget the vast majority will be drained off the chicken pieces. It’s messy, but massage in thoroughly with clean hands and leave while you carry out some of the next stages if you’re cooking immediately – otherwise cover with cling and refrigerate over night.
If expecting to accompany your chicken with some fries (or chips, to us Brits), now might be an idea to make them. By the way a good tip for those is keeping them in submerged in water (even better if it’s from a just-boiled kettle) with some salt and sugar added – stops them going brown before you’re ready to fry them, draws out some of the water which makes them fry to a crispier state – and if you’ve used boiling water, pre-softens them a bit before frying. Pat dry on kitchen paper before doing so. Or just use frozen bought ones.
The question of accompaniments aside, now is definitely the time to get your dish of flour ready and make your spicy seasoning mix. If you don’t mind cooking your own “fast food” and enjoy the results (at least more than the offerings from whichever vendors you have previously sourced), to streamline this stage in future, you can always make up a big batch so you have spare mix pre made.. Should last OK for up to 6 months if stored in a cool, dark place in a sealed jar. It’s Ok to simply mix up all the seasoning ingredients as they are and voila – but I wanted to make sure that the mix ingredients could incorporate thoroughly together/with the flour and stick super-well to the chicken pieces so I put the salt (Maldon sea salt crystals are quite big), cracked pepper, oregano and thyme into my spice grinder and whizzed to a fine powder. A mortar and pestle would do this too.The paprika, cayenne and garlic are already finely ground so even if, like me, you’re wanting a nice even powdery blend, these can be used as they are.
The quantities listed above are about right for the stated amount of chicken so just put the spice mix in a bowl or small oven tray ready for use and, in another dish, beat the egg(s) with a splash of milk, a few more dashes of hot chilli sauce and a few pinches more or garlic powder.
Now put the oil on to heat up on the hob, in a big spacious pot which should ideally allow the 1 1/2 litres of oil to come up to around a third – but definitely not more than half – full. While this is heating up,take the chicken pieces out of their creamy bath and allow to drain on a wire rack. Even on a high flame, it may take up to ten minutes to get to temperature but, depending on the size of your chicken pieces, you may need to fry cooler for longer or hotter for a shorter time – this is both to avoid over-cooking the coating while under-cooking the chicken. Generally, 160C seems to provide a fairly moderate simmer, you definitely don’t want the oil smoking hot and burning everything, If no thermometer to hand, test after about 8 mins with a cube of bread which should just sizzle nicely and go golden brown in about a minute.
So, to get that finger-licking coating, first lightly sprinkle some of the seasoning mix all over the chicken pieces, then add the rest of it to the flour. Now thoroughly dredge the chicken pieces in the (seasoned) flour, then through the egg mix and then once again back through the flour. This will give you a fabulously crispy carapace to bite through! At this point, all that remains between you and that crunchy, spicy satisfaction is to fry the chicken off. You’ve got this far so do be patient and do therefore fry in batches as there’s no way you’ll be able to fit this much into even a big (4 litre) pot – so have the oven on low (like 60C) and a tray lined with kitchen paper so you can keep the completed batches warm. Lower each piece in carefully using tongs or a slotted spoon – I reckon 3 big pieces or 4-5 smaller pieces max. When the chicken goes in, make sure the flame is turned down to medium low as any higher and it goes too fast. You’re looking for a core temperature of 75C or, in the absence of a food probe, for the juices to run clear – test cut a piece when you think it’s ready and return if there’s any pink juice which comes out. Another helpful hint is that the pieces float to the top when they’re done and the sizzling sounds of the frying has become quite quiet.
PS, As well as making fries, I steamed and buttered a corn on the cob to serve!