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Southern Fried Chicken

Spring is here! The weather's nice, the water is calling, and it's time to start packing those picnic baskets and coolers. In the South, that means fried chicken.

No Southern outing is complete without cold fried chicken, just like no indoor gathering is complete without hot fried chicken. It's one of the essential dishes every cook needs to do well, and everyone has their own recipe and way of doing things. My Granny (great-grandmother), Momma (grandmother), and Mom fried their chicken in a cast iron skillet in at least an inch of Crisco, as God intended. They used a buttermilk wash with salt and pepper in the flour, and I grew up hearing "If you do it right, you don't need anything more than that".

They never had any complaints about their fried chicken--just the opposite--but that was back in the day before Popeye's, Church's, Chick-Fil-A, the corner gas station, and of course, KFC.

Like it or not, the Gold Standard for fried chicken is Colonel Sander's original recipe with it's eleven herbs and spices. It's the bar we're all judged against. The Colonel's secret recipe, invented to sell in his own gas station, is one of the most closely guarded brand secrets in the world. Thousands of attempts have been made to duplicate both his formula and his process and the tube channels are filled with videos of people purporting to tell you how to make perfect copycats of KFC. Some are very close. Some...not so much.

The arguments cover every step of the process. Do you brine or marinate the chicken? Pure salt brine, or salt plus several other spices? Buttermilk marinade, with or without spices? Plain water wash? Milk or buttermilk wash? Egg in the wash or not? Do you have to pressure fry it, or can you do it in a skillet? Can you do it in an air fryer? The answer to that last one is yes, you can air-fry a reasonably good KFC copy in about 20 minutes, depending on your air fryer. Just follow the recipe below, lightly spritz with oil and cook as usual for your air fryer, turning the pieces halfway through.

Now the bad news: you can't make a genuine KFC copy without a pressure fryer. Period. That means you'll either have to spend $800 and up for a commercial pressure fryer, or get a regular pressure cooker that can be set to 29 7/10 lbs of pressure. Why 29 7/10 lbs? Because that's what the Colonel himself said on the Tennessee Ernie Ford show when he made his chicken for Ford and Minnie Pearl years ago. This black-and-white video is on YouTube and is the place to start if you're serious about doing justice to the Colonel's recipe and process.

He uses a "milk and egg wash," hydrogenated vegetable oil at "a good 400 (degrees) or better", and cooks his chicken for 7 to 7 ½ minutes at "29 7/10 lbs of pressure." He doesn't mention any brining or marinade and also doesn't comment about how to dredge the chicken pieces. However, other sources have revealed that the Colonel always insisted on a 7-7-7 process for dredging: 7 turns in water to wash each piece, 7 pats to dry, then 7 full turns in the wash, and 7 full turns in the flour & spice mix.

Before you protest, it's worth noting that over the years since the Colonel sold the American franchise rights, the company has allegedly changed the original recipe and process to streamline it. If you really want to know, make friends with a current KFC worker and find out from them exactly what the current process is.

The 11 herbs and spices were supposedly leaked by a nephew of Claudia Sanders, the Colonel's second wife. He claimed the recipe was written on the back of Mrs. Sanders' will. He later walked his claim back, saying it "might" be the true recipe, but the general consensus is that it's decent, but not quite right. It is, however, what most people use when they claim they're making "KFC's secret recipe fried chicken."

The spice mix is as follows (added to two cups flour):

⅔ Ts salt

½ Ts thyme

½ Ts basil

⅓ Ts origino (sic)

1 Ts celery salt

1 Ts black pepper

1 Ts dried mustard

4 Ts paprika

2 Ts garlic salt

1 Ts ground ginger

3 Ts white pepper

A better ingredient list may be the following:

Fine Salt

Fine Ground Black Pepper

Coarse Ground Black Pepper

Cracked Black Pepper

Fine Ground White Pepper

Allspice / or / Summer Savoury

Ground Coriander

Ground Ginger

MSG

Rubbed Thyme

Ground Sage

Rubbed Marjoram

The exact proportions of the above aren't known, but we do know these are listed in descending order. This list is from the Glen and Friends Cooking YouTube video "The End The Final KFC Recipe Video." Glen did a series of 10 videos on his search for the true KFC recipe, and if you really want to know the history of the franchise, this is an excellent place to start. His ingredient list is from a friend whom he worked with years ago when Glen was a production assistant on several KFC commercials, and his friend's parents owned KFC restaurants in Canada, knew Colonel Sanders, and had the original recipe. Only the order of spices is given "because I still need to keep some secrets." MSG is listed as the "12th ingredient", even though it's not a spice. There are three different forms of black pepper, which agrees with many people who've said for years that the KFC "secret" is mostly pepper, but the white pepper is something that few people use regularly. I will tell you that adding white pepper to your spice mix adds a certain something that you didn't know you were missing before, but you will once you taste it.

Glen also tells the fascinating history of Pat Grace, a native of Ireland who was a friend of Colonel Sanders and operated a chain of KFC-like restaurants for several years. Glen's video has links to European spice companies that sell both concentrated spice mix and a ready-to-use flour+spice mix that is supposedly the original recipe. I haven't tried these, but if you're a true KFC fanatic, they might be worth a look.

All that being said, here's my own "secret recipe" for fried chicken. It's not KFC, but you may just like it better. I don't use a lot of salt, because my Cardiologist fusses at me if I do--feel free to add more to taste. I also don't use any MSG, because I'm a bit sensitive to it myself, and I know people who can't stand it. Sadly, Great Aunt Opel isn't one of them; otherwise, I'd use a pound and a half, just for her.

Colonel Dixie's secret chicken spice mix:

1 1/2 Ts Salt

1 Ts fine ground Black Pepper

1 Ts coarse ground Black Pepper

1 ½ Ts White Pepper

1 Ts Allspice

1 Ts Celery powder

1 Ts Garlic powder

½ Ts Ground Coriander

½ Ts Ground Ginger

½ Ts Rubbed Thyme

½ Ts Ground Sage

½ Ts Rubbed Majoram

If you make a lot of chicken, scale this recipe up, and store it in a sealed container in a dry place. It'll keep for several months, but it is better if the pepper is freshly ground.

Marinate a cut-up fryer for at least 2-3 hours (overnight is better) in 1 ½-2 cups buttermilk.

In a cast-iron chicken fryer (a deep skillet specifically designed for this purpose) preheat a high smoke-point oil like Crisco or peanut oil to 400 degrees.

Prepare your dredging station with two large glass bowls.

In the first bowl, mix 2 eggs with 2 cups whole milk.

In the second bowl, mix 2 cups flour with Colonel Dixie's secret chicken spice mix.

Rinse the marinated chicken well and pat dry.

For each piece of chicken, drench it in the milk and egg wash 7 times on each side (or count 14 flips). Don't be gentle--you want the wash to be pushed into every nook and cranny on every piece.

Transfer the chicken to the breading mix and repeat the 7 times (count 14 flips), working the breading into every nook and cranny.

Place in your preheated oil and cook for about 4-5 minutes, then flip and cook until the juices run clear or the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Transfer to a rack or a plate covered with paper towels to soak up the grease.

A word of warning: frying chicken is a fine art that requires time and practice. Don't expect your first piece to look pretty, and the next dozen won't be much better. Keep at it--you'll get there!

Now that you've got a good chicken spice mix, what else can you do with it? Lots of things! You can use this chicken recipe as-is in your air fryer--just spritz it with olive oil and cook according to the instructions that came with your air fryer. You can make oven-fried chicken by drizzling the breaded chicken with melted butter and baking at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until done.

If you want something healthier, lightly coat chicken breasts with oil, generously sprinkle with spice mix, pat into the meat, and bake at 450 degrees for 15-18 minutes or the internal temp is 165 degrees.

Finally, if you want to jazz up a roast chicken, try this:

Colonel Dixie's Craft Brew Chicken:

You'll need:

A roasting pan or other pan with a large rim to contain the juices and any spillage

A roasting chicken

A can of beer (we now have many fine Alabama craft beers available, pick the one you like best)

Olive oil or butter

Spice mix

Once you have your ingredients, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly wash and clean a large roaster.

Coat the outside of the chicken with olive oil or butter.

Coat the chicken with a generous amount of chicken spice mix, about ½-⅔ of the recipe above.

Pop the top on the beer and pour ½ into a glass, then set this aside.

Carefully add 1-2 Tbls of spice mix (or what you have left after coating the outside of the bird) to the beer. CAUTION: IT MAY FOAM LIKE CRAZY! Do this in the sink. You have been warned.

Put the chicken breast side up in your roasting pan.

Carefully turn the beer can on its side with the hole UP. Gently insert the beer can with the beer and spice mix inside into the chicken's rear opening until the can is about halfway inside the chicken.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound or until the breast temp is 165 degrees or the thigh temp is 170 degrees.

Drink the beer while the chicken is cooking.

Let chicken rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Some people prefer to impale the chicken and cook it standing up, but I've never had any luck doing this--the chicken invariably falls over and makes a big mess. As long as you take a little care putting the can into a chicken when it's lying down, you get the same benefit--moist, juicy, tasty chicken--without all the cursing when it falls over.

Yes, this chicken is safe for kids--the alcohol in the beer is long gone from the heat of the oven. I've never tried this with a dark beer or an IPA, so I can't recommend these. If you're a fan of these beers, it's worth a try.

There you have it--a chicken spice recipe that you can use, or use it as the starting point to create your own secret recipe. Don't plan on being the World's Greatest Chicken Fryer at first--being the World's Greatest Anything takes time and lots of practice. Take heart--after the first couple of batches, you can always eat your mistakes!

 

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