Friday, February 5, 2010

Fry Me to the Moon - Italy meets the Southern US in the Lightest, Brightest Fried Chicken

Confession. I've never made proper southern fried chicken before. I've set out to a thousand times, but then either lacked the time needed to marinate the chicken (a mandatory 24 hours in buttermilk) or geeked out at the last minute thinking of all those damn calories. But here's an even more shocking confession. I fry protein all the time. As in spitting hot oil and batter and yep - your dietician's worst nightmare.

The only difference is I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or lean pork and sub olive oil for the fat component. Don't ask me why - but those two changes make me feel extremely virtuous as if I cured polio or something. I mean, olive oil's healthy, right? And well...the meat I use is both white AND the evil skin's removed, so voila! It probably doesn't even count...

Besides, my version is so bright and piquant and zesty, well there's just no way it can be bad for you. I simply refuse to believe any differently, so please - sh.

Equally comforting but perhaps not as obvious a side dish for fried chicken is this cheesy, satisfying risotto - though I think the addition of cheddar cheese and sprinkle of chives make perfect sense with this. The risotto recipe will follow in a subsequent post.

Light and Bright Lemony Fried Chicken

Step 1 - Marinate Chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts of a nice thickness - anywhere between 1/2 and 1/3 inch (though this recipe will accommodate up to 3 large chicken breasts or 4 small)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Worcheshire
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the marinade ingredients - the lemon juice through the pepper - together well in a large sealable plastic bag. Add the chicken in, turning several times to coat well. Squeeze excess air out of the bag before sealing, then lay flat inside your refrigerator (so the chicken gets the full shock treatment of the marinade) for 2-4 hours. Any longer and you risk the acid 'cooking' the chicken breasts, making them tough.

Step 2 - Prepare Breading Stations:
A. Panko Breading Station
Combine the following in a wide, flat bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

2 1/4 cups panko
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayanne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried English mustard
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

B. Buttermilk Station
Add 1 cup Buttermilk (can sub regular milk and whisk in 2 eggs) to a wide, flat bowl or pie plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to use, whisking again right beforehand.

C. Flour Station
Cover a small baking sheet in aluminum foil (to help with cleanup.) Pour over 1 cup flour, scattering it well. Set aside (if it's going to be awhile, you can cover it with another sheet of aluminum to keep dust, etc. out of it.)

Step 3 - Breading:
Preheat oven to 325.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess then patting dry with paper towels.

Dredge them lightly through your flour to coat both sides, then gently dunk in the buttermilk, turning quickly to coat both sides. Shake off excess buttermilk, then press into your panko mixture, being sure to coat every bit thoroughly on both sides and including the edges. I like to do both sides a couple of times.

Place the breaded chicken on a clean plate or piece of aluminum foil while you heat up your oil.

Step 4 - Frying/Crisping in Oven:
Add 1/2 cup olive oil (doesn't need to be extra virgin) OR just the amount it takes to create a depth of 1/2 inch to a large, rimmed skillet. Bring over medium heat for a couple of minutes until hot but not smoking. You can test the oil by adding a tiny pinch of panko crumbs to it. If it bubbles and spits, it's ready (if it instantly turns deep brown, lower the heat slightly.) If nothing happens, wait another 30 seconds or so then repeat the test.

Carefully add the chicken to the oil, spacing well apart in the pan. The oil should only come up half way to the edge of the chicken breasts, not drown/cover them. Fry for about 2-3 minutes per side, just until golden brown. Remove to a baking sheet fitted with a baking rack and transfer to the oven for 8 minutes. (If you just put them on a flat surface, they will become soggy.) This will allow them to crisp up even further. Remove, quickly patting with paper towels to remove excess grease before serving. Scatter with chopped fresh chives.

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