I can still remember clearly going to KFC (or Kentucky Fried Chicken as it was then) as a treat when I was a kid. These were the days before McDonalds arrived in Australia, when takeaway options tended to be the local fish and chip shop, the corner shop selling pies, sausage rolls and hamburgers (always served with a slice of beetroot), or shiny, glamorous, airconditioned KFC. We were all very impressed by the idea of the secret herbs and spices, imagining all sorts of exotic combinations, and loved the idea that everyone got their own little box of food. Times have certainly changed. But although KFC no longer holds any allure for me, every now and then I like the wickedness of southern fried chicken.
I found this recipe in the June 2004 copy of Everyday Food, a Martha Stewart food mag, that is sporadically available in Australia. The cover featured a very generous basket of chicken, and I bought it immediately (a really great example of how much impact a cover shot can have); that shot still sits on the recipe for this chicken on their website here. I adapted the recipe slightly, halving the quantities, and using only legs, as I feel that dark meat does not become dry or tough with the high heat of frying, in the way white meat can. I also used corn-fed chicken, which is very tender, but also explains why the flesh has a slightly yellow glow. The one trick to this recipe is keeping the oil at a good temperature. If you have a deep fry thermometer, you need it to be at about 180C. If you don't, just keep an eye on your chicken, you want it to sizzle, but not to brown too quickly or the outside will be burning before you cook through to the inside. I promise it is not hard if you watch it closely. You won't be surprised to hear that this chicken was wolfed down in my house.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
adapted from Everyday Food, June 2004
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
8 chicken legs
1 1/2 cups flour
4 cups vegetable oil
Combine buttermilk with 1/2 tbl salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne and the chicken. Refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Whisk flour with remaining salt and cayenne. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess.
Heat oil in a skillet until a pinch of flour sizzles when dropped in. Carefully add the chicken in batches. Do not drop in the oil (or the oil will splash back at you - ouch). Do not overcrowd the chicken as you will drop the temperature of the oil and instead of crispy chicken you will get oily soggy chicken. Cook 10 mins on each side, until golden brown.