In the kitchen, it’s often the classics that elude us, as we search for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie, mac and cheese or, in the case of the Top Chef Canada chefs, fried chicken. For their latest Quickfire Challenge in Episode 6, the chefs were tasked with creating fried chicken with a twist. Seemingly straightforward, fried chicken can often fall flat on flavour and texture, turning out bland and greasy if not approached with a skilled hand. These chefs were in for a bigger challenge than they thought.
While a classic, buttermilk fried chicken recipe was presented by one of the chefs, the rest of the chefs chose to use their fried chicken and side as a blank canvas for big flavour. A seven-spice take on chicken and waffles garnered praise with its double-crunch factor from fried chicken skin (like a potato chip). And a Southern BBQ-style fried chicken plate brought the heat with a hot oil pour-over. But it was Chef Jinhee Lee’s nod to her mom’s fried chicken that reigned over the rest: an anchovy glazed fried chicken.
But don’t be intimidated by the chef’s impressive dishes. Fried chicken can be easy, crowd-pleasing and well worth the effort. Have a go at home in your own kitchen with these pro tips and recipes that will guarantee success.
Why You Should Marinade Your Chicken Before Frying
Not only will fried chicken be more flavourful when marinated, it will be juicier as well. Buttermilk is traditionally used for this as it’s slightly acidic and salty, which keeps the chicken moist and tender – even the white meat. If you don’t have buttermilk, plain yogurt, kefir, even pickle juice will produce a similar effect. Typically, you’ll want your chicken to marinade for at least a couple of hours, but the chefs didn’t have time for this in their 40-minute Quickfire Challenge.
This recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken is a brilliant example of what a slightly acidic, salty and tenderizing marinade can do for your homemade fried chicken.
How to Layer Flavour When Frying Chicken
A marinade is the best way to ensure a juicy outcome, but it’s also a great place to begin building flavour. Add a dry rub of your choice, like a Cajun or BBQ mix to the chicken before letting it hang out in the marinade. Or, skip a step and add your spice mix right in the marinade. The more flavour you impart at this point, the more dynamic the final result will be. One of the chefs built their chicken around a seven-spice blend, which created an exceptional result. Now is the time when you want to go big with spices and seasonings– chicken can take it and much of those tastes will dissipate in the heat.
This recipe is like a dill pickle chip in fried chicken form, infusing the marinade with dill pickle juice and a finishing salt with fresh dill. A three-layer process ensures a bold end result. Try the Fried Chicken with Dill Salt recipe and prepare to swoon.
You can even double-cook the chicken to make it extra flavoursome and crispy. In this recipe for Tyler Florence’s Fried Chicken, chicken is roasted with a range of fragrant herbs, then marinated in buttermilk, hot sauce and sugar and then finally, coated in an onion and garlic flour mix. After deep-frying, it gets sprinkled with flaky salt and spritzed with lemon.
Add Global Spice to Your Fried Chicken
While there’s nothing quite like a timeless Southern fried chicken recipe, the neutral protein can take just about any spice, herb or blend, so explore the range of spices and blends available to you. Just like roast chicken, grilled chicken, stewed chicken, curried chicken or chicken wings, fried chicken is a vehicle for Korean, Southwestern, Indian, Thai, Japanese, French, Scandinavian and North African tastes.
This fried chicken recipe for Confit Five-Spice Fried Chicken gathers inspiration from a few different Asian cuisines, pairing Chinese five-spice rubbed chicken with a Japanese tempura batter and Korean gochujang mayo for dipping, creating a dish that fires on all cylinders.
You can even take a note from your favourite take-out dishes for an original spin on fried chicken. This recipe from Helloflavour.ca is a mix of Chinese chicken fried rice and chicken balls, Japanese sushi and Italian arancini. Serve up your Fried Chicken Rice Balls with Creamy Plum Vinegar Ginger Sauce as a playful and decadent cocktail party appetizer when entertaining. Get the recipe from helloflavour.ca here.
Transform Fried Chicken with the Help of the Spice Cabinet
The chefs used the herb and spice pantry in the Top Chef Canada kitchen to help their fried chicken and sides stand out, and you can do the same. Open your spice cupboard and explore a range of add-ins to jazz up your fried chicken rub, marinade, flour and dip. Almost anything goes.
- Chili Powder or BBQ Spice Mix: Add zip to the rub, marinade and flour coating.
- Curry Powder: Infuse the flour coating for a gorgeous yellow tint and earthy taste.
- Harissa: Stir into the marinade and mix up with orange juice and honey for a sweet and spicy drizzle.
- Herbes de Provence: Mix into the flour coating for a hint of freshness.
- Lemon Pepper: Mix with flaky salt for a vibrant finishing touch.
- Ras El Hanout: Mix the North African spice blend into your rub and coating.
- Sriracha: Stir into mayo with lime juice for a fiery sauce.
- Sumac: Swirl into buttermilk with lemon juice before marinating.
- Za’atar: Add to your flour mix for a pop of flavour.
- Pesto: Stir into mayo and yogurt for an herby dip.
Tips for Deep-Frying Chicken at Home
Having everything laid out and ready to go (your mise en place) will not only make things run more smoothly when frying, but it’s also safer and cleaner.
Frying Vessel: If you don’t have a deep fryer, deep-fry in a Dutch oven, deep cast-iron skillet (traditional) or enamel-coated cast iron pot for the best heat control. Deeper pots will reduce splattering.
Thermometer: Keep a deep-frying or candy thermometer in the pot while frying to monitor the temperature. As the chicken goes in, the temperature drops, and you need that sweet spot temperature for crispy, juicy, never-greasy chicken.
Cooling Rack: Set a wire cooling rack over a large rimmed baking sheet and transfer your chicken there when it’s done frying. Chicken can be kept warm in a low oven as you work through the batch this way, and, it reduces a soggy underside, so every corner of the chicken is crispy.
Oil: Choose an oil with a very high smoke point – this is not the place for the fruity extra-virgin olive oil you make salad dressing with. Shortening, lard and peanut oil are the best oils to fry your chicken in and are relatively inexpensive for the large quantity needed.
Contrasting Flavours Make Fried Chicken Delicious
Every chef offered a contrasting side or sauce for their fried chicken dish. The apple, fennel and corn slaw, as well as the compressed cucumber salad, were well received by the Top Chef Canada judges. Something acidic, like lemon or pickles (as one of the contestants chose), helps to cut through the rich fried chicken for a balanced dish. You can achieve this by keeping it simple with a lemon wedge or sweet-and-sour pickle served on the side, or whip up a tangy sauce for dunking, which is yet another place to spice things up.
This recipe for Fried Chicken and Wild Rice Waffles with Pink Peppercorn Sauce speaks to the concept of contrasts perfectly, mixing sweet, heat and sour elements to tease out every ounce of flavour in your perfect fried chicken.
Or, add lemony zip and lightness to chicken in this simple, Italian-meets-Japanese recipe pairing tempura- and olive oil-fried chicken with sharp lemon juice.
Sponsored by McCormick. For more great recipes that spice up the classics, go to helloflavour.ca.