Buttermilk Fried Chicken

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Recently at dinner my father instructed me, “tell your website readers that your dad says this is a good one.” Done, dad. This chicken is good—perfectly tender, well flavored, crunchy—just what one wants in fried chicken.

The secret? Buttermilk. Buttermilk is lightly acidic. Soaking the chicken overnight in buttermilk helps tenderize it, and the chicken stays tender when you fry it. It’s important to use a high smoke point oil when frying chicken (or anything else for that matter). We use rice bran oil orcanola oil, all of which have high smoke points. In other words, they can take being heated to the high temperature needed in frying without smoking or burning.

Many recipes call for frying chicken in a cast iron frying pan. Sometimes we use one of our trusty cast iron pans, and sometimes a hard anodized aluminum pan.

Cast iron tends to be quite heavy. It retains heat so well that if you have a problem and have to lower the heat rapidly, you won’t be able to do it.

Anodized aluminum can also take the heat without warping, but will be more responsive for heating and cooling. (I’ve started a kitchen fire with peanut oil in a cast iron skillet—not fun—if it ever happens to you, remove the pan from the heat element, and cover it quickly with a lid.)

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds of chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, wings, breasts), skin-on, bone-in
  • 2 cups buttermilk (can also use plain yogurt thinned with a little milk)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, tarragon) or a teaspoon each of the dried herbs.
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups canola oil, rice bran oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil or other high smoke-point oil

Method

1 Marinate chicken in buttermilk mixture: Mix the buttermilk, sliced onion, herbs, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl. Put the chicken pieces in the buttermilk mixture and coat completely. Marinate overnight (at least 8 hours).

2 Drain chicken, prepare bag with flour and seasonings: Place chicken pieces in a colander and let drain of excess buttermilk mixture. In a large paper or plastic (sturdy) bag, mix flour with garlic salt, onion salt, cayenne, salt and pepper.

3 Heat oil in thick-bottomed pan: Heat 2 cups of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum—something that can take the heat) on medium high heat until a pinch of flour starts to sizzle when dropped in the hot oil (but not so hot that the pan is smoking), about 350°F. Remember when working with hot oil, always have a pan lid close by.

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4 Coat chicken pieces with flour: Place chicken pieces in bag with flour mixture and shake until thoroughly coated.

5 Fry the chicken: Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the hot oil in the pan and fry on one side for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown, and then use tongs to turn the pieces over and fry for another 10-12 minutes, again until golden brown.

Be careful to keep the oil hot enough to fry the chicken, but not so high as it burns the chicken.

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6 Remove to rack to drain of excess oil: Use tongs to remove chicken from pan. Place on a rack over a cookie sheet or broiling pan for the excess oil to drain. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken

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Showing 4 of 84 Comments

  • Hazel

    Thank you, thanks you! This recipe looks fantastic! Many decades ago I found a buttermilk-fried-chicken recipe in a women’s magazine. Lost it, never found another I liked. I think this is much the same (except in 1960, no herbs or spices). I’m ready for my own fried chicken again, though I do love KFC. :-}

  • Jenny C

    I made this fried chicken Thursday night and everyone loved it. Followed the recipe to the T and it was just amazing. Paired this with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a salad. Elise, you have never disappointed me or my hungry family. Thank you yet again for another wonderful recipe. P.S. cold fried chicken the next day is just too good! I Look forward to making many more of your fabulous entrees. Thank you, Jenny

  • Susan

    Hi Elise! Question – can you estimate what the temperature of the cooking oil should be? And, should the dark meat be cooked a little longer than the breast meat? Thank you in advance for your time and attention to my inquiry :)

  • Danielle Caughey

    Could you do this with just bone in chicken breasts? My husband is not a fan of dark meat.

  • Ella

    Just watched ‘The Help’ last weekend and can’t wait to try this tonight! I have learned so much from this website, with all the info, pictures and comments from other viewers. You have helped make me a more confident and informed cook. Thank you.

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