Semi-classic fried chicken, half baked

by Terry B on June 4, 2014

In this take on classic fried chicken, buttermilk-soaked chicken thighs are heavily seasoned, fried briefly and finished in the oven. Recipe below.

classic fried chicken

The term “classic” can be freighted with wildly varying baggage, especially when attached to something as iconic as fried chicken. Largely seen as a Southern dish, it arrived there by way of Scotland. Many Scottish immigrants settled in the South, bringing the deep fried dish with them (fellow Europeans preferred to bake, roast or boil chicken).

According to The Urban Daily, “When African slaves who worked as cooks were brought to the country, they put their own spin on the dish using seasonings and spices not found in most Scottish dishes.” As with many classic dishes, generations of home cooks, chefs and fast food chains have put their own spin on fried chicken, making defining a single classic version impossible.

What’s impossible to miss is how fried chicken has been on a major upswing the past several years. Chicken shacks have been opening practically around the clock north of the Mason-Dixon Line, it seems, many helmed by well-pedigreed chefs. And they’ve been thriving. Our own efforts to explore the phenomenon here in Chicago have been thwarted by long lines and places running out of chicken every night.

We have sampled a couple of fried chicken sandwiches recently, a stellar one at Analogue and a so-so one on a stellar biscuit at… another place. But both left us hungry for the real thing, bone-in pieces of chicken that you pick up and bite into, gnawing away until you’re left with nothing but the bone.

So when I came across a couple of recipes for chicken that was fried for a bit, then baked, I was intrigued. See, another problem I have is that I have never deep fried anything. It’s quite likely I never will. I sauté stuff like it’s going out of style. I bread stuff on occasion before sautéing it. But deep frying just calls for so much hot fat—and for getting over a psychological hurdle that, for me, seems insurmountable.

I did make one leap of faith for this recipe. I bought vegetable shortening for the first time ever in my adult life. My mother cooked with it almost daily, and I occasionally did the grocery shopping for her, so I of course bought numerous cans of Crisco or some store brand in my youth. Finally seeking it out on purpose, I bought the smallest can possible, based on the fact that more than one source said it creates crispier chicken.

Not so sure my chicken delivered on the crispiness front, but it was delicious. The seven herbs and spices (well, one herb—thyme—and six spices) melded together into flavorful, savory goodness, without any one taking over. And perhaps because of the baking, perhaps because of the inherent juiciness of chicken thighs, it was wonderfully moist and tender. Just typing this, I’m ready for more right now. To me, that counts as a semi-classic.

Fried and Baked Chicken Thighs
Serves 4

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 1/2-pound each
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, divided
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, divided
1 teaspoon sweet paprika, divided
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening

Trim chicken thighs of excess fat and skin. In a large measuring cup, combine buttermilk and one half of the thyme, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well. Place the chicken thighs in a large, zippered plastic bag. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the chicken and seal the bag, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 2 hours, up to overnight, turning the bag a time or two.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and place a flat baking rack on it. In a large, straight-sided skillet, melt the vegetable shortening (creepy, I know) over medium-high heat. Combine the remaining spices (and the herb, thyme) in a ramekin. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess. Season chicken generously on both sides with spice mixture.

Combine flour, baking powder and any of the spice mixture you couldn’t bring yourself to put on the chicken in a shallow bowl. When the shortening is quite hot (it should be shimmering), dredge chicken pieces in flour, being careful to coat completely, and place in the skillet skin side down. Cook chicken, turning occasionally, until deep golden, 7 to 8 minutes.

Transfer to rack on baking sheet and bake until a quick-read thermometer registers 165ºF when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest on rack for about 5 minutes before serving. Chicken may also be served room temperature.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

John@Kitchen Riffs June 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

I usually pan-fry my chicken, which just means rather than remove the chicken from the frying pan after 7 or 8 minutes, I do the whole job in the frying pan. I always figure it’s healthier than deep fried chicken, although I think I’m rationalizing here. I like the baked method you describe — that has an awful lot of virtues. (I do thick hamburgers on the stove top the same way — sear on the stove, then put the whole frying pan in the oven the oven so the burgers finish their cooking). I do deep fry, but I have problems with it too. I’m thinking, however, of getting one of those outdoor deep fryers — similar to the ones people use to fry turkeys. I wouldn’t fry turkeys, but other things. Seems safer than in the house, plus you don’t have the odor (my real objection to frying). Although those things use tons more oil (or Crisco!). Really good recipe — thanks.

randi June 4, 2014 at 10:39 am

I’ve never made a good fried chicken for much of the same reason. The thought of it swimming in that fat but the reality is, it doesn’t absorb as much as you think if the temperature is correct. But more than that I don’t like the lingering smell in the house. I’m thinking of getting a turkey fryer and doing that sort of thing outside. These sound divine!
Do you think that your chicken wasn’t as crispy as you’d like because it went from fryer to oven where the heat is lower?

sharon June 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm

two questions…
first, why baking powder, what’s it do? and do you ever use coconut oil?

Terry B June 5, 2014 at 10:18 am

John, I’m tempted to just fry mine the next time, especially since it’s finally warming up and I’m less interested in firing up the oven.

Randi, it’s interesting you asked that. I saw another recipe that involved starting in the oven and finishing by frying. That might indeed improve the crispness.

Sharon, the baking powder is there to puff up the flour a bit as it cooks, creating more of a crust, if you will. Regarding coconut oil, we’ve never used it. We’re happy with olive oil or, if I were using oil instead of shortening here, I would go with canola oil. I know there are many health claims for coconut oil, but according to WebMD, “The evidence that coconut oil is super-healthful is not convincing and these claims appear to be more testimonials than clinical evidence.”

angela@spinachtiger June 5, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I like this idea. I’m with you about deep frying. I recently found coconut oil that is tasteless, no coconut smell and I’m wondering how that might work instead of vegetable shortening. Funny, I’ve been in such a fried chicken mood lately.

Terry B June 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Angela, the coconut oil would probably work fine. It doesn’t have a tremendously high smoke point, but neither does shortening. Just give it time to get fairly hot before adding the chicken. That should give you a good crust and cause the chicken to absorb less oil.

[email protected] June 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

I totally concur about deep-frying not being as bad as its reputation, IF as Randi says you get the temp correct. I have quit pan-fying oysters for example and you simply MUST deep-fry falafel. Just be sure that oil is hot enough and don’t put too much in at once, it drops the temp.

Terry B June 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm

John, you’re absolutely right about getting the temp right and not overwhelming the oil with too much uncooked food at once. At least that’s what I hear from every source on deep frying. And who knows? I may give it a shot one day. Potatoes alone would be a good reason.

Chloe June 8, 2014 at 6:01 am

It’s not the kind of fried chicken I use to cook but I’ll give it a shot someday. This looks delicious though the picture looks like your burnt it? Is it normal?

Terry B June 8, 2014 at 10:08 am

Chloe, I think some of the deep color comes from the paprika and maybe the cayenne pepper. It wasn’t burned.

Chloe June 10, 2014 at 9:42 pm

Yes. I did your recipe the night after I posted my comment and yes, they are not burned. It’s just the color. You know my kids even want to learn to how cook fried chicken so what I did is just I showed them the Y8 game about cooking fried chicken: http://www.y8.com/games/crispy_fried_chicken
See? They love it and your recipe. Looking forward for your other posts.

Terry B June 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Thanks, Chloe! And what a fun way to get kids interested in cooking. Don’t forget to invite them into the kitchen when you’re cooking. They can take over simple, safe tasks and get involved.

[email protected] June 11, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Terry, when you get around to frying those potatoes, don’t forget to add a large dollop of duck fat to your cooking oil.

Dani H June 14, 2014 at 3:51 am

My mother ALWAYS used Crisco whether for frying or in pie crust. The one thing I have deep fried are her mashed potato donuts, but I used a smaller pot than she did and only fried three at a time. (I’ve been known to start pan fires with less than an inch of oil.)

I have been craving some really good fried chicken and this recipe sounds delicious ~ I like your idea of oven first, then frying to make it really crispy.

Terry B June 15, 2014 at 9:16 pm

John, we love potatoes fried (or roasted!) in duck fat.

Dani, with it being fairly hot where you are, I might suggest skipping the oven portion and just frying the chicken as John does. You could still use the buttermilk marinade and all the spices. I think you would like it.

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