Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ho-Hos: A requiem

Forgive me while I reminisce a bit.

In 2000, my Alma Mater captured the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship behind smothering blue-collar defense and heady point-guard play.  To a guy who grew up in Lansing and shook Magic Johnson’s hand in the parade down Michigan Avenue in 1979, it was kind of a Big Deal.

The final two games were actually anti-climactic, a taffy-pull against Wisconsin and the eventual blowout championship against Florida. I watched them to say that I had watched them.  The real action had occurred the previous weekend against Iowa State in the Regional Final.

Let’s put aside for a moment what an intense and epic and game this was. Forget the lead changes and the defense and the opposing coach’s ejection and the alley-ooop dunk with a minute to go, and the realization that Michigan State would probably win it all… I remember this game because it was a television event at which a really…unfortunate tradition was born.

It was an early game I could not miss. I didn’t feel like cooking. I was hungry, my options were limited and I had like 10 minutes before the game to go out and grab something.  I’ll leave it at that.

Mercifully, my tastes have evolved a little bit.  And now, when MSU plays in a really, really big game on national television, I sometimes acknowledge the tradition and whip something up myself.  I figured a New Year’s Day Bowl Game counted.  So this was how I spent New Years afternoon.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has been a trusted friend for many years.  It is frequently a starting point for recipes I “should” know, or helps provide a rudimentary intellectual “theater of operations” for whatever mischief I intend.  Such is the case here.  I’ll cite the recipe below, but let me walk you through it with some caveats.

I’ll point out first that pan-fried chicken is straightforward.  You’re cutting up a chicken and then submerging those parts in milk for a while, then some spices, and a dredging in flour.  You then fry the chicken in a cast-iron skillet filled about 1/3 full of oil.

The first obvious problem with pan frying is heat control.  Too much heat is bad enough (You burn the flour, burn the oil, squeeze all the moisture out of the chicken and potentially burn your house down) but too little heat is even worse- soggy chicken.  The key, like always, is minimizing thermal fluctuation.

The second, and related, problem, has to do with the temperature of the bird immediately prior to frying.  If you fry the chicken when it’s too cold, you need to more time to reach the safe temperature of 165 and that is often long enough to turn that beautiful crust a nice shade of charred.

So you rest the chicken prior to the dredge.  And go one piece at a time.   Maybe two if they are small.

Pan-Fried Chicken (adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

1 3 pound “fryer” chicken, cut into breasts, thighs and drumsticks.  (I save the wings for later)
2 t salt
1 t paprika or pimenton
1 t garlic powder
1/2 cayenne pepper
oil for frying (2 cups will do for a 10 inch skillet)

You should use a 10-12 inch cast-iron skillet for this.  A thermometer capable of reading temperatures of 400+ is almost essential, and a splatter guard is also nice to have.

Place the chicken parts in a baking dish and cover with milk.  Set, covered in the refrigerator, for at least an hour.

Remove the chicken from the milk bath and place on a rack.  Sprinkle on the spices. When the chicken is barely cool to the touch, dredge the pieces in flour and tap off the excess.

Heat your oil to about 360 degrees. The oil should come up no more than 1/3 up the side of your skillet.

When the oil is hot, place one chicken breast into the pan.  The temperature will drop slightly, so you have to watch the heat carefully and adjust the stove if you need to.  For a large breast you will need about 9 minutes per side.  Smaller pieces may be done in 6-8.  Check each piece with a thermometer.

Once you remove the chicken, allow to drain on paper towels.  You’ll want to keep the pieces warm, too. One trick is to heat the oven to about 300, then turn it off.  The residual heat will be sufficient to keep the pieces warm.

Devour while your team gets mauled by Georgia.  Console yourself with the “Ho-Ho” portion of the meal, in this case played by a homemade brownie.

Anyway, I hope you all had a nice holiday.

5 thoughts on “Kentucky Fried Chicken and Ho-Hos: A requiem

  1. Cat – thank you, as always, for a very good laugh. That thing made my day.

    RWB – Thanks for the link, good news indeed. Life after 20 without bacon is hardly worth living.

    ps. check your email.

  2. um, ok. msu basketball, homemade fried chicken, and a giant brownie. this post officially has everything i need in life.