Picnic Fried Chicken
This make-ahead recipe comes from a book of such recipes from the editors at America's Test Kitchen. From meals you can make and freeze to "one grocery bag makes three dinners" — this book not only contains recipes, but strategies for getting dinner on the table on your schedule.
Why this recipe works
Fried chicken is always delicious hot out of the oil, but it usually turns soggy and unappealing as it sits. We wanted fried chicken that we could make ahead and grab right from the fridge for a last-minute meal. First, we brined the chicken to season it and keep it moist and juicy. A combination of Wondra flour (a low-protein, finely ground flour), baking powder, and cornstarch made for an ultralight, crispy coating that kept its crunch. Mixing some water into the coating to create clumps of dough, then dredging the chicken twice (with a water dip in between) created a thick, craggy crust that gave us even more crunch. Letting the coated chicken rest for at least 30 minutes hydrated the coating, preventing dry spots from getting soggy when they hit the oil. Double-frying the chicken with a brief rest in between let extra moisture evaporate from the skin, and storing it uncovered in the refrigerator further guarded against sogginess. Finally, since cold dulls flavors, extra seasonings were very important in this recipe — we liked a combination of thyme, sage, garlic powder, and cayenne.
You will need at least a 6-quart Dutch oven for this recipe.
1. Dissolve ¼ cup salt in 1 quart cold water in large container. Submerge chicken in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
2. Whisk flour and cornstarch together in large bowl. Transfer 1 cup flour mixture to shallow dish; set aside. Whisk 1 tablespoon pepper, white pepper, baking powder, thyme, sage, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne into remaining flour mixture. Add ¼ cup water to seasoned flour mixture. Rub flour mixture and water together with your fingers until water is evenly incorporated and mixture contains craggy bits of dough. Pour 2 cups cold water into medium bowl.
3. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Working with 2 pieces of chicken at a time, remove chicken from brine and dip in unseasoned flour mixture, pressing to adhere; dunk quickly in water, letting excess drip off; and dredge in seasoned flour mixture, pressing to adhere. Place chicken on prepared wire rack and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
4. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 2 inches deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Fry half of chicken until slightly golden and just beginning to crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325 degrees. (Chicken will not be cooked through at this point.) Return parcooked chicken to wire rack. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining raw chicken. Let each batch of chicken rest for 5 to 7 minutes.
5. Return oil to 350 degrees. Return first batch of chicken to oil and fry until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer chicken to clean wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken. Let chicken cool to room temperature and transfer to paper towel–lined plate.
6. Refrigerate chicken, uncovered, for up to 24 hours.
To Finish and Serve
7. Remove chicken from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Serve.