I make fried chicken for Thanksgiving every year. Kramer and I have hosted in our apartment for four years now, but for the past two (this year being the third), we’ve said “whatever” to turkey and have just gone for fried chicken. The first two years, I did a big turkey, and carving it really stressed me out. There were people standing right next to me, drinking, laughing, having a good time, and I was supposed to perfectly carve this giant bird and not screw it up. That’s too much pressure for me, especially for something that isn’t one of my favorite things. I mean, I like turkey just fine, but I don’t look forward to turkey. I never crave turkey. Good turkey is good, of course, but you know what’s always better? Fried chicken. Crispy, crunchy, perfectly seasoned fried chicken. So that’s what I’ve decided is my “thing” every year for Thanksgiving, and honestly, I’m never looking back. You’d think that making fried chicken for a crowd would be really hard, but it’s not, it just takes some planning and patience. Last year, I made fried chicken for over 20 people, which meant that I had a bowl of chicken and brine in my fridge that weighed over 50 pounds and had to be supported by a stack of books so that my refrigerator shelves wouldn’t break. See? Planning. And yeah, I had to start frying about two hours in advance, standing in the kitchen, waiting for the chicken to go from white and flour-dusted to golden brown and fully cooked, but that’s fine, because people go nuts for fried chicken and if you’re like me, watching people get excited about your food is the ultimate reward. I always make sure that there’s plenty of leftovers, too, because you need to be able to eat Thanksgiving Dinner Number Two the next day while you sit around in your sweatpants. Them’s the rules.
My fried chicken recipe is a mish-mash of Thomas Keller’s buttermilk fried chicken from Ad Hoc at Home, Martha Stewart’s fried chicken recipe, and a few things of my own that I’ve picked up along the way. I’m a little worried about what my friend Donny will say after he reads this fried chicken recipe, as he’s the fried chicken king of NYC, as far as I’m concerned, but I’m sure he has his own way of doing things. This is the method that I’ve found works best for frying chicken at home, and specifically, for a crowd. Initially, when I decided I was going to do a huge batch of fried chicken, my biggest concern was making sure it was crispy and hot enough by the time everyone actually sat down to eat. I was worried about letting the chicken cool, then heating it back up, but honestly, if you deep fry the chicken in three or four inches of oil, as suggested, there will be enough fat on the skin to almost double-fry the chicken again once it hits the oven. It’s crispy and delicious each time I do it. A lot of people also tell me that they’ve never deep-fried anything at home and that they’re scared to do it, but really, it’s easy! I think baking bread or something like that is way more involved than frying chicken, so if you can make cinnamon rolls, you can fry your own chicken at home, I promise. If you do make some fried chicken at home soon, I highly recommend serving it alongside some big ol’ biscuits and some gooey macaroni and cheese. This year, be daring, ditch the turkey, and go full-on fried chicken. Trust me.
Your brine ingredients (featuring honey from Nevis – thanks, Polly!).
Make your brine, then add your additional water and cool before adding your chicken.
Time to fry!
Crispy, crunchy, perfect.
- 1 medium-sized chicken, cut into pieces (or you can purchase a fryer chicken)
- 8 cups water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 2 lemons, quartered
- 1 head garlic, sliced in half
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme
- 1 liter vegetable oil
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- sea salt, for finishing
- First, cut your chicken into 8 pieces if you haven't already (i.e. two breasts slices in half, making four pieces, two thighs, two wings) and place in your brine container, be it a very large, sturdy sealable bag, a large bowl, or some kind of sealable container. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized pot, place 2 cups of water, ½ cup kosher salt, ¼ cup honey, 1 tablespoon peppercorns, 2 quartered lemons, 1 head sliced garlic, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the salt and honey are fully dissolved, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add in your remaining 6 cups of water. Place everything in the fridge or leave on the counter until it comes to room temperature (because you don't want to boil your chicken). You can also place some ice in the brine to cool it faster, if you like. Once the brine is FULLY COOLED (again, because you don't want to cook your chicken yet), pour it over the chicken and place in the fridge overnight, or for at least 3 hours.
- When the chicken is ready, rinse it and pat it as dry as you can. Pour about 3 or 4 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot and bring it up to 320 degrees F.
- In a shallow dish, like a pie tin, combine your flour, garlic powder, paprika, chile powder, salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Divide the flour mixture in half, and place the other half in another shallow dish or pie tin. Place your milk in a medium-sized bowl. Set up your dipping station, starting with one dish of the flour mixture, the milk, and the other dish of flour mixture.
- It's best to fry your chicken in this order: thighs, drumsticks, breasts, wings. Starting with the thighs, dip them in the flour, then the milk, then the flour again, shaking off any excess, then place them in the hot oil, making sure to adjust the temperature a bit after adding the chicken, as the temperature will drop once the thighs are added. Fry the thighs for 10-12 minutes, until a deep, golden brown. Remove them from the oil and place them on a cooling rack or paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the drumsticks, frying for 10 minutes or so, then fry the breasts for 10 minutes, until golden. Fry the wings for 8 minutes until (you guessed it) golden brown.
- If, at this point, you want to wait to serve your fried chicken, you can leave the chicken out at room temperature (assuming it's a reasonable temperature out - I wouldn't do this in the summer) on a cooling rack, so that air can travel under the fried chicken so it doesn't get soggy in one place, for up to 2 or 3 hours. When you're ready, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F, and place the chicken on a cooling rack fitted inside a baking sheet, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until hot and crispy. Obviously fried chicken is always at its best when served immediately, but this is the method I've used every year for Thanksgiving and it's worked pretty well!
- Before serving, lightly sprinkle your fried chicken with sea salt, like fleur de sel. Serve with hot sauce on the side.