Is there any truth in the cliche that says successful execution of the simplest of dishes is the sign of a truly talented cook? I think it's possible. Especially when it comes to fried chicken. There are very few dishes that are as simple to make, but also very few dishes that are as difficult to make really well. I recently had an enlightening experience involving fried chicken, and I'm excited to tell you what I learned about this iconic dish.
First of all, at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago you can imagine that good old American fried chicken is not a recipe that we teach. As sad as that makes me, it's obviously understandable, seeing as how the library of classic French recipes is so unbelievably vast, and our students need to soak up as much of that as possible in their short time at our school. The reality of the situation, however, is that I'm certain that in my eight years of teaching there, only a very small handful of students have possessed the natural talent to turn out an exceptional batch of golden brown, crisp-skinned fried chicken (just because the recipe isn't in the curriculum doesn't mean I don't find a way to get my class to make it at some point).
To make what could become a very long story as short as possible, I'm going to give away what I think is the secret to the best fried chicken. We've already mentioned the need to keep it simple, but keeping it simple really refers to the ability to adhere to the rule of austerity, and stay away from the tendency to over-bread the pieces of chicken. That's right, it's as easy as that. If you can follow the simple formula of seasoning the chicken pieces, then dredging them lightly in robustly seasoned flour before frying in oil that is no hotter than 325?F, you will turn out something more delicious than most people will ever taste. Resist the urge to coat with batter; resist the urge to double dredge; resist the urge to use cornmeal; and, by all means, never three step bread the chicken, ending with a coating of breadcrumbs! That is not fried chicken. If you follow my advice, you'll discover that the magic of amazing fried chicken comes from the skin of the bird itself turning brown and cracklin' crisp. That's why it's so important to lightly dredge in flour only...that thin coating allows the skin to do what it is meant to, and you're left with a crunchy, crispy, juicy, perfectly simple, but perfectly executed fried chicken.