If there’s a standard recipe for fried chicken, this is it. Lang says that many Southern cooks use a buttermilk brine because the acid in the liquid breaks down the meat, making it tangy and juicy. The traditional prep also includes coating the chicken with all-purpose flour, salt and pepper by shaking it all together in a brown paper bag. This is the quintessential picnic food you can eat hot or cold. Add a side of grandma’s potato salad and an icy cold beer and you’re all set.
KFC doesn’t only describe chicken created by the Kentucky colonel who made millions with his “secret recipe.” Try Korean fried chicken, which is seasoned with salt and pepper and, sometimes, double-fried, resulting in a paper-thin crust. After it’s fried, the chicken is lightly painted with a gochugaru—coarsely ground Korean chili flakes—sauce and served with pickled radishes and beer.
It’s a Southern tradition to drop your coated chicken parts into a cast-iron skillet, but according to Lang, deep-frying chicken allows cooks to control the temperature of the oil and avoid burning the skin. While chicken pieces bobbing in a deep vat of bubbling oil might leave vegans shivering in their pleather boots, this method turns out a crispy, crackly crust bursting with flavor in each crunchy bite. Get the napkins ready.
Chicken Kara-Age (Kar-ah-Ah-ga)
More like nuggets than drumsticks, this Japanese version calls for bathing the bird in sake, soy sauce, scallion and ginger before it’s rolled in a flour/cornstarch mixture. Fried in the same manner as tempura, the nuggets are usually served with a soy dipping sauce and a wedge of lemon or lime.
A philanderer and a vengeful girlfriend— that’s the beginning of the story—the end resulted in a food phenomenon that became Nashville’s famous dish. This chicken’s fiery spirit comes from a spicy buttermilk brine, double-frying and a slather of cayenne pepper and hot sauce paste. Then, the pieces are laid on plain white bread (to soak up all that blazing goodness) and garnished with sliced pickles. And the best part? Nowadays, you don’t have to travel to Nashville for hot chicken, you’ll find it on restaurant menus from New York—like HotHouse in Brooklyn—to San Diego, where StreetCar Merchants serves it in traditional Nashville fashion.
Ok, so technically, it’s not fried, but it is healthier. Sans oil, this chicken’s crunch usually comes from dredging it in crushed corn flakes, panko bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or potato chips and baking it in a fairly hot oven. Keep it healthy and serve it with a mess of collard greens.
THE SIDES: You can always opt for mashed potatoes and buttermilk gravy alongside that crispy chicken, but why limit yourself? Rebecca Lang’s newest cookbook, “The Southern Vegetable Book,” focuses on an array of veggies—from asparagus to zucchini—to complete the meal. Looking for beer pairings for the Southern spread? We’ve got you.