Like many ‘Hounds, I love Fried Chicken. Unlike more than a few, though, I’m partial to the Colonel. Always have been, even as a little kid. So much so, that when all my friends headed to the local Supermarket or Movie Theatre to get their first jobs in High School as boxboys or ushers, I went to our local franchisee, lied about my age, and put on the white apron. To this day I still love the stuff, Original Recipe™ or Extra Crispy™.
I can’t comment about what goes into the Original Recipe, because I don’t know. The flour came already pre-mixed in 25 pound bags. I sneezed a lot whenever I was breading with the stuff, so I guess there was an awful lot of pepper, both black and white, in it. All I know for sure is you’ll never be able to make it at home because of those crazy pressure-fryers, which aren’t the same as a home pressure-cooker (which will likely explode if you try high temperature pressure frying in it). I’ve tried a lot of the copycat flour-spice mixes and while a lot of them came close, none are quite right.
The Extra Crispy is another story. There’s no mystery to it. But these days all the rage seems to be these really elaborate recipes that involve 24 hour buttermilk brines and herb mixes in the flour and frying more herbs in the oil and air drying both before and after breading…. Please.
But I’ve been seduced by all that as well. I’ve tried all this stuff and to me, it takes the focus away from the bird. I keep getting crusts that are too thick, or too dark, or crack off the bird in huge sheets, or are like a rock to bite through. Cook’s Illustrated keeps saying they want a bird that isn’t merely crispy but is actually crunchy. I want the opposite. I like a light, thin, crispy crust that is light to medium golden colored, not dark brown. And unlike those who wax rhapsodic about pan-fried chicken, I don’t want all those deep-mahogany crunchy burned bits. I want it evenly colored all-around with very moist, juicy, flavorful, "chickeny" meat the focus.
So now that I’ve disqualified myself from the Fried Chicken Gourmet division (and probably lost most of you who hail from the South – sorry, Hunt, no disrespect intended), here’s what I remember about how we did it at KFC in my youth. Obviously, there are differences from franchisee to franchisee, and from region to region, and things may have changed in the ensuing 35 years, but I just tried to replicate this as closely as I could at home and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to my ideal.
1) The Brining. As I recall, we brined the chicken overnight in an air-agitated bin, using a mix that really resembled Lawry’s Seasoned salt. This could get expensive if you do it at home, but I make my own at home in 50 pound batches using the recipe you can find at the copycat websites, slightly tweaked to my own specs. Use about ¼ cup mix to 1 cup of water and you can brine for as little as ½ hour. With a weaker brine you can go overnight if you wish. You could also just use plain salt or salt plus a little sugar.
2) The Wash. It was different than the wash for the Original Recipe, which was clearly both egg and milk, as that was yellow. For Crispy, it was translucent white, which leads me to believe it was simply a very weak milk wash. (Both came from powdered mixes.) At home I use about ½ to ¼ milk to water. Doesn’t really matter much. One of the things I found was a very thick wash full of eggs and herbs and other stuff will cause your chicken to brown too much due to the milk sugars.
3) The Flour. We used plain, unseasoned Gold Medal All Purpose. I use the same at home.
4) The Breading Process. Double-Dipped and Breaded at KFC. I don’t need that much flour, so I only single dip at home. You can do this to your own taste. To shake off the flour and create all those little craggy bits everyone seems to like, we had special wire baskets at the store, but at home I use the famed As-Seen-on-TV Batter Pro™. It works. Note: To get that smooth even coating of flour over every piece, you need to use about ten times as much flour as will actually stick to the chicken. We had these huge bins we used to bread the chicken in. And after every single round of breading, we sifted the flour to get all the clumps and bits out and discarded them. This is exactly the opposite of what CI would have you do – they actually have you pour buttermilk into your flour to create more crunchy bits. If you like this, fine, but these hard little burned pellets are exactly what I’ve been trying to avoid.
5) To Sit or Not? At KFC, Not. At home, Not. Everyone says the breading will stick better if you let it sit. I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you let it sit, it turns into a gluey sheetrock substance that hardens and instantly ejects itself from the chicken once it firms up. Your experience may differ but I know from my time in the back of our franchise, it went straight from the flour into the fryer and the breading never flaked off the chicken.
6) Oil. At KFC, Shortening. At home, Veg oil. At KFC, 375F. At Home, 350F.
7) Time. 12 min. No more.
8) Holding. The KFC bible we had required the Crispy to be held in a warming cabinet for 20 minutes at 170F after it comes out of the fryer. Perhaps this is to allow it to finish cooking after such a short time in the fryer. I set my oven to 175F and held it for 20 minutes, and after this time it was still screeching hot inside and very juicy, and still quite crispy on the outside. I will experiment with fresh from the fryer next to see if the holding is really necessary.
So there you have it:
3) Into weak Water and Milk Wash
5) Into Plain Flour
6) Shake off excess Flour completely
7) Repeat 3-6 if desired
8) Into 350F deep fryer for 12 min
9) Hold 20 min in 175F oven
This won’t be for everyone, but if it sounds like your style, give it a try and let me know what you think. Some parts of the country have Extra Spicy Crispy, which obviously add Cayenne and other pepper (probably Black and White as well) to the flour, and other parts have Extra Tasty Crispy, which pretty clearly add a healthy dose of salt. But my goal was always to have really well-seasoned chicken as the primary focus. You can obviously tweak the breading to your own liking.