classic fried chicken

classic fried chicken

Last night was an absolute, spectacular dinner fail. Andrew got the summer plague – the kind that makes you achy all over and forces you to want to sleep most of the day, or at the very least just convalesce on the couch. We were hoping to make dinner at home, but the kitchen sent us a blunt do-not-attempt message –eventually we got it. We were elbows deep in the Season 2 of “The Wire”, and I was all, “What?! Ziggy?!! Really?!? Oh… no…” and “Will they kill him? What about him? She won’t end up well, now will she?”, and also, “What no, Bubs?!? Again???!? For serious?!!??” Andrew, who is watching the series for the second time, is very patient with my inquiries, and tells me nothing.

in a spicy and spiced buttermilk bath

But anyway – the dinner attempt. We had decided on sausages with spicy sautéed cabbage, along with a sampling (pastrami lox!!) of our new neighborhood gem (Peter Shelsky, its proprietor, told us all about his grandmother’s German Cherry Soup – yes please!). But our kitchen had other plans. The sausages, it seemed, sprung a leak from their case, leaving a rather funky, musty smell in their wake. Tofu was out of the question – we had just made it a few nights ago. Our poultry and meat were frozen solid. We had eggs that morning, so putting a fried egg on top of whatever we were eating was out. A salad didn’t feel substantial enough to be dinner. We had eaten pasta several times that week. And a lot of toast jam-or-avocado-or-other-stuff. The final, we-get-the-message moment was when I cut into the first-of-the-season heirloom tomato I’d picked up that morning at the greenmarket, hoping to make tomato sandwiches, and found a quarter sized black growth inside the tomato (not rot, mind you) – the likes of which I’ve never seen! Dear kitchen, message received, thank you.

So we picked up the phone and got some takeout, and it was delicious. I think it tasted better than average in light of the fact that our kitchen was busy staging an insurrection.


I take my kitchen failures in stride. Sometimes I’m off my game, distracted or under the weather; and sometimes the universe wants me to order take out and eat it straight out of the containers it comes in without bothering with dishes. When my wallet was stolen and I didn’t have any cash, I ate some baked beans straight out of a can and then, upon rummaging in my cupboards, made the most intensely spiced tomato soup, because nothing forces a kitchen revelation like necessity.

Kitchen successes are as glorious as kitchen failures are debilitating, and one can’t happen without the other. But it was only last week, in fact, that great things happened in our kitchen. There was peach, apricot and blueberry cobbler with a cornmeal crust; sweet, summer-kissed corn on the cob (hardly a cooking endeavor, but so glorious!); and fried chicken that both Russell and Andrew declared was the best they ever had.

In my chicken-frying experience (which is surprisingly ample, for this New England Russian) I’ve learned a thing or two about how to consistently make good fried chicken. Technique matters here because the process ain’t exactly rocket science.


In fact, while swapping ideas with Melissa Clark about various fried chicken practices, last week (we’re on the same chicken-frying schedule, apparently) we exchanged tips on our findings. Dark meat cooks better than white (but I suppose that’s a matter of opinion). Brown paper bags or plastic Ziploc containers provide better shaking environment than dredging your chicken in a bowl or in a plastic bag. When resting your cooked chicken on a baking rack, be sure to flip it after a few minutes, lest you wind up with a soggy chicken bottom. Soak your chicken in buttermilk the night before – it really does make a difference. Add more salt than you think you’ll need, as the chicken, magically, tends to shed a lot of it in the process. Wear protective oven mitts in case the oil decides to sputter and burn you (have you ever had an oil burn? I don’t recommend them.)

And last, but not least, don’t count calories while biting into your freshly fried chicken. It’s a treat and it’s delicious – so live a little. And should all else fail, keep a can of baked beans on hand – just in case.

Classic Fried Chicken

A reader below asked a really great question – how to dispose of the leftover oil? Whatever you do, don’t pour the leftover oil (you’ll have quite a bit left) in your sink. You should pour it into a container and throw that out, or you could try taking it to a local restaurant that does some deep-frying and asking them if they wouldn’t mind recycling it along with their oil. I don’t see why they would turn you down (unless they have to pay for it or something) – but it is a better thing for the environment.

12 chicken parts (I used drumsticks and thighs)
1 quart buttermilk
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce, enough to slightly color the buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Peanut oil, for frying


1. Rinse the chicken parts and pat them dry. In a large bowl, stir together the buttermilk, onion, garlic, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and Tabasco. Submerge the chicken in the marinade, cover, and let rest in the refrigerator for overnight.

2. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature before cooking. In a bowl, mix the flour, the mustard powder, 2 teaspoons salt, cayenne pepper, and the remaining black pepper. Place a paper bag inside another paper bag (to prevent seepage; you may need several bags for this) and transfer the flour mixture into it. Shake each chicken piece, one by one, in the paper bag until completely coated and set on a dish. This is much better than dredging the chicken in the flour in a bowl, or in a Ziploc – somehow the structure of the paper bag allows for better shaking and, thus, coating. Alternatively, you can take one of the large, wider Ziploc plastic containers (or an empty cardboard cookie box from a bakery) and shake your chicken in those. Either works better than dredge in bowl or shaking in a Ziploc plastic bag.

3. In a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet with tall sides, heat the oil (it should come up to about 3-inches tall) until it reaches 350 degrees F. Gently slide a few pieces of chicken in the oil (to prevent an occasional splatter, I like to wear oven mitts while I hold tongs and slide my chicken in). Fry the chicken in the oil for 6 minutes, gently flip the chicken with tongs. Continue frying for another 6 minutes, then flip the chicken once more and fry until dark golden brown and the juices run clear when pricked with a fork, about another 5 for dark meat. White meat will cook faster so test it sooner, and flip earlier. You should slightly shorten the cooking time with each subsequent batch as the oil will get hotter and cook your chicken parts faster. Use your judgment here – if you see the chicken browning too fast, adjust the cooking time accordingly.

4. Place the chicken on a wire rack set over a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Allow the chicken to drain for 1 to 2 minutes, before flipping it over (otherwise, it collects the steam rising from the paper towels and makes a damp, soggy spot on your chicken pieces) then serve warm. Leftover fried chicken (if you have any) makes for a great following-day-picnic.

Serves 4 to 6.


  • Tessa

    Ah, love. This recipe just looks like a winner. And that first photo… I would take a bite out of my computer screen if I could.

    By the way – The Wire was one of the best TV shows I’ve ever watched! My boyfriend and I watched the entire series two years ago. Only bad thing about that show is that it has made me terrified of stepping foot inside Baltimore city limits.

  • merry jennifer

    Ever since I read Melissa’s blog post – or article, maybe – on the electric fryer that she got, and how she’s been using it outdoors, I’ve wanted to try a similar thing. I’ve only fried once (doughnuts), mostly because I was (a) scared, and (2) not thrilled with the smell left in the house. Frying outdoors seems like a revelation and something I can handle. I’d LOVE to try fried chicken. I think an investment in an electric fryer – for use outdoors only – may be the way to go.
    PS – Coming to NYC in October. We must meet up then.

  • Sara

    We never fried much growing up and I admit I’m kind of terrified of all that HOT oil. But I made spanish-style croquettes recently and lived to tell the tale and now I’m curious about chicken too. One thing, maybe you can answer–what to do with all that leftover cooking oil (though I’ve noticed, well, in my vast experience, that it does reduce a lot as you cook). Actually, two things; a good sub for peanut oil? Per pediatrician am supposed to avoid peanuts for my under 2-year-old.

  • Radish

    Sara – excellent question – I’ll add the disposal tip to the post, but in short, you’re supposed to pour it into a container and throw it out. Or you can take it to a local restaurant, which probably recycles it and disposes of it properly. As for a good substitute – I would try corn or vegetable oil, but not canola as it breaks down at high temperatures. Melissa Clark (whom I’ve linked to above) fried her in a mix of olive oil and duck fat (though the latter is harder to come by and is quite a bit more costly).

  • Radish

    Tessa – um, yeah, I’ve gone through Baltimore for work. It has some very sad areas, that’s for sure.

    Jennifer – let me know when. We’re away quite a bit in October: weddings, family things, etc., but I would love to see you!

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    We love The Wire as well! E watched it while he was sick too and I had to catch up. Took a bit of work, but it was well worth it.

    I saw Melissa’s duck fat fried chicken and chatted with her about that too. Even I wouldn’t have the will power to avoid a nibble of that or this incredible looking meal.

  • Nightmare Before Christmas Sassy

    […] classic fried chicken | Sassy Radish Soak your chicken in buttermilk the night before – it really does make a difference. Add more salt than you think you'll need, as the chicken, magically, tends to shed a lot of it in the process. […]

  • Tiro

    I hate it when you use the complicated American measurements instead of the straightforward metric ones, but I can live with that; I have a rather large sheet of paper with all the relevant tables on my fridge door. But I think it is downright irritating when you post Fahrenheit temperatures, which went out with queen Victoria, and do not translate them into centigrade. By the way, what is “kosher salt”? Is it something you buy from a church and how is it different?

  • Ruth

    Great recipe – and The Wire? I have no words for how much my hubs and I enjoyed watching it! If there were 12 more series I would watch them all!

  • Radish

    Tiro – I try to use metric as much as possible, this is not a type of a recipe where exact measurements are do-or-die. 350 degrees F = 176.7 degrees C (or so). Kosher salt – is something that is used to make meat kosher (it wouldn’t apply to church, or synagogue for that matter) – wikipedia has a great explanation for it:, but in short, it’s salt without any additives that leaves a clean, salty taste. Chefs all around prefer to use it for that reason. You can, of course, use any salt you prefer, from table to the himalayan pink.

  • Gretchen @

    I gave my husband an electric fryer for Father’s Day (it is a “Cool Daddy” brand, how appropriate is that) and he’s been using it outside like Melissa Clark. I just finished reading “The Help” and now I’ve got fried chicken on the brain. So, I’ve got a fryer and a recipe, this will have to be tried soon.

  • heather @ chiknpastry

    I gotta say, being from the south and all, that nothing beats a perfectly fried chicken. had i not just made chicken mole last night, i’d highly consider buying another chicken and frying it tonight. but that just seems like too much chicken! maybe next week?

  • Mike

    I love fried chicken, but I save the oil. Let it cool, run it through a strainer into a large mason jar or something similar, cap, and back in the cabinet ready for the next frying. Kills me to waste that much oil.

  • Dixie Caviar

    I fried some okra today… may have to fry some chicken tomorrow. The oil is just hanging out in the pot waiting for another purpose. So not much is stopping me! Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  • Gretchen @

    I made this tonight for dinner and ended up using 1 cup all purpose, 1 cup buckwheat, and 1 cup whole wheat flour==it was great! (BTW, I did this out of necessity since I had only 1 cup of all purpose left. I don’t think adding whole grains really adds to the healthiness of fried chicken, but I thought I’d let you know that it worked in case you ever found yourself low on all purpose flour like me.)

  • Radish

    Gretchen – love the adaptation!! I will try multi-grain flour blend next time. I went with APF to make it easier on folks. I guess it’s a little healthier :) but I know what you mean – we are eating fried chicken, after all.

  • amelia

    ooooops. I have definitely poured my frying oil down the sink in the past. thanks so much for that information. will not do it again!! also: this chicken looks gorgeous.

  • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I bought a small deep fat fryer a couple of years ago for one reason and it was so that once a year I could indulge in fried chicken.

    Now I want some and think it’s time to bring that fryer out from wherever it is that I store it! I stick with similar basics like yours but have never added mustard powder; sounds great. Will do.

  • Maria

    I don’t know what I did wrong, but when I tried to make home-made fried chicken, the outside coating was completely done (almost burned) and the inside was still raw, even though the oil was, according to my thermometer, the right temperature. I was so horrified that I never tried it again!

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