Make it like they used to.
A few weekends ago, my cousin told me about a chicken her husband had recently rescued—more likely purloined—from the side of a busy road that it was, no doubt, trying to cross. This lovely hen, whom they welcomed into their family and christened Julia, lets herself in through the dog door and contentedly perches on the kitchen counter while my cousin washes dishes. She also likes to sit on her lap. And now that I know this, writing about the glories of battering and frying a poor pullet’s parts feels like an egregious act of fowl play. But put a platter of said parts in front of me, stylishly outfitted in golden-brown jackets, and I’ll be the first to reach for a piece.
A Texas staple, courtesy of westward-moving Southerners, fried chicken isn’t made at home much anymore, cast-iron skillets having been supplanted by cardboard buckets. Fast-food poultry isn’t half bad, but it’s nothing like what you can make yourself. And you’ll get the best flavor if you buy a quality chicken from a trusted source, a chicken whose days of perambulating the barnyard (or, more likely, your cousin’s backyard) aren’t too far gone, one not unlike the pasture-roaming, Bordeaux-drinking, symphony-attending $15 chicken who gave its life so we could bring you this recipe from The Homesick Texan’s Family Table.
1/2 cup white vinegar
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 jalapeños, halved lengthwise
1 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 cups cold water
1 3-to-4-pound chicken, cut into parts
In a large, nonreactive container, mix the first six ingredients, then stir in the water. Add the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 8 hours.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Lard, vegetable shortening, or vegetable oil, for frying
Stir together the dry ingredients, then taste and adjust the seasonings. Remove the chicken from the brine, dredge each piece in the flour until well coated, and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Allow to sit out for 1 hour.
Add lard to a large cast-iron skillet (enough to come to about 1/2 inch when melted) and heat over medium-high till it reaches 350 degrees. Working in batches, place a single layer of chicken in the oil, skin side down, turn the heat to medium, cover the skillet, and cook for
Remove the cover, gently turn over the chicken, and continue to cook, uncovered, for 10 more minutes. Stick an instant-read thermometer in the largest piece and check that it reads 165 degrees. If so, place the fried chicken on brown paper bags or a rack to drain. If not, continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Repeat for the remaining pieces, using the same oil. Allow to cool, then serve.
Adapted with permission from The Homesick Texan’s Family Table by Lisa Fain. Copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, LLC.