There's a reason there are so many "oven-fried" or baked recipes out there for favorites that are traditionally deep fried (chicken, onion rings, french fries and fish all come to mind immediately). Actually, I think there are probably two reasons. Obviously, it's usually healthier to bake something than it is to fry it. But more importantly (at least for me), frying at home can be a giant pain. Most recipes call for a huge amount of oil, which is not only intimidating, but also a giant mess to clean up afterwards. It's not exactly cheap either, especially if you're going to use peanut oil, which is one of my favorites for frying. Sometimes those oven-fried substitutes come close to replicating the real thing, but often they just leave you wishing you'd splurged and gone for it instead.
In my continuing quest to find new ways to use up the chicken thighs in our freezer, I came across this recipe for easier fried chicken. My immediate thought? I'm sure it's great, but I'm not motivated enough to deal with the clean-up of multiple quarts of oil. When I stopped and took a second to read the recipe however, I discovered it actually called for a small amount of oil relative to every other fried recipe I've made - less than 2 cups! The chicken was soaked in buttermilk and dredged in a seasoned flour mixture before being quickly fried in this small amount of oil just to develop a golden brown crust. Instead of trying to cook the chicken through in the oil, it was removed to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet and finished in a hot oven. I was sold - this method had to be tested.
The verdict? We were completely blown away, the chicken was better than either of us imagined it would be! We haven't stopped talking about it since I made it. The crust was extra crispy and super flavorful, and the chicken was really juicy. I hate when you have a coating or rub on a piece of meat and the outside is flavorful, but the inside is sort of blah, so I was extremely pleased that wasn't the case here - the chicken had absorbed so much flavor, it was delicious. The method for making it was as simple as promised too. I loved that I could finish it in the oven instead of cooking it through in the oil, which sometimes leads to burning the outside before the inside can finish cooking. This recipe was a winner all around, a definite repeat here. The fact that it allowed me to finally use that last package of chicken thighs was an added bonus :)
Easier Buttermilk Fried Chicken
from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2012
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon pepper
dash hot sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 1/2 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (legs, thighs or breasts)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups peanut (or vegetable) oil, for frying
In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the buttermilk, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the hot sauce, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add the chicken, turning to coat both sides with the buttermilk mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours (mine soaked for about 4 hours).
Preheat oven to 400 F. Set a wire rack inside of a rimmed baking sheet. Add the oil to an 11-inch straight-sided saute pan (or Dutch oven) and set the pan over medium-high heat. Heat the oil to 375 F.
Meanwhile, in a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, remaining 2 teaspoons pepper, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, remaining 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, remaining 3/4 teaspoon paprika, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Add the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk and, with your fingers, work it into the flour mixture until small clumps form. Working with 1 piece of chicken at a time, dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, pressing to ensure a thick, even coating. Transfer the coated chicken to a large plate, skin side up.
Once the oil has reached temperature, add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin side down (a few at a time so you don't drop the oil temperature too drastically). Cook on the first side until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, then gently flip and continue cooking on the second side until golden, about another 2-3 minutes (the crust will darken slightly in the oven while it cooks so no worries if it's not as brown as you'd like at this point). Transfer the chicken to the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken, allowing the temperature to climb back to 375 F if necessary.
Bake the chicken for 15-20 minutes, or until breasts register 160 F and thighs/legs 175 F on an instant-read thermometer. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.