There is probably no southern food so beloved or so misunderstood as southern fried chicken. Fried chicken has been a favorite for Sunday dinner in southern United States for as long as there has been a United States. In stories, fact and fiction, it was the food that housewives slaved over-an almost divine food served to guests and visiting preachers on steamy Sunday afternoons and carried along on picnics as a special treat.
Depending on the style and method of cooking, chicken can be crisp and crunchy on the outside and juicy and tender to the bone. It can be enjoyed with a soft and wonderful crust and meat tenderly steamed. Chicken can be dredged in flour and spices or dipped in a spicy batter and deep fried, or it may be oven fried with fine results.
All of these methods and others are true southern styles of frying chicken. After you have chosen the style of chicken you want to try from various recipes, you are ready to start.
Choosing a Good Chicken
The first step in frying chicken is buying a good fryer. Most of us don't have fresh fryers readily available as pioneer women did, but we have nice chickens available all plucked and wrapped at our grocers or butcher shop. Check the sell-by date. Choose the freshest. Avoid any package that is sticky, contains excessive liquid or has even a faint off-odor. Most chicken has been kept at freezing temperature and it is best to have a chicken that is not frozen twice. Avoid the frosty ones at the back of the coolers.
Most southern cooks prefer chicken with pale, almost white skin. Yellow skin seems best to others, but is shunned by some as supposedly having higher fat content. Color of the skin is more manipulated by growers through feed and processing techniques, however, and often is no real indication of the quality of the chicken.
Size is important too, so look for a fryer or boiler hen which weighs from 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds. Shy away from large roasting chickens. Any hen over 4 lbs. is too large and will be tough when fried. It is best to buy a chicken whole and cut it yourself than to buy a pre-cut fryer, because there is less handling and less assurance of getting the entire chicken. It's also easier to judge the weight of the hen.
Thawing, Storing and Cutting Chicken
Store the chicken in the back of the refrigerator for no more than two days if thawed. If frozen, the chicken should be allowed to thaw thoroughly while still wrapped. Submerge it in cold water, weigh it down and defrost for several hours, changing water often. Or thaw inside the refrigerator for eight hours.
Cut the chicken up into pieces. Cookbooks usually have illustrations showing how a chicken should be cut up for frying.
Choosing a Southern Recipe
Tips for Frying Chicken