Get Oiled Up

Fink's Recipe Blog: Fry-Up

Fried food is bad for you. I feel like we need to put that disclaimer up right now. Things that go in oil and then come back out of that oil are, unsurprisingly, covered in that oil. Eating oily, fatty, greasy foods is not something you should do if, you know, you’re trying to be healthy. Picking up a chicken drumstick and shoving it in your face will not help you keep your blood pressure down or get rid of your high cholesterol, or give you a swole six-pack. This is bad for you food just dripping with bad for you stuff.

And it tastes so damn good. Inherently I know everything I wrote above, deep in my brainpan, and yet when I see a bit of fried food can I resist? Absolutely not. My face devours it like it’s a gelatinous cube latching onto a party of unsuspecting adventurers. Fried food is delicious and I struggle to not eat it. So, at the very least, if I’m gonna eat it I might as well make it as deliciously bad for me as I can.

I recently took pictures of a wry-up I made, which had a variety of components: fried chicken tenders, fried mushrooms, fried zucchini (well, okay, it was summer squash this time as the zucchini was out of stock at my grocery store, but they’re effectively the same thing), and fried onion petals. We’ll cover the basics of each of those in a bit, but before we get to that, let’s cover the basic process of brining, coating, and cooking our foods for the fry pot.

Brining Your Chicken

A key component for good fried chicken, whether bone-in or boneless, is to brine the meat first. I actually encourage brining your chicken whenever you’re cooking poultry, whether for a fry-up or a roast or what have you. You can use brining salt if you want (where the process gets its name), but I actually like to go a slightly different route. Instead of a “proper” brine in a salt solution, I brine my poultry with pickle juice. I like pickles, and I especially love Klaussen’s pickles (not an advertisement for them, I just personally really like the pickles), and once I have a jar of just the leftover pickle juice (which happens often as pickles don’t last long in my house) I like to use the juice for other purposes. Primarily, brining meat.

Brining with pickle juice isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Chick-Fil-A (who I will never eat and we will never have reviews of their food, by me, on this site) uses pickle juice in their brining before cooking their chicken. It’s a good process as it infuses the dilly, pickle flavor throughout the meat while also loosening the meat’s texture and letting it swell and retain more moisture. A good brine, especially with pickle flavor (in my mind) gives the chicken that perfect taste and texture.

My last fry-up I brined my chicken (a package of raw chicken tenders that I bought from the store and layers into a covered glass dish) in Klaussen’s juice along with some black pepper, Greek seasoning, garlic powder, and extra dill. This sat in my fridge, getting shaken up every 12 hours to really mix the flavors, for two days before I did the actually cooking.

The Perfect Dredge

Once your chicken is well brined, and your other items you’re going to cook (which we’ll cover separately) are sliced and ready to go, it’s time to get your dredge ready. Your dredge is the coating for your bird, the delicious flour mixture that will fry in the oil and get all crispy and cronchy. You’ll want to have a nice, big dish ready to hold your coating mixture and, I will advise you now, make sure to make more coating than you think you will need. I always find that I don’t make enough and end up having to whip up a quick extra batch to coat the rest of what I’m frying.

Don’t worry, though: if you have leftover dredge coating, we can use it.

For the dredge I go with a mixture of:

  • 4 parts flour (I use gluten free measure-for-measure, but if you don’t have dietary restrictions, standard all purpose flour works)
  • 1 part cornstarch (Asian countries use cornstarch instead of flour because it adds a nice, glassy crunch, so I mix it in to add some of that while still having the heft of flour)
  • 1 part cornmeal (it adds some texture and flavor I like)
  • 1 part panko bread crumbs (for even more texture and crunch, and yes I do use the gluten free version here, too)

You will also want to throw seasoning into the mix because, otherwise, your coating will turn out kind of bland. I tend to sprinkle in salt, black pepper, a bit of dry ranch seasoning (which I buy in bottles from the salad dressing aisle) and other random seasonings, to taste. And I do, in fact, dip a finger into the dry mix and taste it just to see. Often I have to add a touch more salt than I expect to get the coating to taste right.

Once you have the dredge ready, you will also want to get an egg wash together. I will use:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • An equal amount of milk to the egg fluid
  • A touch of dredge mix sprinkled in

Adding just a little bit of the dry mix to the egg wash before mixing helps to break up the egg a bit, allowing it to coat more evenly. Otherwise you can end up with long strands of egg guts that don’t want to break down.

Coating and Frying

Everything ready, it’s time to get your meats (and veggies) a-fryin’. Set up a large pan with about an inch and a half of oil. You will hear a number of people online sing the praises of one type of oil over another. If you want to go with something fancy, that’s your call. For me, I use generic, store-brand canola and it works just fine. You do want something that can hold up to the heat of frying and won’t break down into trans fats (so avoid olive oil, for example, which breaks down at low heat). Sure, trans fats are tasty, and make for very good frying, but they’re also exceptionally bad for you. So much worse than what we’re already doing.

With your oil set, heat it at medium-to-medium high heat. You want the stuff you put in to cook well, but not too fast. The higher the heat the more likely you are to end up with fried stuff that’s charred on the outside and raw in the middle. Heat is key, and if you find that your stuff is cooking too quickly, absolutely turn that burner down.

Set out your raw chicken (still in the brine), your flour mixture, and your egg wash. Now it’s time to coat. Take the chicken from the brine and put it in the dry dredge. Coat it, even sprinkling extra on the meat, before gently letting it shake off excess. Transfer to the egg wash and dip. You don’t need to wash off the dry coating, you’re just wetting it on the outside. Then take it back to the dry dredge and coat again. This double coat will put a thick layer on your chicken, allowing it to get an extra crunchy seal.

Once double-coated, throw your bird pieces into the hot oil. Bea careful, of course, so as not to splash the oil around. Let the chicken cook, floating in the oil, before taking it and flipping it over. You want to cook it until it’s a deep, golden brown on each side and it’s firm when gently pushed. This is a finger test I picked up at a steakhouse (although you can also, safely, use a spatula or other implement to do it). You can test temperature for your meat with a comparison to your own hand. Push the pad of muscle just below your thumb. On its own, loose, that muscle will be soft and that feel is “rare”. If you put your thumb and index finger together you add a little tension, and that meat will feel like “medium rare”. Middle-plus-thumb and the tension grows to “medium”. Ring-plus-thumb is “medium-well”. Pinky-plus-thumb is “well done”. Push your cooking meat, then compare it to the tension in the pad of your thumb and you can know, without a meat thermometer, about how cooked your meat really is.

Once cooked through, golden, and crispy, remove from the oil. Let it dry on a wire rack to lose any excess oil, and then serve when it’s at a good eating temperature.

Other Fryables

Of course, I didn’t just cook chicken; I also cooked up a bunch of veggies. Each of these I first threw into the brine mix just to lightly wet them. Then they went to the egg wash before going into the dredge. I didn’t double coat any of these, mind you, but I could have and it would have added an extra layer.

Of the three items I threw in – mushrooms, onions, and summer squash pretending it was zucchini – my favorites were the onions. I cut them into petals (cutting the ends off the bulb, then cutting that bulb in half before quartering and breaking apart the halves) before frying and they ended up with a lovely, crunchy texture and bright flavor. I find that mushrooms and zucchini are delicious when fried, but the veggies themselves have a lot of moisture and the fried versions become soggy quickly. Onions hold up, though, and the crunchiness lasts.

But then, the best way to avoid sogginess is to have a really big set of pans loaded with oil and fry everything at once. That, though, takes a skilled hand, a lot of pots, and strong concentration. If you don’t mind things getting slightly less crunchy over time, go at your own pace.

Other Sides to Serve With

For this meal I went with corn, fresh off the cob. I like corn with fry-ups because the bright, sweet flavor works as a solid compliment to the salty, crispy coating. Corn fresh off the cob is great as it retains that really bright, sweet flavor of fresh corn. I take the cobs and then run a knife down through the meat, cutting off all the kernels. Throw all of that in a pot, with butter and cajun seasoning (because there’s nothing better on corn, in my opinion, then a sprinkling of cajun flavor) and let it cook until hot. It’s that easy.

Mashed potatoes are also a great side for this meal (although I served potato salad from a store this time because I had leftovers to use up). For mashed potatoes, I’ll clean and wash the potatoes but I don’t cut the skins off. I know people like to do that because it makes the potatoes all pillowy and even, but I think the skins are tasty (and they have good vitamins in them). I cut the potatoes into inch-ish chunks, throw them in the water, and then boil until just this side of mashable. Drain the potatoes, mash them with butter and milk, and then throw in some seasoning. Salt and black pepper are great, of course, along with some dill if you like, and any other seasonings you want.

As for gravy for the potatoes, we should go with something in the realm of white, country gravy. I use milk (specifically Lactaid milk due to my wife’s dietary issues), which I’ll season (salt and black pepper are your friends) and then heat to a low simmer (just bubbling). Then I’ll slowly stir in some of the leftover dry dredge until the gravy thickens up to my desired goopiness. Plop potatoes on the plate, cover in gravy, and we’re good to go.

Tasty Dip

Finally, let’s make a tasty dip. Having worked at a steakhouse which served fried foods with a tasty horseradish sauce, that’s what we’re going to emulate here. You’ll want:

  • 4 parts mayo
  • 1 part horseradish
  • 1 liberal squirt of lemon juice
  • A shake of paprika
  • Other seasonings to taste

The steakhouse I was at of course served those big onions (call them Blooming Onions or Texas Tumbleweeds, or Texas Roses or whatever) and the sauce was almost exactly that mix above. Mayo, horseradish, with paprika for color. I add the lemon juice as I find the bright, sour tang compliments the sauce while also thinning it a little so it coats the dippables better. I also often add some more spicy to really kick the sauce up, but you don’t have to. Regardless, this sauce is great on fried foods and really brings the whole experience together

And with that, your fry-up dinner should be good to serve. Fry, plate, serve, and enjoy.