Crunchy Fried Chicken Deanne
8 whole (uncut) chicken wings
1 tbsp kosher salt
1.5 cups buttermilk
1 cup flour
3 eggs with a few tbsp water
2 cups panko crumbs
2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground thyme
Whatever other spices you like, but don't go bonkers
24 ounces canola oil
1/4 cup bacon grease
Hot honey (optional)
1/2 cup honey
Red Pepper Flakes
1. Put tbsp kosher salt in a gallon size ziplock that does not leak. Don't get capital-Z Ziplocks because they are a disgrace and will definitely leak. Hefty brand freezer bags are excellent and do not leak or burst. Put saltbag in your backpack and ride your bike into work. (DO NOT ride an e-bike. I mean fuck-off with that.)
2. Stop at Whole Foods or some other non-awful store and get quality air-chilled wings, the kind that are not bloated or jacked up with steroids and cocaine and whatever else Purdue and Tyson give their birds. Better chicken tastes better, trust me. By the wings and some buttermilk and put it in your backpack. Wait-- I mean buy the wings.
3. Once you are at work, sneak into the kitchenette and mix the salt and 1.5 cups of buttermilk in your Hefty zipbag. Use a coffee mug to measure. Dissolve salt into buttermilk before adding wings. Add wings, pressing out air before sealing to ensure all are submerged in the buttermilk brine. Let sit about 4 to 8 hours.
NOTE: do this fast or you will seem like a weirdo. The IT guy Dave is a total jag and will make fun of you for something anyway, but don't give him a good reason to. I mean, who brines meat at work? Put your Hefty nonziplock into an opaque plastic grocery bag before returning to fridge so people just think it is a bag of normal-person stuff and not some perfectionist psycho's raw chicken that he just has to brine while at the office.
4. It's quitting time. Skedaddle.
5. FUCK, you forgot the chicken! Go back to the office and get it. I'm sorry, I should have reminded you,
6. Are you there yet? Good. Don't let Dave see you. Put it in your backpack but first make sure it is not leaking everywhere. You don't need to brine your copy of The End of History and the Last Man.
7. OK, you are home. Thank God.
8. Make a little breading station, or better yet a Breading Station, in your kitchen. Set out three plastic containers: in the first put flour, in the second eggs and 1 tbsp water, and in the third panko crumbs. Whip up egg and water combo. Mix spices into panko crumbs. I like to use medium-to-large size plastic containers with lids so I can shake chicken pieces to coat them without getting flour and crumbs everywhere. Preheat oven to 350 just in case.
9. Remove wings from brine, pausing to let excess drip off, then coat in flour.
10. Now dip it in the eggs, coating each wing.
11. Now shake them in the panko crumbs. Set on cutting board where they can all sit until you are ready to fry. (Add more flour and/or panko as needed.)
NOTE: if at any point in this process someone approaches the Breading Station shout "STEP AWAY FROM THE BREADING STATION." This is not a game.
13. Add chicken, 4 wings at a time.
14. Oh shit, we forgot 12!
12. Pour oil and big scoop of bacon grease into a 6 to 8 qt Dutch oven and heat to 375. Temp will drop when you add the wings but that is cool.
Ques.: "Hang on, where do I buy bacon grease?"
Ans.: You do not buy bacon grease, you earn it.
13. Add chicken, 4 wings at a time. (If they are tiny I guess you can add more, but I don't know, man. Maybe 4 whole wings each time no matter what.)
15. Cover and set timer for 5 minutes. Check heat a few times. You don't want the oil temp dipping too much below 325 or over spiking too much over 350. It's stressful, but I believe in you.
16. Remove lid after 5 minutes. Flip wings, set timer for 4 more minutes, but eyeball it. Remove when wings are a nice medium-brown color and crisp all over.
17. Check with instant read. Wings must be at least 175 to 180, erring on the hotter side. You do not want it at 165, since these are not breasts and the meat will be rubbery. Wings are better overcooked than undercooked. If it is under 175, then bake in oven at 350 for five-ish minutes. Better to finish perfectly-brown but undercooked fried chicken in the oven than in the oil since the breading will burn and lose flavor.
18. Serve, with optional hot honey sauce if that is your steez. For that, mix half cup honey, tsp red pepper flakes (or more, if you like), and a few tbsp (or more) of any hot sauce you like. Dip wings into it or drizzle over them. Your call. I can't hold your fucking hand on this one.
Why “Fried Chicken Deanne”?
Deanne was my mom. One of her favorite meals was Steak Diane, which my dad made frequently and, naturally, renamed Steak Deanne. This is a variant of her fried chicken recipe.
My Life Story:
In the mid-1980s the price of four spicy wings at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park, Illinois was about $2.75. I want to say it was exactly $2.76. Each Saturday I got $3 for my allowance, and on many, many Saturdays during my childhood I spent all but 24 cents of it at the Plaza KFC that very day. For the rest of the week, when my friends would meet at DJs Amoco or Kean (also a gas station) after school to buy candy and play video games, I'd have to stand and watch and go hungry since I already spent all of my money on chicken.
The Plaza KFC was 1.1 miles from my house. I usually walked there. There was another KFC closer to my house, only 0.39 miles away according to Google maps, but it was not as good so I went there less often. Quality-wise, it was the same. Clean, good service, a standard to above average KFC-- but they did not sell spicy fried chicken.
In that era of American history, if you wanted spicy fried chicken from a KFC, you had to go to a black neighborhood. Yes, I am sorry to inform you American prejudices were so dumb in the 1980s and 90s that KFC thought white people disliked spicy food and that black people disliked mild. At the time KFC had three different recipes for fried chicken: the Colonel's original recipe, extra-crispy, and spicy. In white neighborhoods, the options were the original recipe and extra-crispy, and in black neighborhoods original and spicy. (I ate at a lot of KFCs back then and the pattern held until well into the Clinon administration.) Extra-crispy was just OK. Spicy was a fast-food triumph.
And so I walked to the Plaza, which though it was not in a black neighborhood had a lot of black customers, and was thus bedighted by the KFC suits with a better menu. I remember one cold, windy, snowy day shortly before Christmas in 1986 or ‘87 or '88, walking down Western Avenue into a sustained northerly gust with flurries stinging my eyes, wondering "What am I doing? Why can't I just be satisfied with the place less than ten minutes away?" It is a question I still ask myself when I go too far or pay too much for slightly better food.
I have two origin myths for my fried chicken obsession:
Origin Myth One:
One fall day in 1980, give or take a year, when I came home from playing with my friends to find the house smelling wonderful. "Are we having bacon for dinner?" I asked. My mom said no, we are having fried chicken. She was frying it with bacon grease.
I was a very picky eater as a kid, and most nights were an emotional strain for me and my parents. I was afraid to try anything, afraid to disappoint them by not eating, and the anxiety became so great that it ensured I could not even try a bite of anything unfamiliar or that I previously disliked. On this night, though, I ate a whole wing. My dad was so pleased he gave me a quarter, which in 1980 was the price of a whole candy bar. (And in 1980, I could walk down the street to Percer-Henney, a pre-Walgreens/CVS independent pharmacy, and buy one all by myself.)
This was the only time my dad ever paid me to eat. He should have done so more often. The moral of Origin Myth One is that B.F. Skinner’s “spare the rod, spoil the child” adage works. From then on, I associated wings with my dad’s praise and cold hard cash. I became a fried chicken obsessive—no, a completist—thanks to being rewarded for simply eating dinner. To this day I first scan every menu I hold to see if the place serves fried chicken.
Origin Myth Two:
A friend told me last summer “You know, you can’t make fried chicken at home.” The poor bastard. Who so misled him? I make fried chicken all the time. When everything is going smooth, I make it once a week.
Myth Two is based on an incident that only may have happened, and that is this: by the time I was 11 or 12 my parents got so sick of me asking for wings that they taught me how to make them myself. I've told this one a thousand times and only recently I began to doubt it. Were they really so exasperated that they made me do it? Was I that young when my parents let me fill a Dutch oven with oil and fry wings? And, who cares? Well, I do because it is my life.
Whatever the case, fried chicken was one of the first things I learned how to cook. I honestly learned to fry it before I learned to bake it. Today, I am the only person I know who regularly fries chicken.
Myth Two is like how the Israelites had to envision a specific man named Adam, a specific woman named Eve, a tricky snake, and a bad decision to explain how they got where they were. Why do I make wings so often? To answer that I have imagined an exasperated mom showing a picky 12-year old where the bread crumbs were kept, how to whip eggs with a fork, and how to tell when the oil was hot enough (this was pre-instant read; you threw some crumbs in to see if they’d sizzle). I am not sure if it happened that way, but like historical Adam and Eve, we are dealing with truth and not facts.
I make many versions of fried chicken, and while this recipe is not the best in my arsenal, it is my sentimental favorite because it tastes very much like how she first made it that fall day in ’79, ’80, or ’81. She did not use panko crumbs, just regular bread crumbs (knowing her, probably homemade). She mixed the flour and the crumbs at once, not separately, and she shook the chicken in a brown paper bag, which was really messy. The texture was less crispy than this one. She did not serve it with honey.
But this is still close. I have made some improvements because, well, the student has become the master. I haven’t deviated too far, though. In my memory, replete with myths and flaws, this one is very, very close. I love it because it reminds me of her, whom I miss. It tastes like the first wing I ate, the one my dad rewarded me for eating, and I miss him too.
My mom would toss Ore-Ida crinkle cut French fries into the Dutch oven after cooking the chicken. When they were done she would scoop up some of the breading that fell off the chicken and mix them with the fries, and some of the breading would stick to some of the fries, and when the fries were gone me and my brother would pick the crumbs out of the bottom of this green bowl—a green ceramic bowl with a series of circles forming ribs on the side—that she always served the fries in, and it all tasted so, so good…