I love fried chicken. I love the texture of the crust and the juiciness of the meat. I love the spice blend that my mother uses spiked with onion, garlic, paprika, and thyme. I wish there was a way to get the same crunchy, savory, deep-fried texture by “oven-frying”, or that by frying it in clean, organic oils makes it better.
Sorry: There is no way to “clean” fry a chicken. Sure, you may use cold-pressed oil and non-GMO flour, but consuming deep fried foods is still tricky business if you are managing hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease. Wheat flour is also very absorbent. When it is dunked into fat at a high heat, the fat synthesizes with the flour to create a crust that both adds and seals in fat. Plus, chicken skin is already very fatty, which is why fried chicken is both delicious and terrible. Oven-frying chicken requires less fat but it still relies on sealing in fat and it can be a challenge to get the satisfying mouth-feel of the real thing.
Luckily there is a cooking technique that renders a crispy, juicy piece of chicken without deep frying. In fact, it uses very little additional fat, and instead relies on drawing the fat out of the chicken skin with direct heat. This technique is called rendering – and when done right can significantly reduce the fat content of a piece of meat or meat skin. Think of a piece of raw bacon – when cooked slowly the fat is drawn away from the meat and you are left with a strip of crispy deliciousness.
I took a traditional pan roasted chicken recipe, added some spice and made a few tweaks – the result is a crispy, juicy piece of chicken. Eat with your hands and serve with lots of napkins and hot sauce if you like.
Crispy Skillet Chicken
Four to six chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
½ teaspoon each ground thyme, onion power, garlic powder, and paprika
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil
Make sure your kitchen is ventilated – it can get a bit smokey!
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. DO NOT RINSE. Place your chicken thighs skin side up on a large plate or in a casserole dish.
3. Mix all your spices and the salt together in a small bowl with your fingers. Sprinkle the spice mix evenly over the chicken pieces. Work the spices into the skin and on the undersides until they stick and look slightly moist (dry spices will scorch instead of toast.)
4. Heat the canola oil in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to high heat. Make sure that the oil covers the entire bottom of the pan. Only heat for about 2 minutes on an electric stove or 1 minute on a gas stove, or it will get too hot too fast. When the oil starts to shimmer but before it smokes, add the chicken pieces skin side down. Try not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium high. As Mrs. Sheila Ferguson said, the key to evenly fried chicken is to “stick and move, stick and move” – shift the pieces and rotate the pan every few minutes to make sure you cook evenly, but keep skin side down. Cook for 12 minutes. By now, the spices on the chicken are toasted and dark – do not be alarmed, they’re not burned.
5. Turn off the burner and immediately put the entire pan in the oven – chicken still skin side down. Cook in the oven for another 12-13 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and flip the chicken pieces over so they’re skin side up. Resist the urge to sample the chicken skin. Return immediately to the oven to cook for another 5 minutes so the underside can brown and the skin crisps.
7. Remove the sizzling pan from the oven. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and place skin side up on a platter lined with paper towels. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving with some hot sauce, greens and cornbread.
8. Kiss yourself.