Y’all. When it comes to Southern comfort, fried chicken is king. And for paleo peeps, it’s so hard to turn down the old favorite. But we know better. And now we have it all: perfectly seasoned, juicy chicken in a crackling crisp coating that will satisfy all your fried chicken dreams.
It’s been a long journey to put this recipe together. But I think once you’ve made and tasted this most excellent version, it will be your go-to favorite. It started while I was watching a chefsteps.com video about their best fried chicken. Chefsteps is cuckoo for sous vide cooking. And rightfully so. Here’s the video to see what got my wheels turning. But a sous vide set up isn’t a common kitchen tool, and I wanted to find a way to make the idea accessible to all. Having the chicken already perfectly cooked and then frying the chicken for only a couple of minutes made sense for several reasons.
Now Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe in this month’s magazine for Lemon Chicken that uses the technique of sautéing the bird pieces until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp, then finishing the cooking in the oven. I made sure to cook the white meat only to 160 degrees F., and the dark parts to 170. Even though the chicken’s final fry is a mere minutes, I didn’t want the chicken to be overcooked. I also used two methods before the fry: one batch of chicken had just come out of the oven and I let it cool down on the counter for about 20 minutes, so it wouldn’t be screaming hot when I put it in the batter. The other batch I’d cooked the day before and refrigerated. I also put it out on the counter, in this case, so it would come up in temperature and not be stone cold. Both worked beautifully.
There’s no standing over three quarts of hot grease for upwards of 30 minutes per batch, and since healthy oils are not cheap, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on this homey dish. Because you’re only cooking the coating, you only need about a cup and a half of coconut oil (you could also use lard … ummm …. yum!) And it only takes 2-3 minutes per side to achieve crackly perfection.
So then onto the batter.
One of the drawbacks to paleo cooking can be using substitute ingredients for things like wheat flour. Alternative flours often taste like their origin: coconut and almond for example. And these flavors can be very welcome in certain preparations, but truthfully, fried chicken isn’t one of them. Enter the master geeks at America’s Test Kitchen. A few months ago they published a paleo cookbook, Paleo Perfected. There are 150 recipes, most of which are not new approaches to paleo dishes. Scrambled eggs with sausage and peppers, bison chili, pan-roasted chicken with zucchini and tomatoes … these are pretty basic and common. But the few recipes that address flour-based favorites, are what I wanted to explore. And the fried chicken batter delivers in spades.
The downside to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe is that they don’t use whole chicken parts. It’s a recipe for chicken fingers. And let’s face it. That’s okay for kids, but real deal fried chicken means bones and skin. By combining chefsteps idea of pre-cooking, and using Cook’s Illustrated’s sauté and roasting method, plus their paleo batter, I think I’ve got the fried chicken hat trick.
There is just a hint of almond flavor that pretty much disappears after the first couple of bites. And unlike other paleo coatings and batters I’ve tried, this one is actually crunchy. It was still crunchy at room temperature and I re-warmed a few pieces for lunch the next day and the crispiness was all there. Harris loved this chicken. His only comment was that it was too mild. So ramp up the black pepper and cayenne, and use your own favorite flavors … this recipe can take the heat.
I do hope you’ll give this recipe a try and let me know what you think.
So what Southern icon could be more complementary to fried chicken? Strawberry Shortcake. Here I used a reader-requested cupcake recipe in Bon Appétit from the California bakery, Mustache Baked Goods. It isn’t sugar heavy; the texture is perfect; the berries only need a kiss of honey; and the topping is either whipped coconut or heavy cream.
For a tangy, fresh contrast to the chicken, make my Sneaky Coleslaw. Then it’s picnic time!!
With this country meal, you’ve gotta have some country tunes. With the exception of Willie and Merle, the artists are new. I think you’ll like their tunes.