Chick-Fil-A knockoff, because we are all out of fucks to give

So my lady and I were deciding on what to make for the coming week – which we have to do three days ahead of time if we want to get groceries delivered instead of navigating the hellscape that is a grocery store now – and came up with the idea of fried chicken. Because, really, healthy eating, now…psssh…whatever…

When we first moved down here, I used to make chicken and waffles occasionally for a Sunday night dinner. Now, I make a pretty damned good fried chicken, and a just fine waffle. Not a bad waffle, just nothing special about it. There’s just only so much you can do with a waffle; at a certain point, it’s just a very good waffle. Plus, the difference between not enough batter (where you get a sad burnt thin waffle with holes every third grate) and too much batter (where it flies out of the iron like lava from the Brady Bunch science fair project) is razor thin.

So, basically we decided that the waffle was essentially an excuse to have spicy chicken for breakfast, and ditched that part of the chicken and waffles equation.

Don’t believe that the chicken is the star of the show? Let me reenact how I think a couple conversations would go in this house:

Me: Honey, I just heard about this restaurant that makes the most amazing fried chicken, it’s just a 30 minute drive from here!

Very Happy Honey: Woohoo, do you prefer Google Maps or Waze?

And then…

Me: Honey, I just heard about this restaurant that makes the most amazing waffles, it’s just a 30 minute drive from here!

Not So Happy Honey: (throws a package of frozen Eggo’s at my head) What the fuck is wrong with you you never heard of a toaster oven why the hell do I even let you live here??

(That’s obviously unrealistic…we don’t have Eggo’s here)

Now I know what you’re thinking…frying food is a huge pain in the ass, loads of work, oil gets everywhere, and you might set yourself and/or your kitchen on fire.

The truth is, it’s not terribly difficult to fry food, but it is a bit of a pain to get everything set up, and you will probably have to use a few plates to prep and dry your chicken if you want to do it right. And, yes, there will be some oil that splatters, but if you use a big enough pot you can minimize the spray.

The one big issue is that, once you’re done, you’re going to have a big pot of oil that you can’t easily dispose of. Of course, where some see a problem, I see an opportunity…to fry a bunch of food! You’ll have a lot of leftovers, which granted won’t stay as crisp in the fridge, but that’s not going to matter to you, right?

I decided to make two different types of fried chicken: my normal Chick-Fil-A knockoff, and a Japanese style fried chicken called karaage. But, the karaage didn’t come out quite as well as I’d hoped, so we will spend zero more time discussing it.

(I should note that “my normal” is very closely adapted from J. Kenji-Lopez Alt’s recipe…and by very closely adapted I mean it really depends on what spices I have around that day)

I find my normal one works best with breast meat rather than thighs, probably more because the milder flavor of the breasts lets the spice and breading stand out more. And because I’m lazy, I just use breast tenderloins, which are more expensive but you don’t have to cut them up.

Typically these are best with a 24 hour marinade in buttermilk. However, here’s how this batch went:

Monday, 7:00 PM – Oh crap, forgot to put buttermilk on the shopping list.

Monday, 7:30 PM (following returning from Kroger, removing my mask, and washing my hands 35 times): Oh crap, the chicken is in the freezer.

Monday, 7:31 PM – Good thing we have a 3×2 inch empty pocket in the fridge, let’s just jam the chicken in there and hope for the best.

Tuesday, 7:30 AM – Chicken still isn’t thawed, good thing I vacuum packed it, stick that in a pot of water to get it the rest of the way.

Tuesday, 8:30 AM – Most all of it’s thawed, just give the icy parts a mild massage, say naughty things to it, oh yeah, your mom was a dirty little egg layer, who knows how many beaks she had in there…

Tuesday, 8:40 AM – Not weird at all, but they’re thawed.

Once you have your slutty breast tenders thawed, you’re going to stick them in a bag with some buttermilk and an array of spices. This time I used salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, smoked paprika, and onion powder. Garlic powder would have been better, but I’m not about to challenge the supermarket coronazombies to get a slightly tastier chicken. But really, whatever spices you have around should be fine, as long as there’s adequate salt and pepper, and not your mother in law’s ashes – nasty aftertaste.

Whatever spice blend you put together, make sure you have enough to season the buttermilk brine, the breading, and the tenders pre/post frying – yeah, we’re getting real with these things. I would say you should have at least 1/3 cup for the entire operation.

After your overnight/8 hour brining of the morally questionable breasticle meat, take them out (don’t get rid of the brine) and dry them off pretty thoroughly – they shouldn’t be completely dry, but too much leftover brine is going to mess up the fry. Once you’ve dried them off, hit them with another dusting of the spice mix.

From here, you just need to get your flour mix together to coat the chicken with. Again, drop some more of them spices in the flour, and then add about 1/4 cup of the marinade into the flour. You’re going to want to work the brine into the flour with your fingertips and get them all mixed together. This is going to help build up the crunchy bits on the outside of the chicken.

(Or as foodies would say, craggly bits. Because foodies just have to take every normal term and turn it into something that they created and tried to make their own. Like, oh it’s not fresh food, it’s farm-to-table, oh it’s not a place that serves food and beer, it’s a gastropub, oh it’s not a curry it’s a chickpea stew with coconut milk and every spice in a curry (we see you Alison Roman #Istandwithchrissieteigen).)

(Yeah I just managed parentheses inside parentheses, I know my order of operations, don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me.)

Geez, where was I, oh the chicken breading. Don’t be shy about pressing the breading into the chicken, you want it to really stick.

Once you’ve got the breading rubbed in, get yourself the biggest pot you have and fill it 1/3 to 1/2 way (and no more than halfway) with vegetable or canola oil, and turn the head on about medium to medium-high.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to only fill it up halfway. If you fill it beyond that, you run a serious risk that the oil is going to boil over and cause serious damage to your kitchen and skin. If you’re depending on me to tell you how to cook, there’s a fair chance that you haven’t considered this possibility. Unless you’re looking for an excuse to test out your fire extinguisher – again, probably something you don’t have.

Also, invest in a candy thermometer to take the temperature of the oil. Some recipes will tell you to stick a wooden spoon or chopstick into the oil and see if bubbles appear around it. Which, ok if you want to oil up your spoon, or maybe the Chopsticks R Us near you is still considered essential business and you can get yourself a few, but it’s worth just getting a thermometer. And no, you shouldn’t try and take your temperature with it to see if you have the ‘rona, I feel like I shouldn’t need to say that, but I will for liability’s sake.

(Also, don’t drink bleach. Again, I feel like it’s needed to say this.)

When the oil up to temperature, take four or so tenders out of the breading bowl and tap off the excess breading, and then carefully drop them into the oil one at a time. By carefully, I mean slowly lower it into the oil and then release it away from you, so you won’t splatter yourself. Don’t be tempted to put them all in, that will seriously drop the temperature of the oil, and you’ll be left with some sad, greasy, tough chicken. And also the oil might boil over – see above for why that could be a bad thing.

Four minutes is a good rule of thumb, you can cook them a little more if you want but I wouldn’t go any less. When they’re done, fish them out with a slotted spoon or a spider – don’t use tongs, you’ve done so much work to get the breading right, the tongs will just rip it off – and place them onto a paper towel. Then sprinkle some more of the spice mixture on top of them.

Chick-Fil-A Fried Chicken Knockoff

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 package of chicken tenderloins, about 1 1/2 pounds

1 1/2 T paprika

1 T salt

1 T black pepper

2 t cayenne pepper

2 t smoked paprika

2 t onion powder

2 c buttermilk

2 c flour

Vegetable oil for frying

Directions

Combine all of the spices into a small bowl and set aside.

In a large plastic zippered bag, pour in the buttermilk and 1/3 of the spice mixture. Add the chicken and mix around to ensure that all of the chicken is coated. Squeeze out the excess air, seal the bag, and place it in the fridge overnight, flipping at least once.

When ready to fry, in a large bowl, combine flour and 1/3 of the spice mixture.

Take the bag of chicken out of the fridge, and add 3-4 tablespoons of the buttermilk marinade to the flour. Mix it in with your fingers thoroughly, until there are no large clumps of flour.

Pour oil into a large pot and fill about 1/3 to 1/2 way. Turn the burner onto medium-high heat and bring the oil up to 350 degrees F.

Remove the chicken from the brine, allowing all of the excess brine to drip off. Place chicken tenders into the floured bowl and press breading into chicken.

When the oil is up to temperature, take 4 tenders and remove from the bowl individually, shaking off the excess breading. Place carefully in the oil.

Fry chicken for 4-5 minutes. When done, use a slotted spoon or spider to remove the chicken and place on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle spice mixture over chicken.

Repeat process until all chicken is cooked.

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