Though a certain fast-food chain or two might be how most get their Southern-style fried chicken fix, its origins are not what one might expect.
History shows that the idea of fried chicken was first brought into America by Scottish immigrants. And during the time of slave trade, herbaceous seasonings and spices were introduced by the Africans, leading to the well-seasoned crispy chicken we know today.
What gives Southern-style fried chicken its distinctive flavor? Besides the herbs and spices used, it is also about picking the right bird, using the right flour and oil, and how the chicken is brined. "There isn’t one key ingredient to making southern fried chicken," says John Kunkel, founder/CEO of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami. The Bird, the first international branch of the popular Floridian restaurant, recently opened in Singapore’s lavish Marina Bay Sands.
"It’s more of a trifecta of key ingredients,” says Kunkel. “First, you have the brine, which is extremely important because this is what makes every piece of chicken juicy, flavorful and tender.”
Next up: the dredge. “You want your flour to be well-seasoned. Then there's the oil—you want one with a very high smoking point so you get that nice crunchy skin without burning the chicken."
Soak, Dip, Fry
Essentially, a brine is a salt-and-water solution. But the key to a good brine is being able to adjust the ratio of salt to water to achieve a balanced salinity. Some chefs spend many weeks—even months—finding the proper solution, even testing different types of chicken that would absorb the brine better.
Then, there's also the matter of using the right oil. "You want to use something like Crisco, with a very high smoking point so that you can cook the chicken at a high temperature without burning it, and get that nice crispy, crunchy skin," shares Kunkel.
Fried Chicken, By Any Other Name
Not all battered birds are created equal, either. Kunkel notes the differences between Southern fried chicken and the popular Japanese karaage and the sweet, sticky Korean battered wings: “For Japanese karaage, they use ginger and other traditional Asian ingredients, while we use a secret blend of dry spices, water, vinegar, sugar and salt to marinate the chicken."
And while Korean fried chicken is typically tossed in a spicy gojuchang-based sauce, the chicken at The Bird is dipped in a seasoned flour dredge and has a herbaceous, slightly spiced flavor to its crunchy skin.
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Best of the South
Most common pairings for Southern fried chicken would be to have it as a main with a side of savory cornbread waffles and Bourbon maple syrup. But for Kunkel, it's a treat that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. "Southern fried chicken can really be served for all occasions," he shares. "For lunch, we can have it tossed in hot sauce, topped with lettuce, and house-made pickles on a bun, or it can be served for dinner with a side of delicious greens and mac n’ cheese."