It would be hard to ruin a chicken breast -- that is until you’ve had one destroyed by a fryer. Nothing is more stringy, tough, dry, leathery and disappointing. There’s a better way, and our friends in West Virginia invented it.
It would be hard to ruin a chicken breast -- that is until you’ve had one destroyed by a fryer. Nothing is more stringy, tough, dry, leathery and disappointing.
There’s a better way, and our friends in West Virginia invented it. There’s no such thing as bad fried chicken down there.
There are something like 3,000 “chicken houses” in the state. That’s not what you think. “Chicken house” means restaurant any other place.
Every time I have W.Va. fried, I figure this is the defining moment of chicken deliciousness. We were in a little place in Beckley a few years ago, and they were rolling out chicken for lunch. On a scale of one to 10, theirs was a megabyte.
The interesting thing, which I found by walking through the kitchen searching for the men’s room, is that although the menu reads “fried” it’s not really.
The only frying they do is the hush puppies and french fries. The chicken, surprise, was sautéed in an iron skillet that looked like my grandmother’s.
That makes perfect sense. Deep frying is a sudden shock of 400 degrees. The flesh of the meat sheds juices and compacts. Then the coating turns hard and crunchy.
Sautéing is coaxing, gentle, beautiful, very un-nuclear.
Instead of a batter, they dip chicken in egg, then roll it on a plate of crumbs.
The best crumbs are Ritz crackers, smashed to near dust. You don’t need salt or butter. A little vegetable oil in the skillet will do it.
But I’m ahead of myself. A chicken breast, basically, is a rather tough creature. It needs to be relaxed to be tender. Soaking it in milk for an hour or more does the deed perfectly.
Then pound them lightly between wax paper. This breaks the last barrier to total tenderness. Dip in egg and roll in crushed Ritz crackers.
Here’s where things get interesting. You need to balance the heat to cook the chicken through, but you don’t want to blacken the breading. I start with a very hot skillet and gradually turn it down to low at the end as the bird cooks. I flip it every five minutes. My goal is to sauté for 20 minutes and still get a light, golden brown breading.
This is a beautiful thing. You cut into it and the juices pour. That’s the breading containing them. You take a taste. First it crunches, then you break through to the softest, most tender, most flavorful chicken, ever.
This is very simple, easier than frying, and certainly not abusive to the bird. Learn from our neighbors in the chicken house.
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