Billy's Fried Chicken
We are so grateful for all our friends who have invited us into their kitchens to share their tales. The diverse community in New York City has given us amazing stories of treasured recipes from all over the world. Today, we visit Mississippi via New York!
If you’re from the South, you’ll know regional titans like Texas Brisket or Louisiana Crawfish. If you’re from Mississippi, you’ll understand the deep-rooted significance of Fried Chicken. If you’re like Billy B. from Copiah County, Mississippi, you’ll know that Fried Chicken is a repertoire for many occasions — birthdays, weddings, welcome parties, and reunions.
Billy remembers his father making fried chicken for family reunions with his trusty 15-gallon cast-iron cauldron. The cauldron was passed down from Billy’s grandparents who had worked on a plantation and used the cauldron to wash laundry in the mornings and prepare food during the afternoons for family meals. Today, that cast iron cauldron is sadly out of commission. Fortunately, Billy inherited another family heirloom, a multi-generation cast iron fryer.
His father's original recipe for fried chicken involved a cut up bird, covered with flour, seasoned with salt & pepper, and then fried to perfection. Billy learned this recipe when he moved to Boston because he could not find any good fried chicken. He would fry a batch for himself so that he would not feel homesick anymore. He even christened his apartment by cooking fried chicken when he moved to his current place in New York.
“It’s something very comfortable and welcoming,” states Billy.
BEFORE YOU START:
This recipe has evolved over the years as it was passed down from one generation to the next. Back then, Billy’s father just used flour, salt and pepper. Now, the recipe has morphed into Billy’s own version. Even as Billy shares his recipe, he plainly states, “You probably won’t be able to make it the same way.”
While the recipe we captured here is not exact, it comes close. Just look for a juicy chicken with a really nice crust, not too spicy, nor too salty. Test, learn, adjust, and repeat.
The Overnight Buttermilk Brine
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Tabasco to taste
- Salt (1 tsp or more)
- Deep cast iron skillet
- Large mixing bowl
- Large zip lock bag
- Baking tray with wired rack for cooling
- Cut into pieces using the 10-Cut Method and place the pieces into a large zip lock bag.
- Add 2 cups of buttermilk and Tabasco to taste.
- Add salt to help flavor the brine. Keep in mind that the Creole Seasoning in the dredge mix for the crust will provide additional saltiness.
- Allow the chicken to brine for 12-24 hours in the fridge.
Pro-Tip: To get the right crust, it’s important to choose the right bird. The perfect fry allows one to bite right through the crust and meat at the same time. In the past, Billy has tried frying with a “better bird”, but their skins are thick with fat, which led to a soggy, rubbery crust. Growing up Billy’s cousins raised chickens with Sanderson Farms (now Tyson Farms), so his family had an endless supply to chicken for the perfect fry. What a lucky guy. Here, Billy uses plain ol’ organic chicken.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- About 1/2 cup Creole Seasoning
PART 1: CREOLE SEASONING
In Billy's kitchen, he uses the “not-so-secret" 5-4-3-2-1 mixture. Combine all spices and store in an air tight container until ready for use:
5 parts Paprika
4 parts Salt
3 parts Pepper
2 parts Cayenne Pepper
1 part Oregano
PART 2: THE DREDGE
What is DREDGE? In cooking, it simply means to cover with flour before cooking.
Combine 4 cups of flour with about 1/2 cup Creole Seasoning in a large mixing bowl.
Aim for a nice blend of red specs and black pepper. Just look for the right hue of color and spices. No real measurements here.
- 10 cut pieces of chicken
It’s best to cook the chicken pieces in batches, and let them rest on the wired racks. The crisp of the fried skins holds very well at room temperature. To avoid overcrowding the skillet, fry the pieces in 3 batches. Here’s the sequence that Billy uses in the kitchen:
1st Batch – breast, breast, breast
2nd Batch – breast, thigh, thigh, leg
3rd Batch – leg, wing, wing (wings cook fast, so they go in last)
- Dredge the first batch of chicken pieces in the creole-seasoned flour.
- Pay attention to pressing flour into all the crevices for proper crust formation.
- Repeat this step for each batch after each fry.
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Add 3/4" oil to the frying pan and set on medium heat.
- Bring the temperature to about 350°F. Billy checks the heat by sprinkling in just a bit of flour on the surface of the oil. If it sizzles, then he is ready to fry. If flour sinks, then the oil is not hot enough. If it burns, it is too hot.
- Shake off excess dredge and add chicken pieces to the hot oil, skin side down. The oil should beat a cadence of an aggressive sizzle. Try not to disturb the chicken so that the crust can form.
- Flip the pieces over when the crust is a nice golden color, about 8-12 minutes.
- Cook the second side until the crust reaches the same color.
- Flip the skin side back down, and fry for an additional 2-4 minutes, to get things nice and crunchy.
- Flip one more time to crisp the final side.
- Remove the chicken from the oil when internal temperature reaches roughly 145°F for breast or 155°F for thighs.
- Move pieces to a wired rack to rest, and start working on the other batches.
The fried chicken will continue to cook while resting on the rack from the residual heat. It will reach its safe, recommended internal temperature of 160°F for breasts and 175°F For thighs in about 20 minutes
Serve biscuits with butter and jelly as the dessert to complement the fried chicken!
Pro-Tip: Each bird will have different amounts of moisture in it, so it is really hard to determine the accurate amount of cooking time. Billy has no timer, no kitchen thermometer. He just has years of experience.
He uses a long pin to test for doneness, looking for a balance of feeling, sight, and temperature. The pin should glide in with little resistance. The juices should run clear. When he places the pin closely against his lips, it should feel hot (145°F for breast, 155°F for thighs) but not nuclear hot (165°F+). If the chicken measures 165°F in the frying pan, the chicken will overcooked in the final resting phase.