Season Everything I'm a big fan of Gordon Ramsay and he always says you can't add a seasoned component to an unseasoned component and have the combination be magically seasoned. For example, if you are making chili, cook and season the ground beef and cook and season the vegetables, then combine.
Fried chicken is such an easy to prepare, yet satisfying meal. My parents roots are from the south and I just plain like fried foods. Yum, yum, yummy! This recipe has been passed down from my Great Grandmother Webb. She ate fried chicken every day cause she had a farm during the depression. In fact, she ate fried chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To say she was a master at cooking fried chicken is an understatement. Of course, her chicken was super fresh, having been butchered just before frying. I've had to tweak her recipe to optimize results with store bought chicken but I've stayed true to her batterless recipe.
Studies show that frying food doesn't absorb as much oil as we might think, especially if frying at a lower temperature. So, why don't people eat more fried foods? The answer is simple... they think fat makes fat. I'm not saying to go out a eat a tub of Vegetable Shortening but fried foods might not be as bad as you once thought. Oil is absorbed when moisture is released. So, if you don't overcook your food, it won't be overly greasy. This recipe also doesn't use a batter so there is less oil absorption in the crust. Besides, I find battered chicken tastes like fried dough when what I really want is crispy chicken. Simple dredging in flour helps the skin crisp up to give you that satisfied feeling of crunching through skin into a juicy, flavorful meat.
I have made some adjustments to Great Grandma Webb's recipe like brining and a little Old Bay seasoning but otherwise, it's the same as she made generations ago. The brining seasons the meat deep into the chicken and keeps it juicy when frying. The Old Bay seasoning is great on chicken, offering a depth of subtle flavor when used sparingly. But you can just use plain old salt and pepper if you like or experiment with other seasonings mixed in with the flour.
Start by brining the chicken. I learned how to brine chicken from Cook's Illustrated which is an incredible resource. I own several of their books but I find their chicken brine is weak. I use the same ratio but double the time. I feel this seasons the chicken better by allowing the salt to penetrate deeper and more fully. Whatever the reason, I like the results. I also recommend breaking down your own chicken since you get fresher meat. It's really not hard and far better than meat that has begun to leak and dry out because it has been in pieces for days. Not to mention, it's almost half the cost!
The next step is to coat the chicken pieces with flour and seasoning. Mix together the flour and Old Bay seasoning in a plastic bag. I like to use grocery bags since ziploc bags are too small to shake. It's a good idea to double bag so you don't create a winter wonderland in your kitchen. Once the chicken is thoroughly coated, start heating the vegetable shortening on medium to medium high in a thick bottomed pan. I prefer the lower setting since it tends brown the meat more evenly. However, you will need to identify the best setting for yourself as ranges vary in BTUs and pan thickness. There is a method to coating the chicken first and then heating the oil as it allows the flour to meld somewhat with the skin of the chicken.
Once the oil is heated thoroughly, add the coated chicken but don't crowd. Crowding lowers the heat too fast and leads to less crispy chicken. That's why were eating fried chicken, right? We want a crispy exterior with a juicy interior. Optimizing that crispiness is the cornerstone of fried chicken so let's make sure it turns out right by frying small batches. You can place the finished chicken on a rack in an oven set to the lowest setting to keep it warm. It's also key not to crowd the chicken on the rack or it might steam, ruining your crispy outside.
Cool your fried chicken on a wire rack in a cookie sheet before eating or you may burn your mouth. The surface may be cool to the touch but the inner meat could be boiling hot still. But sometimes you can't wait as my Mother and I devoured all the wings as they came out of the oven. If you have self-control, ten minutes is a good cool down period.