Best Hangover Fried Chicken: Little Skillet (Soma, SF)
Chicken & Waffles, Little Skillet
There is nothing like some Little Skillet Chicken & Waffles lovin' to soothe your soul after a big night out. A little grease. A jolt of sugar. Yes, please. If Cento is open next door, even better, you've got your caffeine kick to boot. The skin on Little Skillet's chicken is on the thinner side if you're into that. I have found that that the juiciness level can be inconsistent -- I've had the most luck during peak hours. On a sunny day, that concrete loading platform across from Little Skillet's order window (a.k.a. their outdoor "seating" area) is where I want to be -- sweet and savory on my tongue, and maple syrup dribbling down my chin.
Best Home-style Fried Chicken: Firefly (Noe Valley, SF)
Fried Chicken of Your Dreams, Firefly
Firefly knows how to do homey. Their menu changes regularly, so keep an eye out for this nostalgic gem, The Fried Chicken of Your Dreams with Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Peas & Carrots and a Damn Fine Buttermilk Biscuit. Yes, that is what it's really called. The chicken is tender and well-seasoned, and the skin has that magic quality of sticking to the meat so that you get a mouthful of crunchy goodness in each bite. The sides are classic wins, and the biscuit served with local honey is damn fine, just as advertised.
Best Fried Chicken Sandwich: Bakesale Betty (Oakland)
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Bakesale Betty
It's not often I venture to the East Bay…but Bakesale Betty's legendary Fried Chicken Sandwich is worth the shlep. The line will likely be out the door, if the wait is really long, the kind folks at Bakesale Betty's have been known to bring out samples of their heavenly, chewy cookies. But I digress. The star of the show is this gorgeous hunk of a sandwich made with two generous pieces of chicken breast, double-dredged and fried, topped with a spicy slaw of cabbage, red onion, roughly chopped parsley, and a Dijon mustard-red wine vinaigrette (the key: no mayo). It's all stuffed in between an Acme torpedo roll and quickly wrapped up before it has a chance to escape. Don't worry, it will explode into a delicious mess when you open it, but that is part of the joy of eating one of these sandwiches. The balance of the buttermilk fried chicken (with lots of thick, crispy skin), and fresh crunch and vinegary tang of the slaw is fantastic.
Best Fried Chicken Value Meal: Hard Knox Cafe (Dogpatch, SF)
Fried Chicken, Candied Yams & Collard Greens, Hard Knox
Three big-boy sized pieces of Fried Chicken plus your choice of two sides and corn muffins, all for a mere $11. Now that's a bargain. The seasoning is a bit heavy on the salt and garlic, but for the value and portion, this is a steal. Also, the corn muffins are almost worth the trip themselves -- sweet and light, more cake than bread, with a crunchy top that could inspire a "just the muffin top" shop.
Homemade Fried Chicken
If you're fixing to tackle some homemade fried chicken, there are some key questions you need to ask yourself. To brine or not to brine? Buttermilk bath or no? Single or double dredge? All purpose flour, rice flour, or cornmeal crust? Vegetable oil, peanut oil, or straight up lard? And then there is the question of what style of fried chicken you're after.
I've noticed that there are two distinctly different styles. There's your classic Southern-style fried chicken with buttermilk bath and thick, crunchy skin. And then there's an Asian-style fried chicken seasoned with salt and garlic, and featuring a thin, super crispy skin.
For the former, Thomas Keller's recipe is great, although a bit fussy with the brine. The brine however, is key in infusing the chicken with lovely lemon and herb notes, and also in making sure the meat is really juicy. Then there's the buttermilk bath, and flour seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and salt. The result is a fried chicken that has complex layers of flavor.
In the Asian-style chicken my father-in-law makes, he trades in the brining method for a simple rub of salt, garlic, and ginger. By seasoning the meat really well, allowing it to soak in the flavors overnight, the flavor of the chicken really shines through from inside out. A quick coating of egg white, cornstarch and flour and that's it. The result is a no-frills, tasty fried chicken that's clean and simple.
Asian Fried Chicken
Whatever your chicken of choice is, here are a few tips to get the best fry possible:
- Season your meat (either by brining or salting). According to Fry Master Flava Flav, that's the key to "blowin' up your tastebuds."
- Make sure your pieces of chicken are similar in size. This ensures that they fry up evenly. For larger breast pieces, cut them in half.
- If you're butchering a whole chicken, choose a young chicken (about 2 pounds).
- Make sure the chicken is at room temperature before frying.
- Don't crowd your pan/dutch oven/whatever vessel you're frying in. If you place too many pieces in at once, the temperature of the oil will drop.
(Skip to 3:43 for a real treat)
Daddy Hua's Crispy Fried Chicken
This Asian-style fried chicken features a simple rub of salt, garlic, and ginger, and a quick coating of egg white, cornstarch and flour. The result is a no-frills, tasty fried chicken that's clean and simple, with a dynamite crispy thin crust.
2 garlic cloves, minced
A few slices of ginger, julienned
1 tablespoon salt
1 egg white
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup all purpose flour