Just before Christmas, my good friend Mike Sanders, fondly known as Sanders, Sandy, or The Colonel, moved into my house, fondly known as the Kentbury Kompound. Since we already knew each other so well, the adjustment to living with a roommate again has been relatively painless, and it's nice to have someone around who's both considerate and funny and potentially able to save me from the antisocial cat lady I might otherwise become. Sanders, meanwhile, is slowly discovering the joys of feline attention. Just don't bring up the rogue turd he found in his laundry basket; it remains a sore subject.
One thing is certain about our new housing arrangement: I am and will continue to be eating a lot more meat than I used to. (Oh, and another thing is most thrillingly certain: my kitchen now contains a big blue Le Creuset dutch oven!) Sanders is a legendary master of the braise and the grill and probably a whole list of other methods that I've never even tried. And he sure does eat a lot of pork products for a Jewish guy.
The other night, living up to his surname, he made the absolute best homecooked fried chicken I have ever eaten. My own experimentation with fried chicken has resulted in nothing but soggy skin and dried out meat, but Sanders has it down. Now, I probably should also point out that our house came the closest to burning down that it ever has – flames erupted from the stove, but we calmly smothered them with a pot lid. So maybe that's the secret to good fried chicken: get the oil so hot and use such an overabundance of it that the pot catches on fire. A small price to pay for what you're about to eat.
Okay, don't do that, but do read Sanders' thorough instructions below for fried chicken that is both incredibly delicious AND fire-safe. We make mistakes so we can learn from them. In his words:
Recipe: The Other Colonel Sanders's Fried Chicken
I use this recipe (loosely adapted from an Epicurious recipe) to fry chicken thighs, which I prefer because they are juicier than other chicken parts, meaty, and inexpensive (economical!). But I'm sure it would work equally well for other chicken pieces.
10 chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on, otherwise, don't even bother!)
3/4 - 1 cup of half and half (if you must substitute, do not use low-fat or skim milk...it won't do the job)
1/2 cup water
2 - 2.5 cups regular flour
generous amounts (a tablespoon or two, I'd say) of thyme (dry), paprika, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste (I prefer Kosher salt)
copious amounts of peanut oil (see below for guidance on how much to use).
1) Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Beat together the eggs, half-and-half, and water and pour over the chicken pieces (they don't need to be submerged, just enough to marinate). Set aside for about half an hour, turning the thighs occasionally to ensure both sides get good exposure to the liquid.
2) Pre-heat the peanut oil in a large, heavy pot. Use enough oil so that several chicken thighs can be fully submerged for cooking. Heat the oil to between 350 - 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is very important to getting good results, so I highly recommend using an oil thermometer (they're inexpensive). If you don't have one, good luck to you. All I'll say is that much oil takes some time to heat up, so turn the burner on pretty high and give it at least 10 minutes.
SAFETY ALERT: Do not fill the pot up all the way! Oil expands, and it can easily overflow the pot and start a fire if you use too much (learned the hard way, folks). As a rule of thumb, I'd say fill the pot no more than 2/3 full.
3) Combine the spices and the flour. Remove the thighs from the liquid (be sure to let the excess drip off) and dredge very thoroughly in the flour mixture (be sure to get all the nooks and crannies). Shake off the excess and set aside. This can be done in batches just before cooking.
4) When the oil is ready, carefully drop a few pieces of chicken in the oil. Using a metal slotted spoon (preferably one of those deep-frying wire/mesh spoon dealies) gently and constantly move the thighs around in the oil to prevent them from getting charred on the bottom of the pot. Flip thighs once or twice during cooking. The thighs should be fully cooked in about 10 minutes depending on their size. (Use an instant read thermometer to check; they should be just shy of 160 degrees internal temp).
5) Remove thighs and place on a paper towel-lined platter. Immediately season with a bit of salt and tent with aluminum foil while you cook the other batches.
Serves 5 - 7 people (unless they eat like me, then it's more like 3 - 4).