There are few things on this earth better than chicken fresh out of the fryer. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that frying chicken at home is difficult, it can be time consuming and a little bit touchy. When I first set out to make grandma’s fried chicken at home I found myself walking a tightrope, trying to balance oil temperature and cooking time. Some of my early ‘experiments’ produced both soggy-but-fully-cooked chicken and raw-chicken-with-a-burnt-crust. I found my way eventually, without giving my family food poisoning, but even then it’s a time consuming affair. Each batch of chicken takes about fifteen minutes to fry, plus time spent preheating and reheating oil between batches. Feeding my family a proper fried chicken dinner requires close to 90 minutes of active cooking time: worth it in the long run, but usually not practical for a busy weeknight meal.
In the recipe below I’ve streamlined the process using boneless chicken tenderloins and a sous vide precook. It requires a little bit of advance planning, but allows me to get a fresh from the fryer chicken dinner for six on the table in right around 30 minutes. It’s not quite the same as grandma’s fried chicken, but hard to beat for a weeknight meal. The key is the sous vide precook. Typically chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 – 170 F to ensure safety and proper texture, but if you deep fry fully cooked chicken it will usually turn out dry and rubbery. Cooking sous vide gives you the necessary temperature control to slightly undercook the chicken and then finish the cooking during a quick fry in very hot oil. If you’re using frozen chicken, the sous vide precook will also allow the chicken to give up excess liquid or whatever bizarre broth solution is used in the IQF process.
The recipe I’ve given below is about as basic as it gets. Consider it a blank canvas on which to experiment. I’ve used a very simple egg wash and flour batter, but you can easily adapt this to your favorite fried chicken coating. If you’ve got sugar in your batter the hotter oil might cause it to burn and give an acrid off-flavor, but other than that you should have free rein. You might also consider using a simple marinade during the sous vide step, such as buttermilk or hot sauce.
- Prepare your immersion circulator to cook at 145 F. Divide the chicken tenderloins into several plastic bags. Add marinade if desired, then seal and cook at 145 F for 2 hours. If preparing the chicken ahead of time, leave the chicken in the bag and plunge into an ice water bath for 5-10 minutes, then refrigerate until ready to use (up to one day).
- When ready to eat, remove the chicken from the bag and drain any excess liquid. Pat the chicken dry.
- Preheat an inch and a half of oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat, until just starting to smoke. (375 F - 400 F)
- Beat eggs in a small mixing bowl or casserole dish. Mix dry ingredients in a separate casserole dish.
- When the oil is hot, dip tenderloins individually into the egg wash, then dredge in the flour mixture and drop carefully into the hot oil. Fry for three or four minutes, then drain on paper towels. Salt before serving.