Punchinello’s Chronicles

April 13, 2010

Pretty Good KFC at Home

The other day I got a sudden yen for Kentucky Fried Chicken, otherwise known as KFC. It’s been a few years, since I really prefer my own fried chicken and I’ve got a few recipes that really work well. One recipe is batter and deep-fried, another is oven-fried, and there’s the old iron skillet method. They’re all good, all better than KFC, and all less expensive. But…you know how it is, you suddenly just HAVE to have junk food! So it was KFC this time.

I’d thought to use a coupon, which ended up being only legs and thighs and my partner and cohort in crime likes white meat. So between the two of us, we decided on the in-store $19.99 special for 12 pieces. Original recipe. And we got some dough balls, raw beans, and some coleslaw along with it.

Now, over the years I’ve learned a lot about cooking. I’ve spent time understanding the science behind cooking, and I’m learning how to reverse engineer all sorts of things. I’ve tried copy recipes from the Web, usually discovering they don’t much taste the same as whatever I’m trying to copy. Plus, there are always tricks and gotchas that nobody knows and nobody tells you about.

The thing with Kentucky Fried Chicken is twofold. First, the chicken is really nice and moist, and pretty much falls off the bone. Secondly, the skin is crisp enough that it tastes like fried chicken. Still, it’s not really hard and crunchy, like what you’d get if you buy some fried chicken in supermarket deli sections. That got me to thinking.

Is the taste of KFC specific to the coating recipe (which is secret)? Or is it instead, the way they cook the chicken?

Since I hadn’t had any for a long time, then suddenly found myself with a bucket of the stuff, I put my mouth machine to work. The taste of the coating wasn’t all that much different from anything else I’ve bought or cooked. The crunch wasn’t really hard, but it wasn’t all that oily or wet, either. The meat itself was more salty than you’d normally find, but that was about all that made a difference.

“Ah Hah!” I cried out to the heavens, startling eight birds and my somewhat-used-to-me friend. “I believe it’s a two-stage cooking process!”

She looked at me with an “Oh they do get weary” sort of expression, and went back to eating her chicken breast.

The next step was to produce an experiment. My thesis was that KFC first partially fries their chicken, in order to get the coating to adhere to the skin and give it some crunch. They secondly oven-bake the chicken in order to get the softer coating and tenderize the chicken. A potential third option is to “brine” the chicken ahead of time, using salt water. That would account for the salt.

Presto Chango Selecto Bonzo, it worked!

So here’s the deal: Take some chicken and let it attain room temperature sitting in some cold, salty water. I use a typical mixing bowl. In the water, put about a tablespoon of salt (table salt), along with maybe some black pepper. You can do this while you’re organizing everything else, but if you let the chicken sit in the salt water for a couple of hours, that’ll help tenderize it. (Keep it in the fridge if you’re going to let it sit for hours, then let it warm up before cooking.)

After we’d eaten our fill the first time around, my friend made a chicken salad out of one of the remaining breasts. With no skin or coating, the meat still was quite salty. That’s why I believe it’s been brined for a couple of hours. You don’t have to use half a cup of salt, just a fair amount. Otherwise, the chicken gets pretty salty.

I use a Fry Daddy Jr., but you’ll want to do whatever you do for deep-frying chicken. My pot uses about 2 cups of oil, which heats for around 15 minutes to get to 350-degrees for the hot oil. Meanwhile,Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Have a metal plate and some tinfoil available to handle the chicken.

As the pan is heating up, put about 3/4 cup flour in a covered bowl or paper bag, so shake up the chicken and get it coated. Add in some season salt like Morton or Lawry’s. Sprinkle in a fair amount of black pepper or Lawry’s seasoned pepper. Sprinkle in a little bit of oregano, and maybe some chili powder. I passed on the garlic, since I didn’t taste any in the KFC.

What I did notice was the definite taste of pepper. It had some bite, and since I’m not into hot seasoning it was easily noticeable. But not as much as Popeye’s chicken, which is really spicy! I used Greek Seasoning, but I’m thinking oregano would give it that “exotic” extra “something.”

Scramble the flour mixture until it’s mixed. Take the chicken out of the water and let the water run off each piece. Stick it in the flour coating and shake it around. I use a covered plastic bowl, but my mom used to use a plain paper bag. Put it on a rack and let it sit while you’re waiting on the oil. That let’s the coating “set” a bit, and glue itself to the chicken.

When the oil is hot, do a regular fried-chicken kind of thing. But instead of actually frying the chicken, give it about 2 minutes, just to brown. All you want is for the coating to brown and for there to be a bit of a seal between the outer coating and the inner chicken. So make it golden brown, like you’d see at KFC. Don’t make it darker brown, and don’t worry about cooking the chicken.

Take the chicken out of the oil and put it on a metal plate of some sort. Cover it with some tinfoil (that’s important, that it’s covered!) and put it in the oven. I found that about 20-25 minutes worked out just about right.

What happens is that the trapped heat from the tinfoil allows moisture from the chicken and coating to modify the coating itself. It doesn’t make it “wet” or soggy, since the oven is pretty hot. But it does soften the coating, unlike what you’d have if you simply pan-fried the chicken.

Additionally, I’ve tried frying chicken in a pan and using a cover for the last 20 minutes. The problem there is that you’re not getting much moisture anymore from the already cooked chicken. You’re also not getting much steam, excepting residual steam from the hot oil.

By putting the semi-cooked chicken in the oven, with the coating already “crisped” in the pan, you get the best of both worlds. The coating recipe itself doesn’t matter all that much. With all the steaming, you’re not going to taste the details unless you’re some sort of master cook-type prodigy. Just so long as there’s salt, pepper and some sort of oregano kinda thing in there.

I’d also suggest using a draining rack when you take the chicken out of the oven. Take off the tinfoil, set the pieces on the rack and let them cool a bit. The end result was pretty much indistinguishable from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mine was less salty, but that’s because I don’t like all that much salt and would rather add some at the table.

Another tip I read, and one I might try is to use some MSG in the brining water. If you’re allergic to monosodium glutamate, don’t use it as it might kill you instantly. Otherwise, Accent Flavor Enhancer is basically MSG. It’s in that red and white container, usually around with the spices and seasonings.

By the way, if you do the same trick of using cold water and about a tablespoon of salt with raw shrimp, you get an excellent result. Just peel the shrimp, dump them in a bowl of cold water, add the salt, swish it around and let the bowl sit in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the shrimp. The word “succulent” applies here, with a sort of plump, juicy, pops-in-your-mouth texture.



  1. I am sure what you did turned out pretty well or you wouldn’t have written it up, but …. there is always a but isn’t there.

    KFC uses a pressure cooker to fry their chicken. A big industrial pressure cooker. The stove top ones you use at home or an electric one will work just fine. Give it a try.

    Comment by Joe — July 30, 2010 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

  2. Actually, I’d read a lot of people’s comments regarding the pressure cooker. I also remember having something called “broasted chicken” when I was younger, which is still popular up in Wisconsin. That too, uses a pressure cooker and oil.

    The problem is I don’t particularly have much use for a pressure cooker, so I wanted something that was similar to KFC. I have a fine batter for regular fried chicken, and I also have the pan-fried version worked out nicely. It was only that we’d had a taste for the KFC version, then ended up spending a billion dollars for just a couple of pieces of chicken. This version comes close enough for rock ‘n’ roll, as they say, even though it doesn’t use a pressure cooker. But you’re right, that’s mostly how they make the difference. 🙂

    Comment by Punchinello — August 1, 2010 @ 2:50 am | Reply

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