Basic Pan Fried Chicken

1 whole 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 parts, or chicken parts with skin and bone
Salt, pepper, and seasoning of your choice or design (see step 1 below)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil

Equipment: The widest, heaviest pan you have, cast iron or some such, at least 2 inches deep. You want it wide so you can cook more at once, and heavy so it cooks evenly. If you have to choose, go for heavy over wide.


The first step is key: season the bird 8 hours before cooking it. Seasoning the meat far ahead of time allows the salt to work its way into the meat, and salt does magical things to protein, causing it to expel and then reabsorb water, leaving the chicken extra juicy. Just make sure you have 2 teaspoons of salt and a few good cranks of black pepper per 3 pounds of chicken, which is already enough to make fantastically delicious bird. Beyond that you can do whatever you want with spices, garlic powder and the like. Anyway, sprinkle the salt and seasonings over the chicken and rub it all over.

Refrigerate for 8 hours or more.

Heat your pan over medium heat and add oil to a depth of 1/2 inch.

Meanwhile, beat together the egg yolk and white in a small bowl, beat in the milk and season with a healthy pinch of salt, a couple cranks of pepper, and a pinch of your spices.

Season the flour in a big bowl. How much? Give it a couple of pinches, dip a clean finger in, and taste it. It won’t be delicious, but if you can tell the salt and seasonings are in there, you’re good.

Pour the eggwash over the chicken. Stir it a bit to distribute it evenly, then quickly take out a couple of pieces and toss them in the flour so they’re well-coated. Shake off the excess, and lay them on a platter, trying not to let them touch. Repeat until all the chicken is coated. I like to use tongs to move the chicken from the eggwash to the flour so I don’t get dough forming on my thumbs. Yum, chicken dough!

And now: the torment of boiling oil. Dip a piece of chicken into the pan. You want to see a sizzle. You want the grease hot enough so it doesn’t soak in. The sizzle you’re looking for is like a fizz, not an angry, searing boil. If it’s the latter, turn off the heat and wait a few minutes, then try again. If it looks right, turn the heat up to high and start adding the chicken skin side down, beginning with the thighs and legs. To prevent horrible injury, don’t drop the chicken in and splash hot grease everywhere. Try gliding the pieces into the pan in a dragging motion away from your body, almost like giving someone the brush-off gesture in slow motion.

Add as many pieces as will fit without touching one another. This is important; if they touch, they won’t brown. Adjust the heat down, erring on the cool side: The bubbling should be steady and vigorous, but again not violent. It shouldn’t make you afraid to be near it. If you’re using a thermometer, it should read around 350 degrees without touching the pan bottom.

After about five minutes, take a peek at the underside of the chicken. If it’s taken on some color, flip it. When that side becomes that same color, flip it again. Continue doing this, cycling through the pieces, watching for particularly brown spots where the chicken touches the pan, and somewhat favoring keeping the skin side down. You might occasionally get an extra jolt of sizzling, probably from a thigh. Stab at the center of the thigh pieces with tongs, around the bone, to let the hot oil get in there and cook it thoroughly; otherwise the breasts will finish cooking several minutes before the thighs.

When the chicken is the color of walnuts, after about a total of 15 minutes of cooking, it should be done. Go ahead and cheat a little and poke the thickest parts with a sharp knife. If the breast is all white and the thighs have no blood, you’re good. Remove the pieces and drain on paper towels. Let them rest for a few minutes before piling them up, and don’t cover them; the steam will get the crusts soggy. Don’t forget to turn off the heat! And before you serve, take a piece for yourself and eat it, right there, in the kitchen. Nothing in the world tastes as good as your first piece of fried chicken.