The Secret Ingredient for Perfect Fried Chicken…Is Duck Fat?
Celebrity chef Tiffany Derry shares pro tips for recreating her famous fried chicken at home
There’s never a bad time for fried chicken, but the classic dish gets extra consideration during the summer months, when it anchors picnic spreads and draws crowds to backyard cookouts. It’s easy to source chicken from myriad restaurants and fast food joints, but if you’re willing to put in a little work, it’s worth making fried chicken at home. No one has to know that you gamed the system by following chef Tiffany Derry’s blueprint to perfect fried chicken.
Derry is the DFW-based chef and co-founder of Roots Southern Table and Roots Chicken Shak, a two-time James Beard Award finalist and a TV regular on multiple Food Network shows and a judge on The Great American Recipe on PBS. So, even if you haven’t been fortunate enough to taste her food, you’ve seen her around. But if you have tasted her food, you may have noticed that she makes some of the best fried chicken in town — or any town. Her secret weapon: duck fat.
Derry’s introduction to duck fat goes back to her childhood, when her grandmother would sit a whole duck on top of cornbread dressing as it cooked. The fat would seep into the cornbread, adding extra flavor and richness to the dish. Derry also took a culinary trip to France at age 19, when she remembers tasting the life-affirming crispness of duck fat fries. So when the time came to open her restaurant, she knew duck fat fried chicken had to play a starring role on the menu.
I connected with Derry over the Fourth of July at Hilton Los Cabos, where she was the featured chef at the Baja Food & Wine Journey, which brings visiting celebrity chefs to the beachside resort for dinners and events. While there, she cooked at multiple feasts and made dishes including Southern-style suya beef with smoked mushrooms and squash chow chow and pork belly burnt ends tacos, but I’d have been remiss not to ask for some pro tips on making perfect fried chicken at home. She kindly obliged with this step-by-step guide to getting it right.
1. Choose your chicken
“The first step is to buy a good quality, fresh bird,” says Derry. “By doing that, you don’t have to do much to fry up something delicious. I opt for chicken that is bone-in, which reduces the chance of it drying out.”
2. Break it down into pieces
Frying a whole bird is how houses catch on fire, so Derry says the smart play is to break it down into pieces first. Separate the drumsticks, wings, thighs and breasts, and when the time comes to eat, everyone can choose their favorites.
3. Marinate the bird
“For something a little extra, I am old-school and love to rub yellow mustard on chicken before seasoning,” says Derry. “It rounds out the flavor and adds a zing to the chicken.”
4. Don’t skimp on the seasoning
This one’s easy. Derry recommends her line of ‘Shef Tiffany All Purpose Creole Seasoning, which combines salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika and garlic. It’s available online and at HEB stores.
5. Dredge carefully
“When dredging your chicken in flour and egg wash, be sure to always keep one hand wet and one hand dry,” says Derry. “That will keep the flour from caking on your hands.” And don’t overdo it. Apply a thin coat to ensure the chicken stays crispy.
6. Try a Dutch oven
You don’t need a deep fryer to get the job done. A high-sided skillet works, or even better, use a Dutch oven. Make sure you don’t fill it over halfway with oil or fat, otherwise it can overflow, advises Derry.
7. Fry that chicken in duck fat
“My secret weapon is frying in duck fat for a more indulgent, richer flavor profile and the ideal crispiness,” says Derry of the bird-in-bird-fat cooking method. But don’t fry too much chicken at a time, as it needs room to breathe. If you overcrowd your cooking vessel, the chicken won’t achieve that perfect texture.
8. Hit your desired temperature
Derry cooks bone-in chicken at 325 degrees to ensure the inside, near the bone, is fully cooked (you want the internal temperature to reach 165° F). Don’t be too proud to pull out a thermometer. Your dinner guests will be a lot more impressed by great chicken than you winging the temperature.
9. Serve sides that add brightness to the plate
“Because fried chicken is rich and delicious, I like to serve it with something bright with acidity,” says Derry. “I love braised greens with pepper vinegar. You also can’t go wrong with a Brussels slaw or coleslaw.” Just keep it light and refreshing, and make sure there’s hot sauce on the table.
10. Don’t forget the drinks
Beer is never a bad choice, especially if you’re serving a crowd in your backyard or hosting a picnic. But Derry recommends Champagne or prosecco as the ideal accompaniment to fried chicken: “The bubbles cut through the richness,” she says.
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