Here’s my recipe for beer-brined fried chicken. For the rationale behind a few of the steps — particularly the “hot wash” — see yesterday’s post on the challenges to frying chicken. I made two versions of this chicken, one brined in wheat beer and one brined in lambic. I liked the wheat beer brined chicken better and include that recipe here. The lambic version was similar, but had some “funky” notes, as you would expect.
Beer-Brined Fried Chicken
one chicken (as close to 3.0 lbs./1.4 kg as possible)
one 500 mL bottle of wheat beer (I used Ayinger Bräu-Weisse, a hefe-weizen)
3.5 fl. oz. (100 mL) vinegar
3.5 fl. oz. (100 mL) coarse salt
water to make 2 quarts of brine
Spices, Coating and Oil
1 tbsp. seasoned salt (Lawry’s)
1 tbsp. seasoned pepper (Lawry’s)
1 tbsp. black pepper (preferably from a pepper mill)
1 cup all-purpose flour
additional flour (at most a cup)
36 oz. peanut oil (enough to cover the bottom half of the chicken in the pan)
Feel free to use your own spice mix, or add to this one; there are plenty of fried chicken recipes on the web. Many include garlic salt, onion powder, paprika or cayenne pepper in the mix. (Some of these are part of the seasoned salt and pepper blends.)
You can also fry the chicken in lard.
You can also brine the chicken in buttermilk, but then it’s not beer-brined chicken.
Brine Chicken — Combine the brine ingredients in a large pitcher or bowl. Stir to dissolve the salt. Place the chicken pieces in zip-lock plastic bags (I use quart-sized bags) and divide the brine as equally as is practical between the bags. Seal bags (squeezing as much of the air out as is practical) and brine in your refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight at a maximum.
“Hot Wash” — Immediately before dredging and frying chicken, pour brine out of bags and replace with hot (120 °F/50 °C) tap water. Let chicken sit in hot water for 5–10 minutes. Remove chicken and shake off excess water (or pat dry with paper towels). [What is this step for?]
Coat Chicken — In a large plastic or paper bag, combine seasoned salt, seasoned pepper, cracked black pepper and flour. Shake bag to mix the spices evenly into the flour. Lightly salt pieces of chicken with table salt. Add one to three pieces of chicken to the bag and shake to coat chicken. Repeat until all pieces are coated. Once all pieces are covered, begin heating peanut oil to 375 °F (190 °C). After sitting for about 5 minutes, the chicken pieces will start to show “wet spots.” When this happens, re-coat them by shaking them in the flour bag. (You may need to add a bit of fresh flour at this point. Don’t add more spices at this point.)
Option for Breasts — Chicken breasts are the largest pieces and I find it easier to cut them up into “chicken fingers” before frying. If not, fry the breasts separately (because they will take longer) and fry at 325 °F (~165 °C) instead of 350 °F (~180 °F). This takes longer, but they will cook more evenly.
Fry Chicken — Once the oil is heated to 375 °F (190 °C), place several pieces of chicken in the pan. Fry similarly sized pieces in each batch. The oil should come about halfway up around the chicken and the pieces should not be crowded. The chicken will cool the oil at first. Bring the oil temperature back up to 350 °F (~180 °F) and fry the chicken at that temperature. Turn the chicken pieces after 2 minutes, and thereafter every 4–6 minutes. It should take about 16–18 minutes to fry the legs and thighs, less for the wings and more for whole breasts. However, do not rely on the timing. Take the temperature at the thickest part of each chicken piece and remove when the interior temperature is 165 °F (74 °C). Place on a double thick layer of paper towels and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Reheat oil to 375 °F (190 °C) before frying subsequent batches of chicken.