I’ve cooked up a lot of different things in my little kitchen, but one recipe I’ve never attempted is fried chicken. It scares me! Besides the obvious calorie count and fear of starting a massive kitchen fire, I’m really most afraid that I’ll screw it up. There are plenty of fried chicken places here in the South and I let them do the frying.
Due to my fear of the fryer, fire, and fat, I’ve tried more oven baked “fried” chicken recipes than I can count. I’ve made a lot of them…one time each. I’ve never run across one that my family loved. They are always just OK.
Last week, I bought a new cookbook. (I know, something new and different for me, right?) I was thrilled to find The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2012 on my latest trip to Costco! How they’ve managed to publish the best recipes of 2012 when it’s still 2011 is beyond me, but they did, and I’m glad. If you’re not familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, their mission is to test recipes until they can arrive at the very best possible version of the recipe. They have a show on PBS, publish Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, and I have a few books from their vast collection of cookbooks. They’ve never let me down.
So, when I ran across their recipe for Crunchy Buttermilk Baked Chicken in my new book, I decided to give it a try. If they took the time to perfect it, maybe it would be good enough to try a second time.
I started by whisking together some buttermilk, sour cream, salt, and a couple of tablespoons of ranch salad dressing seasoning mix.
This flavorful brine would be home for my chicken for about an hour. The Test Kitchen cooks said to remove the skin from the chicken (Score! Another calorie buster!) and soak the meat in the brine for a bit. I used two bone-in chicken breasts, cut in half, and a few drumsticks for the kids.
While the chicken was soaking, I toasted up the crumb mixture. The recipe called for five slices of hearty white bread. I had a half of a baguette left over from the previous day, so I decided that would probably work. It did. Into the food processor it went, along with the rest of the powder in the ranch seasoning packet.
I pulsed the bread and seasoning in the processor until I had a nice crumb mixture. Then, I spread them out on a cookie sheet to toast them up a bit in the oven.
Keep an eye on the crumbs when they’re in the oven! It didn’t take long for them to brown up at all. I looked at them and they were white, looked again seconds later and the crumbs on the edge were starting to burn. Watch them like a hawk!
When it was time to bake up the chicken, I removed the chicken from the brine and dredged it in the crumb mixture, making sure to cover every bit of the chicken and I pressed the crumbs into place just to make sure. Then, they were laid out onto a cookie sheet.
(See? Much less scary than a big vat of oil.)
I baked the chicken, first, on the lowest rack of the oven for about 10 minutes. This crisped up the bottom nicely. Then, I moved the baking sheet to the middle rack and reduced the oven temperature a bit. There, it baked up perfectly in about 20 minutes!
I served it up to my family, hoping for the best, but knowing that I might just get a mediocre review based on my previous attempts at “fried” chicken. I’m happy to report that everyone loved it! My kids gobbled it up! My husband even commented that it was the best “fried” chicken I’d ever made and he was shocked when I told him that I’d removed the skin, because it had crisped up so nicely on the outside with so much flavor on the inside. The chicken was perfectly moist.
We have a winner! Thank you, America’s Test Kitchen! This one will definitely make a second appearance at our house.
CRUNCHY BUTTERMILK BAKED CHICKEN
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
- 2 cups buttermilk
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 (1 oz.) envelope ranch salad dressing seasoning mix (I used Hidden Valley)
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 2-3 lbs. bone in chicken pieces (breasts, cut in half) skin removed and trimmed
- 5 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
- nonstick spray
- Adjust the racks in your oven to the lowest and middle positions. Preheat oven to 450*.
- Whisk buttermilk, sour cream, salt, and 2 Tbsp. of the ranch seasoning together in a large bowl. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to one hour.
- Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse the bread and remaining ranch seasoning until finely ground. Bake the bread crumbs on a baking sheet, on the middle rack, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 5 minutes. Watch the crumbs carefully so they don’t burn! Transfer the toasted crumbs to a pie plate or shallow dish.
- Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray. Remove the chicken from the brine, allowing the excess buttermilk to drip back into the bowl. Dredge each piece of chicken in the breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere. Place each piece of coated chicken on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake on the lowest rack until bottom of the chicken is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Move the baking sheet to the middle rack and reduce the oven temperature to 400*. Bake until the chicken is golden brown and the breasts register at 160 degrees, legs/thighs register at 175 degrees, 20-25 minutes.