You’ve seasoned the chicken and fried it perfectly. This third and last part of the best fried chicken series is about the little extras — the variations that make a fried chicken recipe unique. Let’s start with the breading or the crumb coating.
Does fried chicken need to be coated with crumbs?
No, the breading is optional. It is traditional in some regions but it is not necessary.
But what does breading contribute to fried chicken that a lot of cooks opt for it?
For better context, breading is not limited to bread crumbs. It can also mean cornmeal or flour or flour AND egg.
In restaurants, the breading makes chicken pieces appear larger. It’s a cheat gimmick, really. Some even use batter (as in pancake batter) to make the coating even thicker.
When cheating is not objective, breading is added to make the outside of the chicken very crisp. That’s the advantage.
The disadvantage is that the breading soaks up a lot of oil which you will naturally ingest.
The other disadvantage is that seasoning can be affected. You may have perfectly seasoned chicken but coating it in bread crumbs or flour will detract from that perfect seasoning. Worse, if the bread crumbs were processed from bread with sugar, the cooked chicken will be sweeter than intended. So, while breading is optional, if you want the added crisp, make sure to properly season whatever you are coating the chicken with.
The third disadvantage is that the coating will cook and brown faster than the chicken meat. And this is where it really gets tricky. The outside of the chicken might look perfectly browned leading you to think that the meat is done. Then, you get the shock of your life when you bite into the meat and find it all bloody inside. At that point, there’s nothing much you can do. Re-frying the chicken will burn the breading before the meat gets cooked through.
So, what’s the trick? The trick is temperature control. Drop the chicken in very hot oil, allow to brown just a bit then lower the temperature. Breaded chicken needs to be fried at a lower temperature to avoid premature browning of the coating — how low depends on the kind of breading and the thickness of the coating.
Does fried chicken have to have a sauce?
In my opinion, sauce — whether in the form of a glaze or a gravy — is optional. That might sound like a sacrilege for people who believe that fried chicken and gravy belong together, but seriously… Truly good fried chicken should be delicious by itself and NOT dependent on sauces. If the fried chicken is not edible unless doused with ketchup, for instance, then, it’s not good fried chicken at all.
There are times, however, when a wisp of glaze or a little sauce on the side can enhance the fried chicken experience. That means the glaze or sauce must be good by themselves and not used to hide badly seasoned or disastrously cooked chicken.
Personally, I prefer glaze over gravy. When used correctly, glaze can make fried chicken look and taste better. By itself, fried chicken is just browned meat. But add a glossy glaze and the appearance is transformed. The glaze also ads another layer of flavor.
How is glaze used correctly? In my cooking wiki, that means the glaze should be thick enough to coat the chicken but thin enough to leave the real texture of the chicken visible. Like I said, a glaze is not something to hide bad fried chicken. And don’t use so much that by the time the fried chicken is served it looks like a stew and you have to fish out the chicken pieces from the sauce.