About four years ago, I posted a recipe for Southern Fried Chicken, which quickly became one of the more popular recipes on this site. I liked the recipe so much that I ended up adding it to my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and then improving it for my second cookbook, Paleo Takeout, to incorporate seasonings similar to those you’d find at a certain famous fried chicken chain restaurant (you know, the kind that comes in a bucket).
As I mentioned in that first fried chicken post, this dish is the convergence of three different events. First, the West African practice of frying chicken was brought to the US as a result of the slave trade. Second, the mass production of pork in the South resulted in an excess of lard for cooking. And finally, cast-iron cookware became a staple of every kitchen during the 19th century. It’s only natural that these elements came together as they did, to create one of the tastiest ways to prepare chicken.
Colonel Harland Sanders first started selling fried chicken during the Great Depression, in Kentucky, and opened his first franchise restaurant in 1952; his success challenged the assumption that “fast food” was limited to hamburgers. His original recipe of “11 herbs and spices” was finalized in 1940, and has been a closely guarded secret ever since. In honor of the original Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe, I also used 11 herbs and spices (although, to be fair, the pinch of thyme used in my recipe was added mostly to reach 11!).
The original preparation for KFC chicken was through traditional pan-frying, but it would take upwards of 30 minutes to prepare one batch of chicken. Ultimately, Colonel Sanders modified a pressure cooker to make the first pressure fryer, which is the method they use today. For my recipe, we’ll be returning to KFC’s roots and pan-frying the chicken – no modified pressure cooker needed.
Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken (Paleo, Primal, Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet, Whole30-adaptable)
4 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
2 cups full-fat buttermilk (see dairy-free note below)
1 tbsp sea salt
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca starch
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
pinch of dried thyme
3 cups lard, for frying, or more if needed
1. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels. In a resealable plastic bag, combine the chicken, buttermilk, and salt and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight—the longer the better. Drain the chicken in a colander, then let dry on a wire rack over a baking sheet for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat your oven to 170°F. Combine the coating ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. In a cast-iron skillet, heat the lard to about 340F. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels, then coat them in the seasonings, shaking off the excess. Fry the chicken in batches until the internal temperature reaches 165F, about 10 minutes per side. As you finish each batch, place the cooked chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a baking sheet; put them in the oven to keep warm as you fry the remaining pieces.
** Not a fan of buttermilk, or avoiding dairy? Substitute 1 1/2 cups coconut milk and 1/4 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. The key to this marinade is its acidity, which tenderizes the chicken.