I’ve always loved good fried chicken, sometimes I’m even pretty happy with bad fried chicken. But up until my late thirties or early forties, I would have laughed at anyone suggesting that I make coconut oil fried chicken. But look at me now. Canola oil is gone. So is my old vegetable oil, and Crisco certainly can’t be found in my house anymore. So what’s a boy to do?
**Want to skip the wordy origin story? Go straight to my fried chicken recipe here!**
Thankfully, with fried chicken, there really aren’t too many moving parts to rethink now that I have moved to a real food based diet. The most important three ingredients to rethink are the frying oil, the chicken itself, and the buttermilk marinade, or brine.
And whether or not I should really be eating fried chicken, but sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do!
In my mind, there really aren’t too many complicated decisions to make when buying chicken, or most any meat. My overriding rule is to ensure that I don’t purchase any animals that were raised within the confines of a CAFO, or concentrated animal farming operation. Wow, once you read about those, I assume you will feel the same way, pretty disturbing. Not only am I convinced that trying to eat more locally produced meat is more nutritious, but I also believe it is a more morally desirable way to be engaged with the food production system, of which I am a tiny cog.
Whether or not you want to go all the way and buy only organic locally raised chickens raised only on rolling pastures of countryside, that’s your call. Myself, I find those birds are incredibly expensive ($20 for a 4 lb bird!) and not especially tasty, a little gamey for me. Perhaps my tastes will mature one day, and my moral compass will push me in that direction.
But for now, I continue to try to do better than I have done in the past, and am pretty satisfied with avoiding CAFO produced meat, and purchasing organic birds that have not been raised in overcrowded barns. If you shop at a store similar to Whole Foods, you can find chickens that are graded on a 1 to 5 scale depending upon how humanely they have been raised. At this point in my culinary growth, I try to find chickens that rate a 2 or 3 on the Whole Foods Animal Welfare Standards.
OK, so I know which chicken I will be using. But what about the buttermilk brine that is so important to delicious coconut oil fried chicken? Again, I like to keep it local. I am not going to soak my chicken for hours and hours in some chemical filled low fat buttermilk brine, because low fat has no place in my home. Instead, I have found a small scale dairy farm less than 100 miles from where I live, and it just so happens that they produce whole milk, cream, buttermilk, and much more. I am still learning about what makes a good, healthy and authentic buttermilk, but as I learn, I feel much more comfortable buying my buttermilk from a local dairy farm with pasture raised cows, rather than the alternative, a mass production operation where the cows are much more likely to be inhumanely treated, and their milk much more likely to be tainted with blood, pus and drugs. Sounds yummy.
Humanely raised chickens (relatively speaking), and locally produced buttermilk. So far, so good. But what about the frying oil? As I said earlier, I no longer have any vegetable oil of any kind in my house, I am simply too concerned with elevated Omega 6 levels, GMOs and consuming too many poly-unsaturated fats. So I have moved on to cooking with saturated fats, such as butter and coconut oil. I know some people would naturally gravitate towards olive oil, but seeing as it’s primarily made up of mono-saturated fats, the high heat of cooking or frying would prove very damaging to the molecular and nutritional make up of the olive oil.
Also, olive oil tastes very much like olives, shocking. And as much as I like fried chicken, I don’t think I would like it as much if it were olivey. So, because there are so many health benefits to coconut oil, refined coconut oil is my solution. Unrefined coconut oil would taste a bit like coconut, which I would be ok with, but not so much for my family.
Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, has been mildly processed, and shouldn’t smell or taste too much like coconut at all, which is perfect for my coconut oil fried chicken. But stay away from any coconut oil that has RBD on its label, for Refined, Bleached and Deodorized. That kind of oil may be partly, or entirely, hydrogenized, which is trans-fat, and absolutely a no-no. As always, read the label.
Ok, thinking about it, maybe I lied earlier, it seems there might be more to think of when making coconut oil fried chicken than I had thought. What about the flour I should use when dredging my chicken? Traditionally, white flour is called for, which I still have in my house even though many people have named it one of the most horrific foods ever. Whole wheat? I can’t even bring myself to really give that a try. What’s the point of making a dish if no one is going to eat it? It still has to taste good. And when moving over to “real food” I believe it should still taste like the dish you are trying to replace. Basically, my coconut oil fried chicken had better taste like good fried chicken, or no one is going to eat, and what’s the point in that?
So yes, I cheated, and used modern day white flour. But at least it was organic, non-bleached and non-bromated. One move I might make towards making my flour a bit less offensive is to use an ancient flour, such as Einkorn, that does not contain the same levels of gluten that our modern wheat does. But that gets me back to the taste of whole wheat, which just doesn’t work for me and fried chicken. But if I use a high extraction ancient whole wheat, one in which most of the bran and germ have been removed, then it might be close enough to white wheat that it would be a passable substitute. I’ll let you know, next time.
UPDATE: Ok, I tried it! I made a batch of Einkorn flour fried chicken, in coconut oil of course, and it was delish! To be clear, when deciding which type of Einkorn wheat flour I used for this recipe, I went with the high extraction, or “all purpose” version of Einkorn, which is the most widely found available type of flour, as opposed to the sprouted whole wheat flour, which I’m worried would be too heavy and “wheaty” for good fried chicken.
Coconut Oil Fried Chicken
For the brine:
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup Panko or bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoon baking powder
- coconut oil enough to cover the bottom of your frying pan with 1/4 – 1/2 inch of oil
- At least two hours (four hours is better, eight hours is even better) before cooking the chicken, pour the buttermilk into a large bowl
- Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper, and stir to mix
- If using whole breasts or cutlets, cut into smaller pieces, think Chicken Strips – if using thighs, they can be left as is
- Place chicken into buttermilk brine and let soak for at least 2 hours, in the refrigerator, the longer the better – I use a gallon sealable bag, place the chicken in and pour the buttermilk mixture over the top.
- About an hour before cooking time approaches, remove chicken from refrigerator
- Place flour, Panko and baking powder in large resealable bag and mix to combine
- Remove the chicken from the brine and drop it into the bag with the flour and Panko mixture, seal, and shake to evenly coat all of the chicken pieces with as much of the flour mixture as possible
- Remove the coated chicken from the bag and arrange on wire rack to sit until it is time to cook them – preheat oven to 200 degrees
- Place enough coconut oil into electric skillet to cover the bottom with at least 1/4 inch of oil, up to 1/2 inch, and heat skillet to 325 or 350 degrees, or until the coconut oil just starts to smoke
- Depending upon your pan size, place a few to quite a few of the chicken pieces in the oil making sure not to crowd them too much
- Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown, and then turn chicken pieces
- Cook for another few minutes until both sides are nicely colored and quite crispy
- Place chicken on clean wire rack on a tray and slide into a warm oven, 200 degrees, to keep warm and cook through while you fry the rest of the chicken pieces
This may be the most difficult recipe to get a nutritional panel assembled compared to the others I’ve put together for my recipes. I suppose any recipe that involves brining, breading and dredging make nutrition much more difficult to calculate.
So here are my disclaimers and guesses, from an earlier iteration of my recipe… I used three cups buttermilk for the brine, but assumed that only 1 cup of it made it’s way to the final dish, and that might be high, I didn’t really measure, just a guess. Same kind of calculations for the flour, I used three cups of flour but guessed that only half of that showed up on my plate. And finally, I speculated that 1/2 cup coconut oil would still be present on my fried chicken when it came time to eat. I didn’t really bother with adjusting the spice amounts, not because I believe that they all make it to the finished dish, but because they don’t really matter when counting nutrition values.