Judy Hesser doesn’t mince words. “I used to pan-fry chicken, but it's a pain in the neck to clean up all that grease.”
She’s right! So she doesn’t do it anymore—because decades ago, Judy (you might know her as Amanda’s mom) learned a better way, though it came without measurements, through word of mouth, from a friend’s mother's housekeeper's cook (maybe).
That genius method calls for only five ingredients and very little active work, unlike other fried chickens we know and love. The most important part is to soak the chicken in salted ice water for a few hours, before shaking each piece in seasoned flour, then crisping them in a hot oven (yes, oven).
By giving the chicken this long, salty, icy bath, Judy says, you’re firming up the meat and flavoring it at the same time. “You're basically koshering the chicken,” she says. (You might also recognize this technique as brining, a.k.a. the easiest way to get well-seasoned, juicy meat of all kinds.)
I wanted to make sure this step made a difference, so I tried a side-by-side test: soaked vs. not. I found that soaking is well worth the trouble, even for the seasoned-well-beyond-the-surface chicken alone. But it also helps shield the meat from drying out, which is handy, since those little thighs will wait in the oven for a good 40 minutes or more for the fat to render and the skin-side to brown and get crunchy, then another 20 or so to finish off the flip side. (I don’t recommend putting chicken breasts through any of this.)
While oven-frying chicken isn’t exactly unheard of, most people who speak of it tend to brag about its slimming qualities, with instructions to shimmy off the skin first. (The exception is Ina Garten, who somehow still manages to actually fry hers after baking it.)
But the part that Judy and I like about oven-frying is that we no longer have to tend to hot oil, so there’s easier clean-up and a whole lot more down time.
By the way, for really easy clean-up, make sure your pan is flame-proof, so that when you're done oven-frying, you can put the sticky dregs on the stove-top, throw in some vegetables (I did asparagus), and deglaze it all with a little water, wine, or beer. Maybe don’t tell the next person to walk in the door to “Eat the asparagus in chicken butter!” like I did.
But that's not all—this technique has legs. “I started to oven-fry everything,” Judy said. “I’d oven-fry eggplant for Eggplant Parmesan. It's so much easier and you can do it for so many more people.”
To merry Fourth of July picnics and barbecues, from Judy and me to you.
- 3 tablespoons sea salt (divided, plus more for serving)
- 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (organic or natural, not Perdue or somesuch)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (plus more for serving)
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by Bobbi Lin