Tips & Techniques

Genius, 5-Ingredient Fried Chicken—Without the Frying

June 29, 2016

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.)

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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.)

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Top Comment:
“Fully expecting charred chicken chips, I took them out of the oven, amazed they still actually looked ok?! I’ve downed two so far and while crunchier than ideal, they are still very much edible! Thank you Amanda and Judy — for this simple and immensely satisfying recipe 🤗 Next time, I’ll swap my Costco thighs for the organic market variety and mind the time! ”
— LionToes

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.

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

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • LionToes
  • Ron Shapley
    Ron Shapley
  • Lorenza
  • Arrxx
  • Kathy Burgess
    Kathy Burgess
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


LionToes October 12, 2020
So...the minute I read, had this recipe in mind to cook today, on canadian thanksgiving that wasn’t. We weren't celebrating in full force. My son was not coming home, safer in toronto given the current spike, so spatchcocked turkey, that only he can cook masterfully, was not to be. Chicken thighs as a handy and hands off substitute? Yes please.
All was going swimmingly (I have photos which I can send!) until I flipped them, set the timer for the final 20mins and forgot all about them. At some point, i remembered and raced up the stairs to the beep beep beep of the timer. A Half hour later? Longer? Fully expecting charred chicken chips, I took them out of the oven, amazed they still actually looked ok?! I’ve downed two so far and while crunchier than ideal, they are still very much edible! Thank you Amanda and Judy — for this simple and immensely satisfying recipe 🤗 Next time, I’ll swap my Costco thighs for the organic market variety and mind the time!
Ron S. August 6, 2017
Why not Perdue ?? I only shop Perdue......... Because it's not "organic" ?? BS !!
Chuck P. May 24, 2019
Why wouldn’t you want organic? Silly
Lorenza June 16, 2017
Would baking on parchment paper provide a crispy result? I would use convection method at 375 degrees.
Arrxx June 15, 2017
They get incredibly dry before they get crisp.
Kathy B. June 15, 2017
Why do you not recommend using chicken breast in this recipe?
Dana S. June 15, 2017
Would it work with boneless/skinless thighs or is the skin critical?
Jeff M. May 5, 2017
Made this last night, and discovered at the last minute I was out of flour...I know, who runs out of flour? So I used corn starch. Not sure I'd change a thing, came out absolutely delicious, crispy, juicy, flavorful. This is a big winner in my book. And even though it takes long (mine was in the oven a good 75 minutes total) it's just waiting, the work is almost nothing.
Esther L. September 2, 2016
Just made this for dinner. It turned out really yummy. The skin was crispy as if it was deep fried! Thanks for sharing :) will definitely be making this again whenever I crave for fried chicken!
Mohamed N. August 17, 2016
halth food
Ronald S. August 5, 2016
good food
Rich August 3, 2016
Would be nice if someone answered the temperature question. How can you give a time without noting a temperature?
PHIL August 3, 2016
If you go to the recipe it says preheat oven to 400
Rich August 3, 2016
I know my eyesight is bad... but I really looked and didn't see that, and still don't! I searched this page for '400' to make sure and did not find it. By 'the recipe' you mean this page? Or is there a link to an actual recipe instead of the above?
Rich August 3, 2016
I'm so sorry, I do see the link to the recipe now! And indeed... guess there's crow on the menu for tomorrow!
PHIL August 3, 2016
Hey no problem glad you found it
Kate V. July 29, 2016
This recipe is a keeper. Here's a couple beginner's hints: if you overcrowd the chicken, tip out the excess juices so that it can crisp. Also, use a clear glass baking dish if you're not sure about the crisping time- I checked underneath a few times before flipping.
lisa June 15, 2017
Thanks! That's just the advice I needed halfway thru.
Arrxx July 21, 2016
You might be right Schmadrian. But it's only 2 tablespoons - maybe just to keep it form sticking? I bumped up the flavour of the brine with garlic powder, oregano and some paprika. And I added some of this mixture to the flour. Only change was that due to the paprika it didn't take as long to brown deliciously. Tastes great cold as well. Certainly easier that oodles of oil.
schmadrian July 21, 2016
Hey, Arrxx; I think what matters in this recipe is the preparation of the chicken. The brining. (I've never used ice before, but I'll certainly give it a go the next time I'm brining an entire chicken.) There was so much grease/fat when they were done that I realized that next time I'm probably going to use parchment paper to prevent any sticking. I'll let you know how that experiment turns out. : )
Arrxx July 24, 2016
Hi Schmadrian, I cooked mine in a cast iron skillet and then I blotted off the fat. I just discarded the fat left in the skillet. It also worked well in an enameled baking dish. Didn't stick which is might you might need to start with some fat (butter). Curious about cooking on parchment though.
schmadrian July 21, 2016
Long a fan of brining, I thought I'd give this a go. Worked a charm...but, because chicken thighs have to be the greasiest cut this side of goose, I really don't think you need any butter. (And I think there are some pretty pronounced misconceptions regarding brining, sodium levels and blood pressure that need to be cleared up.)
Brenda S. July 16, 2016
What oven temperature do I use?
Arrxx July 16, 2016
See Step 2.
Steven W. September 4, 2016
OR, the site could just put the entire recipe on the page with the article. I mean, really. Is life just about clicks, now?
Paul July 14, 2016
Hmmm.... So this article is a hoax?
The real reason the chicken crisps up is because the chicken already has less fat in it! Most of us can't get chicken like that!
Rhonda35 July 17, 2016
It states in the directions to trim the extra fat from the thighs, if necessary. I used regular grocery store chicken thighs, trimmed off excess fat and skin and they turned out perfectly.
Arrxx July 14, 2016
I tried this and it was great. Even better cold the next day. I've brined chicken in a buttermilk bath (buttermilk, salt, paprika etc.) for frying the regular way. Any thoughts on brining in a buttermilk bath for this technique? Then flour and oven fry.
Dieselle July 14, 2016
Why is the process good only when cooking organic or natural chicken? Thank you for not lecturing on the reasons not to buy Perdue. I am fully aware of the differences. What I am asking is if there is a reason the process won't work on "Perdue like" chickens. Thanks!
Angela @. July 14, 2016
Shh Diesele, don't tell anyone but I've made this with "some such" chicken and it was DELICIOUS! In fact, this recipe will turn a less than perfect piece of chicken into something special. But, like I said, don't tell anyone I old you so. :-)
Angela @. July 14, 2016
* told you so :-)
Dieselle July 14, 2016
Thank you Angela. I did not think the process wouldn't work on "some such" chicken.
Kristen M. July 14, 2016
Thanks Angela—your secret's safe with us :) Dieselle, this is the reasoning from Amanda's original headnote in Cooking for Mr. Latte: "Her other trick is to use good farmers’ market chickens, which taste better and have less fat, so the chicken fries in a film of oil rather than a bath of fat."
Rhonda35 July 17, 2016
I've been making this chicken for decades (I'm another one of Judy's daughters) and I always use cheap grocery store chicken thighs - still delicious! - just be sure to trim off some of the excess fat and skin often found on chicken from the big producers. My other "secret" is pickle juice: whenever we finish a jar of pickles or olives, I strain the brine into a jar and store it in the fridge. If I have enough, I use it, combined with water and ice, to brine the chicken.
Kate V. July 29, 2016
That's genius!
Kim July 12, 2016
How much salt to how much water? Does it have to be a kosher salt or will everyday table salt do?
Mom24 July 10, 2016
FWIW, Ina fries hers first, then bakes.