I adore the month of February. I love to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The few days in February that remind us of impending Springtime are joyous. I’m a nut for Mardi Gras. But most of all, I love February because it’s my wedding anniversary. That’ll be one year, folks. Wow. It’s gone fast. As a couple who’s moved twice in 2 years, started 4 new jobs, and bought 2 houses, we haven’t had the most ordinary first year of marriage. We didn’t have a run-of-the-mill honeymoon, either. We got married in my hometown outside of Dallas, and then we drove all across the South. We stopped in New Orleans, Birmingham, Savannah, and Charleston. Even though Birmingham, Alabama was only our second stop, we were positive we ate the best fried chicken we will ever eat in our life.
The name of the joint is Saw’s Soul Kitchen. It was packed on a Friday afternoon with college professors, students, and locals chowing down on grilled pimento cheese and fried chicken. To be exact: sweet tea fried chicken. My husband took one bite, rolled his eyes back in his head, and declared it to be the best ever. As people who have had the great pleasure of eating heaps of fried chicken in our lives, this was no small thing. It had a perfectly crisp crust that oozed sweet juice at each bite. We took breaks between bites only to moan. I found the place through a Southern Living recommendation, which incidentally proved to be the only reliable source for restaurant recs on the whole trip.
This is my attempt to recreate the most perfect fried chicken. I brined the chicken for a full 2 days. I recommend putting the bird in the buttermilk and sweet tea mixture on Friday night. Then, fry it up on Sunday after Church.
I’m no stranger to frying food. I love to fry. I love that it ties you to the stove and simultaneously draws everyone else around you. I believe frying skills to be a gift, one that can be learned but is best when it’s innate—much like athleticism. That said, this chicken is oven-fried. That does not mean it’s healthy or baked instead of fried. It is fried whilst in the oven. Many soul food joints swear by this technique to develop crispy crusts and moist meat. Needless to say, they are right.
The technique is simple: the butter and oil melt in the skillet in a hot oven. The chicken is battered twice, and then placed in the already hot skillet. After 20 minutes, flip the bird. After the first turn, the chicken won’t appear to be dark enough, but it will darken further as the other side fries (check out the photo below).
I used Moonshine sweet tea concentrate for my marinade, but if you can’t find it, just boil down 1.5 cups until you get ½ cup of sweet tea concentrate.
For fried chicken that serves two, we generally use one chicken breast, with the tenderloin attached, that is chopped in half through the bone, plus 2-3 drumsticks. Use any combination of light and dark meat you like.
- 1 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, chopped in half through the bone
- 2-3 skin-on chicken drumsticks
- 1 cup buttermilk (use the real stuff)
- ½ cup sweet tea concentrate
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons oil (peanut, canola, or vegetable)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- In a medium bowl, add the chicken pieces. In a small glass, whisk together the buttermilk, sweet tea concentrate and 1 tablespoon of salt. Stir well to dissolve the salt. Pour this mixture over the chicken, cover, and marinate 48 hours.
- When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425.
- When the oven is at 425, place the cast iron skillet on the center rack and let it heat for 10 minutes. Add the butter and oil. It should melt almost immediately and begin to sizzle. Place the pan back in the oven while you do the next step.
- Next, bread your chicken. Remove the pieces from the marinade, but reserve the marinade. Add the wet pieces of chicken to the flour mixture and use your hands to toss to coat each with flour. Then, repeat the process: back in the buttermilk-sweet tea marinade again and then flour to coat. You just double-battered your chicken.
- Next, carefully arrange the chicken pieces in the pan with the sizzling oil and butter. The chicken should immediately start sizzling and cooking. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Flip the chicken, then bake for another 14-18 minutes. Test the chicken with a thermometer--it should read 165 in the thickest part of the meat and the juices should run clear.
- Immediately remove the chicken from the skillet and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm.