Once considered old fashioned, messy to eat and cumbersome to cook, fried chicken is now trending on the most stylish restaurant menus, and not just in the South. From New York to L.A., chefs are going gourmet with the picnic basket staple, brining in exotic emulsions and using various animal fats for frying. While classic buttermilk fried remains a chief variety, Nashville hot — a spicy rendition coated in cayenne pepper and a hint of brown sugar — is now all the rage for its piquant flavor. Yes, Grandma’s time-honored recipe may be best, but these popular versions from local chefs prove a fried chicken dinner is still a winner.
It’s a West Texas kind of recipe.
— Mac’s Owner Rena Frost
Mac’s on Main, Grapevine
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“The big thing with our fried chicken is that we really press hard when we put the flour on,” says Mac’s owner Rena Frost of her restaurant’s straightforward recipe. “It’s a West Texas kind of recipe. I think some people just dredge it in flour. We press the flour down to make sure it sticks.” The result is a thick, golden brown crust with a soft crunch that’s easy to eat with a knife and fork, as only boneless chicken breasts are used. “The oil temperature is also important,” Frost adds. “If it’s too low, the chicken is going to be greasy and you won’t get that good crunch.”
Mash’d, Fort Worth
A top-selling dish, the “crazy tender” fried chicken at Mash’d is just that, thanks to an overnight brine in a solution of salt, sugar, lemon and fresh herbs. It’s a trick that helps lock in moisture and flavor, says Omar Adame, kitchen director for all Mash’d locations. The chicken is then double dredged in heavily seasoned flour before being fried and served with Jalapeño Berry Marmalade, a spicy-sweet accompaniment that brings new meaning to “finger-licking good.”
Chop House Burgers, Pantego
Served in a cardboard box via the back door at Chop House Burgers, owner and chef Kenny Mills’ “bootleg” bacon-fried chicken deal ($20 for eight pieces, four corn cobs, garlic mashed potatoes, peppered gravy and four jalapeño-cheddar biscuits) seems like a shady, undercover transaction. That’s part of the fun, Mills says. “When someone comes to the back door and rings the bell, they are treated as if they are involved in some type of questionable activity,” he says. But there’s nothing questionable about the chicken’s savory, salty, indulgent flavor. Chicken pieces are cooked low and slow in bacon drippings for an hour before a double dredging in seasoned flour and buttermilk and frying in a bacon fat-canola oil blend. “We recently added it (to the menu) for dining inside,” Mill says. “But the back door is much more fun.”
Little Red Wasp, Fort Worth
Move over, chicken and waffles. Nashville hot is the new “it” chicken in the restaurant world, and Little Red Wasp is serving its version at dinner daily. Doused in a cayenne pepper-heavy spice blend right after frying, the chicken dish always comes with white bread and sliced pickles, per the original recipe from Nashville. Executive chef Blaine Staniford’s rendition calls for salting overnight, confit (cooking in chicken fat at very low heat for several hours), and then dipping in buttermilk and seasoned flour before frying and coating in the Nashsville-inspired bath of oil, spices and brown sugar. Proceed with caution — and plenty of napkins.
Mac’s Southern Fried Chicken
• 8 boneless chicken breasts
• 2 eggs
• 4 cups buttermilk
• 1 cup whole milk
• 3 1/2 cups flour
• 2 tablespoons salt
• 1 tablespoon black pepper
• Oil, as needed for frying
1. Lightly pound chicken breasts to even out the breast lobe. This will help the chicken cook quicker and more evenly.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and whole milk. In another medium bowl, combine the flour, salt and black pepper.
3. Dip each chicken breast in the egg wash, and then coat well in the flour mixture. Pat firmly and make sure that the breast is covered entirely and there are no moist spots on the breading.
4. Fill a deep pot with oil just under halfway. Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Fry the chicken until golden and crisp, around 6 to 10 minutes.
— 909 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-251-6227, www.macsteak.com
Mash’d Fried Chicken with Jalapeño Berry Marmalade
• 1 gallon water
• Juice from 5 lemons
• 8 ounces fresh herbs of choice
• 1 cup sugar
• 5 cloves of garlic
• 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
• 2 cups sea salt
• 4 chicken breasts
• 4 chicken thighs
• 4 cups flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground five peppercorn
• 4 cups buttermilk
• 4 organic eggs
• Oil, for frying
1. Combine water, lemon juice, herbs, sugar, garlic, black peppercorns and sea salt in a large pot over high heat. Whisk to dissolve salt and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
2. Allow brine to cool completely and then add chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
3. Combine flour, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and five peppercorn mélange in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and eggs.
4. Double dredge brined chicken by first coating in flour, then egg wash, then flour again. Fry for 5 minutes in a 325-degree fryer. Serve with Jalapeño Berry Marmalade. (Recipe follows.)
Jalapeño Berry Marmalade
• 4 roasted jalapeños
• 6 cups sugar
• Zest and juice from 4 oranges
• 4 pints berries of choice
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 ounce minced shallots
Add all ingredients into a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and place in fridge. Serve chilled.
— 2948 Crockett St., Fort Worth, 817-882-6723, http://mashd.com
Bootleg Bacon-Fried Backdoor Chicken
• 2 1/2 - 3 pound chicken,
cut into pieces (2 breasts,
2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings)
• 2 to 3 cups bacon drippings
• 2 1/4 pounds flour
• 1/2 tablespoon granulated
• 1 tablespoon white pepper
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper
• 2 to 3 cups buttermilk
• 50/50 blend bacon fat and
canola oil, as needed for frying
1. Heat oven to 220 degrees. In a deep pan, cover chicken with bacon drippings. Place in oven for one hour. Remove and let chicken cool in the bacon drippings.
2. Combine flour, garlic, white pepper, kosher salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Add buttermilk to a separate bowl. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then dip in the buttermilk, then dredge again in the flour.
3. Fry in bacon fat/canola oil blend at 350 degrees for 6 minutes.
— 2230 W. Park Row Drive, Pantego, 817-459-3700
• 5 pounds chicken legs and
• Salt, as needed
• Chicken fat, as needed
(approximately 3-4 cups)
• 3 to 4 pounds flour
• Pepper, as needed
• 3 to 4 cups buttermilk
• 2 cups frying oil
• 4 tablespoons brown sugar
• 3/4 cup cayenne pepper
• 2 teaspoons chili powder
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons onion powder
• 2 teaspoons paprika
1. Season chicken with salt and refrigerate overnight.
2. Heat oven to 170 degrees. In a deep pan, cover chicken with chicken fat and place in oven for four hours. Remove and allow chicken to cool.
3. Season flour with salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add buttermilk to a separate bowl. Combine frying oil, brown sugar and remaining spices in a third bowl and set aside.
4. Dip chicken in buttermilk then in seasoned flour. Fry for 5 to 6 minutes. Upon removing from fryer, dip chicken in oil and spice blend and coat evenly. Serve over white bread and top with pickles.
— 808 Main St., Fort Worth, 817-877-3111, http://littleredwasp.com