Crunchy is the name of the game in this oven-fried chicken recipe

  • The Colonel has nothing on these Crunchilicious Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs.

    The Colonel has nothing on these Crunchilicious Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs. Courtesy of Don Mauer

  • Courtesy of Don MauerBrining made easy with a zip-top plastic bag.

    Courtesy of Don MauerBrining made easy with a zip-top plastic bag.

 
 
Updated 4/8/2020 7:54 AM

Note: Don Mauer is taking some time off. Enjoy this column which originally published on Aug. 9, 2017.

The idea of "oven-fried" chicken has been around for decades. When low-fat food plans were the "thing," many folks created recipes for oven-frying chicken breasts. Most "oven-fried" methods, including mine, didn't even come close to the flavor and crunch of deep-fat fried chicken since the fat in which chicken fries is intimately linked to that chicken's flavor profile.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Over the last year, I've played with different ways to season skinless, boneless organic chicken thighs before roasting them. I've shared with you the 11 herbs and spices recipe that the Colonel's distant relative revealed in an interview. The scent of that Not-the-KFC chicken had the aroma of the Colonel's chicken, but when it came to the taste, it did not match the Colonel's. Nope.

Recently, I tried making oven-fried chicken thighs with a little organic ghee (clarified butter) in the roasting pan and coated with a flour, salt and fresh ground black pepper mixture.

Two amazing things happened. Since I didn't crowd the pan in which they roasted, there was no liquid accumulating in the pan's bottom, and the light, seasoned flour coating clung nicely to the chicken.

What truly blew me away was the chicken's flavor; this minimally seasoned, oven-fried chicken tasted just like the fried chicken my Mom made more than 50 years ago. Wow!

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Soon after that, I came across a recipe that claimed it could produce "crunchy" deep-fat fried chicken, the one thing I'd never seen done with oven-fried chicken. I'd never even tried it since that "crunch" was the result of a thick flour coating and deep fat frying.

My success with the oven-roasted, lightly coated chicken thighs got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could create crunch with a special coating and an unusually high oven temperature.

Eighteen years ago, I created a recipe for brining chicken in buttermilk that produced a moist and flavorful oven-roasted chicken. I wondered if I bumped-up the salt so that brining took an hour and not eight hours, I could keep the chicken from drying-out at such a high oven temperature.

Next, I found a recipe that mixed some of the same buttermilk used to brine the chicken into the seasoned flour, so the flour clumped, producing a thicker coating. Besides the usual suspects used to season the flour, I also added some sweet paprika to help the coating brown.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A gallon zip-lock bag made it a cinch to make my brine with grass-fed, whole buttermilk and sea salt and to hold the chicken. Easy.

As my organic, boneless, skinless chicken thighs brined, I got everything ready -- two pans, one for holding the newly seasoned chicken on a rack and one for the oven. Also, mixed-up the dry ingredients for the seasoned flour and added a quarter-cup of buttermilk just before the chicken was ready to exit the brine.

I loved the way my chicken looked once coated, almost fluffy. I melted the ghee in the roasting pan and then placed the chicken on the pan on the same side that would have had skin. That way, the ghee fried the flour and browned it. After 10 minutes, I flipped the thighs over. After 25 minutes, in-and-out of the oven -- done.

My new chicken looked amazing; brown and crisp. Right from the first bite, I knew I'd created what I call "crunchilicious" chicken, without deep fat frying. The crust crunched, and the meat under it was juicy, tender and flavorful.

This is a keeper.

Crunchilicious Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs

2 cups whole buttermilk (organic preferred), plus cup additional

2 tablespoons sea salt

3 pounds organic skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 12 pieces)

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (organic preferred)

1 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons sweet paprika

teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

teaspoon garlic powder

4 tablespoons organic ghee*

Add the buttermilk and salt to a one-gallon, zipper-lock bag, seal and shake for at least one minute to dissolve the salt. Open the bag and transfer the chicken thighs, one at a time, from the package to the bag. Seal the bag and shake until the chicken's well coated with the buttermilk mixture. Open the bag slightly, press as much air out as possible and reseal. Lay on the kitchen counter for 1 hour.

While the chicken brines: In a medium mixing bowl whisk flour, baking powder, paprika, thyme, pepper, and garlic together until well combined.

Five minutes before the chicken's fully brined, add the cup buttermilk to the flour mixture. Using your fingers work the flour and buttermilk together until it is well incorporated. This mixture will be lumpy; not smooth.

Place the oven rack in the center position and begin heating to 450 degrees. Add the ghee (or oil) to a half sheet baking pan and place in the heating oven. When the ghee melts, remove the pan from the oven, and tip the pan so that the ghee distributes evenly over the pan's bottom. Set aside.

Place a large wire rack into a rimmed pan. Set aside.

When the chicken thighs are done brining, take each, one by one, drain a little of the brine back into the brining bag and place the wet thigh in the flour mixture, pressing the mixture into the thighs. Gently knock off excess mixture and place on the wire rack in what, if they had skin, would have been skin side down. Discard brine and bag.

When all the thighs are coated, place them in the ghee coated pan, spacing them evenly so they do not touch. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and, with tongs, gently turn over the thighs. Return the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until the thighs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and serve.

Makes 12 thighs.

Kitchen Notes: Do not brine the thighs for more than 60 minutes, since they will absorb too much salt.

*Regular unsalted butter's smoke point (350 degrees versus 450 for ghee) is too low for oven frying. If ghee's not available, substitute peanut oil (450-degree smoke point) or rice bran oil (490-degree smoke point).

Nutrition values per thigh: 270 calories (31.3 percent from fat), 10.2 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 17.2 g carbohydrates, 25.3 g protein, 97 mg cholesterol, 404 mg sodium.

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