Tavern Fried Chicken
A Fried Chicken Recipe From the North
Lt. Dan’s grandma was one of my all-time favorite people… We called her Mo.
She had strong political views, yet with grace to listen to the opinions of those around her. She had a natural flair in the kitchen, and china place settings for thirty.
Yet best of all, Mo had a generous heart and contagious raspy laugh.
I miss her.
Tavern Fried Chicken
Several years before Mo passed away, she visited us in Asheville for the last time. One night, we had a grand conversation around our dining table, babbling on about funny family anecdotes, travel, and recipes.
Many years ago, Mo and Papa used to own a tavern in Northern Indiana, right on the border of Michigan.
Along with beer and basic cocktails, they served an assortment of what I would consider very “Northern” snacks and dishes… Pub cheese and crackers, frog legs, burgers, Hungarian goulash, chicken and rice soup, and best of all Tavern Fried Chicken.
Coming from the (lower) midwest, and now living in the south, I had never heard of, or tasted, Tavern Fried Chicken.
That night, Mo described her recipe in great detail…
Instead of breading the chicken in the 3-step flour-buttermilk-flour method most southern cooks use, she dunked her chicken in a dredge that was heavy on cornstarch. Then she dunked the chicken in pure egg whites right before dropping it into the hot oil.
Mo explained this method makes a lighter crispier crust on the chicken that is more delicate than the thicker knobby breading on southern fried chicken.
Northern Fried Chicken Vs Southern Fried Chicken
Although I love Mo’s best fried chicken recipe, with its thin airy crust, after making it myself I did find some pros and cons, when comparing it to classic southern buttermilk fried chicken.
Northern Fried Chicken
- Pro: This fried chicken has an etherial crunchy coating that is well seasoned, yet does a better job of showing off the chicken inside, than traditional southern fried chicken.
- Con: Because the crust is so light and airy, it does not hold up as long as southern fried chicken. That means, it’s not a great make-ahead dish. You should eat it right away.
Southern Fried Chicken
- Pro: Southern fried chicken tends to have a slightly thicker, denser crust that can hold in moisture longer. Therefore, this is a better recipe of prep-ahead parties and picnics.
- Con: Southern fried chicken is often all about the crust, so the chicken inside is overshadowed by the crunch and seasoning.
Mo’s Best Fried Chicken Recipe
What to know how to fry chicken, Mo’s way?
Mo explained that the combination of the cornstarch and egg whites makes the coating puff up and fill with tiny air bubbles when it first hits the hot oil. Then it compresses slightly and turns very crispy as you cook it.
After making Tavern Fried Chicken to her specifications, I found I love the crust and the overall flavor of the fried chicken… Especially when you take the time to brine the chicken beforehand, as Mo instructed.
Tavern Fried Chicken Recipe Ingredients
- Bone-In Chicken Pieces – I like to use chicken legs and thighs.
- Salt – For the brine and the breading.
- Cornstarch – The coating should be heavier on cornstarch than flour, so it’s extra light.
- All-Purpose Flour – You can swap gluten-free baking mix if needed.
- Paprika – I am obsessed with smoked paprika, but you can use sweet paprika or hot paprika if you like.
- Garlic Powder – For a bold zesty pop of flavor.
- Onion Powder – For even more zesty flavor.
- Black Pepper & Cayenne Pepper – To add a little heat.
- Egg Whites – To make the crust puff up.
- Peanut Oil – For frying. You can also use lard, tallow, vegetable shortening, or another high-heat oil.
How To Make Fried Chicken
- Brine the Chicken. Soaking the chicken in salty water for 1-2 hours greatly enhances the taste and texture.
- Dry the Chicken. Set the chicken on a wire rack to dry. It must be thoroughly dry before frying.
- Make the Coating. Mix the cornstarch and spice mixture in one bowl. Then beat the egg whites in another bowl.
- Prep the Oven. Preheat the oven to low heat to act as a warming drawer.
- Prep the Fry Oil. Place a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Attach a cooking thermometer to the side of the pan. Pour the oil into the pan and wait until it reaches 360 degrees F.
- Dredge the Chicken. Dunk the chicken in the cornstarch mix and then immediately into the egg whites.
- Fry the Chicken. Fry the chicken in the hot oil for 14-15 minutes, flipping the pieces with tongs every couple of minutes.
- Keep Warm. If working in batches, move the fried chicken to the warm oven, until all the chicken is cooked.
Get The Full (Printable) Tavern Fried Chicken Recipe Below
Is Tavern Fried Chicken A Good Make-Ahead Recipe?
No, not really. I mean, it will still taste good several days later, but there’s nothing quite like fried chicken fresh out of the hot oil.
The crust on Northern Fried Chicken is thinner than the crust on Southern Fried Chicken, so it doesn’t hold up to the juicy chicken inside quite as long.
Can I Make This Fried Chicken Recipe Gluten-Free?
Yes, you can, and it’s REALLY good!
Make sure the cornstarch you buy is pure corn (no additives) and then substitute Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Mix for the all-purpose flour.
Can I Skip The Chicken Brine?
Yes, technically you can. However, brining poultry gives it the best flavor and increases the juiciness of the meat. It’s worth the extra time!
If you do skip this step, make sure to salt the chicken before rolling it in the cornstarch mixture.
Do I Have To Check The Internal Temperature Of The Fried Chicken?
No. That’s the beauty of using a cooking thermometer in the oil.
If you have your oil at the right temperature and cook the chicken at least 14 minutes, it will be fully cooked on the inside.
How Long Does It Take To Fry Whole Bone-In Chicken Breasts?
Believe it or not, the breasts will fry in the same amount of time as the drumsticks (legs) and thighs. They just usually take up a lot more room in the pan.
What Do I Do With The Leftover Oil?
Once the oil has cooled to room temperature, what should you do with it?
Old-timers would tell you to strain the oil with cheesecloth to remove any debris. Then pour it back into its original bottle and refrigerate for later use. You can reuse fry oil 3-4 times before it should be discarded.
However, if you want to discard the oil right away, wait until it’s fully cooled. Then pour it back into its original bottle, place the cap back on, and throw it away.
- Do not ever pour oil down your sink!
- Do not try to pour it into a container while it’s still hot.
- And it’s not a good idea to pour it into your compost pile. The oil will attract all kinds of pests.
More Family Inspired Recipes
- Nana’s Epic Ham Bone Navy Bean Soup
- Mom’s Best Pot Roast Recipe
- How To Make The BEST Potato Salad
- Hungarian Chicken Paprikash
- Homemade Lasagna with Sausage
- Skillet Turkey Pot Pie
- Potato Chip Cookies
- Caribbean Spiced Rum Cake
Tavern Fried Chicken Recipe
- 4 pounds chicken legs and bone-in thighs (about 16 pieces)
- 1/4 cup salt + 2 teaspoons, divided
- 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (could be gluten-free baking mix)
- 1 teaspoon paprika (I always use smoked paprika)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 10 egg whites
- 48 ounce peanut oil (or another high-heat oil)
- For the Brine: Measure 1/4 cup salt into a large bowl, big enough to fit all the chicken. Add 1 cup hot tap water and stir until the salt dissolves into the water. Then fill the bowl 1/3 full with cold water. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl. Then add additional cold water to make sure all the chicken pieces are covered. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and brine for 1-2 hours.
- Set a wire rack over a large rimmed baking sheet and move the chicken pieces to the rack to dry out. They must be very dry before moving on. You can help them along by patting the chicken with paper towels. Air drying usually takes 30-60 minutes.
- For the Breading: Set out two large clean bowls. In the first bowl, whisk the cornstarch, flour, 2 teaspoons salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, and cayenne together. In the second bowl, whisk the egg whites to break them up.
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Once the chicken is very dry, roll all the pieces in the cornstarch mixture and set back on the wire rack. Let the chicken rest while you prepare the oil.
- To Fry: Place a large dutch oven (or wide deep saute pan) over medium-high heat. Attach a cooking thermometer to the side of the pan. Pour the oil into the pan and wait until it reaches 360 degrees F. Adjust the burner if needed to try to keep the heat at this temperature.
- Dunk one piece of chicken at a time into the egg whites. Let the excess drip off and carefully place the chicken into the hot oil. Roll the chicken over with tongs. Then repeat until you fill the pan.
- Fry the chicken for 14-15 minutes, flipping the pieces with tongs every 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the cooking thermometer and adjust the heat if the temperature dips below 350 or goes above 360 degrees F.
- Set a clean wire rack over another rimmed baking sheet, or line a tray with paper towels. Set the fried chicken on the rack (or paper towels) and place in the warm oven to keep crisp.
- Repeat with the remaining chicken in one to two more batches. Once all the chicken is cooked, serve warm.
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