Shake Fried Chicken In A Paper Bag For A More Even Coating

Crispy fried chicken pieces
Crispy fried chicken pieces - Lukas Gojda/Shutterstock

The art of frying chicken harbors so many secrets, elevating a simple food to cult status among diehard devotees. I happen to be one of them, having grown up in the deepest heart of the American South. To this day, I hold Grandma's fried chicken recipe like a badge of honor, written only in my brain cells lest anyone try hijacking it from the culinary cove of family treasures. But there's one thing I will divulge, and it involves chicken, flour, raw eggs, a great big paper bag, and a whole lot of shaking.

If you haven't guessed yet, that's the preparation method of shaking fried chicken in a paper bag. This takes place just before the frying, as the oil heats in a cast iron skillet. The justification for dropping raw chicken parts into a bag of flour is to coat the chicken more evenly for a crispy crust coverage. Both professional and home chefs use some variations on this approach, including different techniques for prepping the chicken for the flour-dive.

Even within families, nuances can arise as grannies, aunties, uncles, cousins, or stray neighbors slip in and out of the kitchen on fried chicken nights. One thing we can all agree on is the quality of the paper bag. Depending on how much chicken you're frying, choose either a large grocery-store-sized bag for multiple cut pieces or a smaller lunchbox size for a nibble of chicken strips. Just make sure there's plenty of room for shaking, and strongly consider double-bagging.

Read more: 12 Different Ways To Cook Chicken

Prepping The Chicken For Deep-Fried Glory

Hands mixing chicken pieces with flour for frying
Hands mixing chicken pieces with flour for frying - bennyqibal/Shutterstock

Let's sweep this out of the way upfront: In the Mississippi Delta, a pro chef is someone barefoot in the kitchen, cooking things the way it's been done for generations. Yes, there's a "new South" mentality in many areas of life, but it rarely enters the kitchen. Having said that, I did venture online to watch Chef Andrew Zimmern's TikTok video of paper bag shaking for fried chicken. As a New York-born and Minnesota-based professional chef, he deserved some down-home cred for the low-brow kitchen trick.

I admit to learning something new about the bag shaking process, but first, his chicken preparation diverges from my own experience. Zimmern marinates the chicken pieces in buttermilk before frying them, while many down-South chefs dip each piece in a bowl of beaten raw eggs before dropping it into the bag of flour. The egg helps the flour adhere to the raw chicken, building up a nice base for an extra-thick crust.

With a bit of extra time, and a really deep fondness for crispy deliciousness, here's another step you can take. After shaking the chicken in the bag of flour, remove each floured piece and dip it again into the egg mixture. Then, drop it back into the flour for a second shake, resulting in a double-thick layer of crunchy fried crust. For even more crispy thickness on your chicken, use self-rising flour. As you can imagine, that bag is getting a good workout by now, but there are ways to avoid soggy, torn-paper disasters.

Shake Things Up The Deep South Way

A young girl eating fried chicken at a picnic
A young girl eating fried chicken at a picnic - Steele2123/Getty Images

For the bag shaking part, place 2 to 3 cups of all-purpose flour in a large, sturdy grocery bag, along with plenty of seasoning -- nothing fancy, just salt and pepper. It's now ready for receiving the belle of the poultry ball. Don't make the rookie mistake of letting the bottom of the bag get soggy, and here's what I learned about that from Andrew Zimmern. Double-fold the opening at the top of the bag, grasp the closed edge, and turn the entire bag upside down. Then, shake it from side to side instead of up and down.

Give it several firm shakes, but not so vigorous that you send chicken and flour flying through torn paper. Then, using tongs, extract each piece of chicken from the flour, and gently slide them, one by one, into the hot oil. Place the first piece at the back of the pan to avoid spits of hot dancing oil, and work your way around the edges of the skillet. And, to really maximize the flavor of the crust, temporarily put aside your preconceptions about the best cooking oils.

Instead of tossing it out, plan ahead and save some bacon grease from your morning breakfast or lunchtime BLT, then heat it up in your cast iron skillet. Drop that flour-coated shaken chicken into the sizzling oil, and get ready for the best fried chicken you've ever had. Enjoy a Southern-style "meat and three" with mashed potatoes, field peas, and cob corn, plus a side of cornbread and a tall glass of sweet iced tea.

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