There are several things in the kitchen that frighten me—grilling, roasting whole birds, serving fruit with meat—but few are as daunting as frying. There's just something about roiling oil that doesn't seem particularly friendly to my unique brand of clumsiness.
As a rule, though, not having deep-frying skillz as part of my repertoire hasn't been too limiting; because I love my bread with butter and my grits with cheese, my body isn't protesting that I lack fat-giving prowess in that one area. I happen to be fussy about my fried foods, anyway—though French fries are among my most favorite guilty pleasures, I don't have that Southern affection for fried okra, country-fried steak, or big, bone-filled pieces of fried chicken.
I do, however, in the not-so-secret recesses of my brain, carry an unrelenting torch for boneless fried chicken—thin, cutlet-size pieces of breast with super crunchy, super spicy outsides. I don't have much use for it if it isn't assaulted with cayenne pepper; I'm never going to be someone who orders the chicken fingers off restaurant menus, but I will walk over hot coals listening to Ann Coulter's voice for a Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich.
(SHAME. I feel shame.)
I love this recipe, which I adapted from Food.People.Want, because it's sort of infinitely forgiving. I managed to have the wrong size pot, not enough oil, and a propensity for knocking the candy thermometer into the floor with every ungainly movement. (Truly. I stopped counting after it skittered across the kitchen for the 11th time as I scrambled out of the way in my best attempts to avoid a 325-degree projectile.) But with the right guidance, and a little patience, I came away with four delicate, subversively spicy, sinfully crispy pieces of chicken.
I won't give the recipe for the haricots verts you see here, because it amounted to shallots + garlic + beans = undercooked blahness. I will, however, reveal my secret to luscious, creamy, stick-your-whole-face-in-the-pot mashed potatoes:
I didn't marinate the chicken overnight, and while I think it would be even more spicy and tenderized if I had, it was still delicious without the extra soaking time. I topped the chicken with a little chopped tomato and a spritz of lemon juice to balance the richness, plus a drizzle of ranch dressing to temper the heat and ... add more richness.
I will be making this again, and often. Please don't tell my mother. Or my mirror.
Spicy Fried Chicken Cutlets
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken cutlets
1 tablespoon paprika
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
Garnishes: chopped tomatoes, ranch dressing
1. Whisk together buttermilk and 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper; add chicken, and marinate at least 1 hour or overnight.
2. Combine paprika and next 7 ingredients. In a shallow dish, lightly beat eggs with hot sauce. In a separate shallow dish, combine flour with 1 teaspoon black pepper. Remove chicken from marinade, and sprinkle both sides of each cutlet liberally with paprika mixture. Dip chicken in egg mixture, and dredge in flour mixture, shaking off excess flour.
3. Heat oil over medium-high heat until temperature reaches 325 degrees on a candy thermometer. Fry chicken, in batches, 4 minutes or until golden brown. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.