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Elevate oven-fried chicken by using a rack

There’s a coronavirus constant to the restaurant takeout menu.

Fried chicken is featured by a majority of eateries who are keeping their kitchens, if not their dining rooms, open. And it makes complete sense, given the comfort-food appeal of fried chicken, its prominence among quick-service establishments and the simple fact that home cooks often are less willing to tackle the mess of breading and frying chicken than, say, mixing up meatloaf or searing some pork chops.

Coronavirus aside, my preference for chicken tends toward caramelizing the skin on a hot sheet pan while oven-roasting. On rarer occasions, I’ll “oven-fry” bone-in, skin-on chicken that’s been simply dredged in seasoned flour, coaxed into a crispy crust with the chicken’s own fat and a small supplement of melted butter.

While I appreciate fried chicken as a classic concept, I tend to find the breading superfluous. Maybe it’s because I’m an aficionado of actual chicken skin that I’m suspicious of a coating, albeit crunchy, that covers it up. Suffice it to say, fried chicken batter better really, really good to earn my enthusiasm.

Although this isn’t a wet batter, the combination of Parmesan cheese and panko is promising on just about any protein. And baking on a rack elevates the oven-frying method, heightening the chicken’s color and crunch.

A drizzle of spiced oil in this recipe from the Los Angeles Times emulates the “hot” chicken ubiquitous to Nashville that’s finding new fans all over the country. Traditionally, the dish is served with white bread and pickles, the former for soaking up the spiced oil and taming the heat, the latter to provide a tart counterpoint.

Oven-Fried Nashville-Style Hot Chicken

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for rack

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup hot pepper sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, divided

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

12 chicken drumsticks (about 3 1/2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, divided

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne, divided

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Set an oven rack in top third of oven, then heat to 450 F. Line a half-sheet pan or rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack over it. If rack isn’t nonstick, rub with oil to lightly coat.

In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, hot pepper sauce, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon of the garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the chicken and turn to evenly coat. Let stand while preparing breading.

In a shallow dish, combine the panko, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of the paprika, 1 teaspoon of the cayenne and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Rub mixture together with your fingers to break crumbs into smaller bits. Roll a drumstick in mixture to evenly and completely coat, pressing on crumbs if needed. Shake off any excess crumbs, then place drumstick on rack. Repeat with remaining drumsticks. If you have time, let stand for at least 15 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven until chicken is golden brown, crunchy and cooked through, for about 30 minutes. When you pierce a drumstick with tip of a sharp paring knife, juices should run clear.

While chicken bakes, in a medium heatproof bowl, combine the sugar with remaining 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 tablespoon cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the 1/4 cup oil until wavy. Pour over spices. Once sizzling subsides, stir well.

As soon as chicken comes out of oven, stir spiced oil again and drizzle evenly over drumsticks. Serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tribune News Service photo