{Take-over week} ~ Aunt Ethel’s Southern Fried Chicken

1 Nov

Aunt Ethel's Fried ChickenIt’s been a fun few weeks around here and as always, I’m full of gratitude just living the adventure.  This week I’m super honored that Relish.com has invited Pretty Little Dishes to contribute their Pinterest ‘Bloggers Inspiring Us‘ board and featured the Caramel Apple Pastries on their “Blogs we Love” round up!  So fun!

On to the recipe this week.   I decided to collaborate on a kitchen take-over and I can’t tell you just how excited I am to have a guest contributor!  Here’s how it happened…

My friends, Gray, MaeLee, and their beautiful baby, Autumn, were out for a visit and since the baby is in command of the schedule, we spent a lot of time around the house and in the neighborhood.  Given that we had some time in between baby naps, Gray, being inspired by his wife’s banana leaf wrapped fish contribution a few weeks ago, decided he too wanted to be a contributor.

I was a huge fan of this collaboration because I got to learn from the expert & take all the pictures, while Gray got his hands dirty…so, I’ll let Gray take it away!

fried chicken prep

{Gray’s Take}

I think every family has a special recipe that’s been handed down from generation to generation.  In most cases those recipes are tied to a special family member or event.  The hard part for me is that there are so many great cooks in my family and so many special recipes.  Our family roots originate in the Deep South, and are the product of seven siblings growing up on a farm. While I could probably compile a novel length book of their recipes, I’d be remiss not to include our family’s favorite fried chicken recipe, carefully curated for over 90 years by my Great Aunt Ethel.

fried chicken piece 1 and 2

Cuts 1 & 2: Repeat on each side


I’m sure every family (especially from the South) has the “best” fried chicken recipe, but I’m confident in saying this is the one. This isn’t something you make everyday, and this isn’t something that’s quick and easy.  This is what you make for special friends and family.  This is how you say, “I love and care about you” in the form of a food as my aunt did for us.

fried chicken piece 3 and 4

Cuts 3 & 4: repeat on each side


You’ll notice from the ingredient list that there’s nothing particularly special.  There’s no family secret ingredient or unique spice from a far-away land.  It’s really up to the cook.  How this chicken is prepared is what makes it special.  With every detail and with every ounce of energy Aunt Ethel poured into this dish, this was her way of showing the family how much she cared about each and every one of us.  It’s my hope to honor our Great Aunt Ethel by sharing this recipe.

Now…about those ingredients…

fried chicken piece 5 and 6

Cuts 5 & 6: Repeat for each wing


{the Chicken}  

Finding a small whole chicken and cutting it yourself is key.  Typically, you’ll need to ask your grocer for help and you’ll probably have to look at organic or hormone free whole chickens as they are smaller.  Today’s average whole chicken is too large, typically 4+ lbs. It’s imperative that you stay in the 2-3lb range.

Piece 7 – step 1 – it’s a process


Piece 7 – step 2 – follow the line


Additionally, by cutting your own chicken you get really clean cuts that produce crispier pieces and save money. If you are preparing chicken for a large number of people and need more specific pieces (legs, thighs, etc.), you can certainly purchase those separately, but make sure it’s skin-on, bone-in and realize those pieces will taste good, but not nearly as good as the pieces from the whole chicken.

Piece 7 – step 3 – get crackin’


Piece 7 – step 4 – snip, snip


Piece 7 – step 5 – follow the bones


Piece 7 – step 6 – pully {aka: wish} bone secured!


If you’ve never cut a whole chicken, there are plenty of YouTube videos to help you.  My first attempts definitely resulted in a mangled chicken, and it finally took a hands-on session with an expert (thanks Lynn) to get it right.  However, after a few times around the block I’m a chicken-carving expert.   Remember, bone-in, and keep the skin-on.  Also, a sharp knife is a must – is not only safer, but helps keep the skin on and in place as you cut.

piece 8 & 9 – tada!


{the Salt}

Plain iodized table salt.  No need for fancy sea-salt, course ground, or other “designer” salts.  The smaller granules of regular table salt coat the chicken evenly and ensure the little nooks and crannies of each piece are properly salted.

{the Shortening}

Crisco All Vegetable Shortening – This is the classic blue can.  Leave the flavored shortening or oil in the cabinet. This step definitely isn’t something you could make super-healthy so no need for modifications.  This recipe is about love.   92 year-old Aunt Ethel never made us skinless, boneless, all white meat chicken.

{the Pan}

I know, not technically an ingredient, but selecting the right frying pan is equally as important.  A medium-sized, medium-to-heavyweight frying pan (or Dutch-oven) is required, 10-14” in diameter, 4-6” deep.

Some pan tips…

Avoid cast-iron pans as quickly reducing and increasing the cooking temperature is difficult.

Avoid deep fryers.  You want the chicken pieces to sit on the pan bottom as it fries as this helps create the crispy skin.  Chicken that is suspended in oil doesn’t get enough contact with the pan surface for this recipe.

If you are frying a large amount of chicken (more than two chickens), more pans are better than a larger pan.  In larger pans the oil temperature drops rapidly as you add large amounts of chicken and you end up with soggy, greasy chicken.  Medium-sized pans with fewer pieces of chicken can maintain higher temperatures as chicken is added.

Electric fryers are okay to use. The temperature must be adjustable and the same principle applies regarding large pans.  Just because the electric fryer is large doesn’t mean it can maintain a high temperature as chicken is added.

Gray’s {Pretty Little Tip}

High oil temperature is the key to ensuring your fried chicken isn’t greasy.  The idea is to keep the water in your food above the boiling point (212 degrees F). The outward pressure of the escaping water vapor keeps oil from soaking into the food.  The results, non-greasy, delicious,  fried chicken.

{About this week’s author}

When Gray’s not cooking or being and awesome Dad and husband, he’s also running a business.  Gray and his partner founded iVenture Solutions, a managed services company, just after graduating college in 2000.  They’ve got over 50 employees and have been recognized both locally and nationally.  So, yep.  He’s smart too.


Aunt Ethel’s Fried Chicken


  • 1 small Chicken, 2-3 lbs (makes 9 pieces)
  • ½ Tbsp Salt
  • 5-6 cups Crisco All Vegetable shortening (get the big container)
  • 1 cup All Purpose Flour


  1. Remove the bag of innards in the chicken's cavity and rinse the chicken off (and out). Pat dry to enable a better grip.
  2. Cutting the Chicken {see images in the blog post}
  3. Cut the chicken's 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings first.
  4. You’ll need to pay special attention to the breast. You must do a skin-on, bone-in breast cut and separate the wishbone piece (or the pulley bone if you’re from the South). Cutting the pulley bone piece off of the breast is imperative. This separates the breasts into smaller pieces that cook evenly and provides more surface area for crispier delicious all white-meat pieces. This also gives you that “9th” piece. Click here for a great pully bone how to
  5. Next, generously salt each piece and place into a large bowl. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  6. Heat approximately 3-6 cups of shortening in a pan on high-heat to 380 degrees F. The shortening will melt. Continue to add shortening until the oil is approximately 1.5-2” deep. Amounts will vary depending on pan size.
  7. Remove the chicken pieces from the refrigerator and lightly coat with all-purpose flour one-at-a-time, right before placing into the pan.
  8. Place the pieces coated pieces into the pan, starting with the larger pieces. The oil should remain hot. Chicken pieces should be close together but must be able to sit on the bottom of the pan, so be careful not to overload the pan.
  9. Fry for 5 minutes on high (350-380 degrees F), leaving the chicken undisturbed (no need to turn). Reduce heat to medium-high for another 4-7 minutes (330-350 degrees F).
  10. At this point, the pan side of the chicken should be golden-brown. Carefully check by lifting a piece or two. Flip the pieces that are a deep golden-brown. Note: larger pieces may need a few more minutes to reach the golden-brown color. Closely monitor each piece. This is the make-or-break step. You want a nice, deep, golden-brown color, deeper in color than you’re probably used to seeing. It’s very easy to burn your chicken during this step so monitor closely.
  11. After flipping, cook 5 more minutes on medium-high, and then turn up to high for 4-7 minutes. This side should turn golden-brown too. Again, try not to move the chicken, but carefully monitor to prevent burning.
  12. There are three indicators to know that your chicken is done. 1. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is at least 180 degrees F. When checking the temperature, check close to the bone. 2. Look for that deep golden-brown color. 3. You’ll see the meat separating from the bone, especially on the legs.
  13. If you have pieces that aren't quite done, reduce heat to medium-high and rotate (don’t flip) chicken. Check every 2-3 minutes until done.
  14. Places pieces that are done on a stack of paper towels for the grease to drain.
  15. Repeat the process for all the chicken pieces. Expect to get 3-4 batches per pan. Add more shortening carefully as needed. If you do need to add shortening, let the oil heat before adding more chicken.
  16. As you continue to cook batches, especially if you are preparing a large number of pieces, your oil will gradually darken as leftover bits of chicken continually cook in the oil. This will result in a darker, almost burned appearance. A good way to avoid this is to simply use more pans when preparing large amounts of chicken so you don’t have to re-use a single pan more than 3 or 4 times.

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