Brined, dredged, and deep fried until golden brown and glistening. Juicy flesh encased by a craggy, seasoned crust, the crunch of which should win an award for best sound. Southern fried chicken is comfort food at its finest. While making it at home is undoubtedly a labor of love, it’s well worth the effort — and the dusting of flour that’s sure to coat every inch of your countertop.
Chef Thomas Boemer agrees. Fried chicken was one of the first things he ever learned how to make. It helped the acclaimed chef fall in love with Southern cooking and taught him an early lesson about preparing food — that, with some attention to detail and the right process, you can recreate any great meal.
Boemer was born in Minnesota but moved to North Carolina when he was five and fell in love with Southern food. While his culinary career led him to some of the finest kitchens in the country (he’s worked alongside both Alain Ducasse and Wolfgang Puck), all roads tend to lead home again. And in 2015 he co-founded Revival in Minneapolis, which specializes in the Southern comfort food that shaped his youth. Boemer’s fried chicken — brined in buttermilk, dusted with spices, and crisped to perfection — is one of the big draws.
“Fried chicken is the ultimate ‘bring people together meal,’” says the four-time James Beard Award nominee. “It’s all about sitting around the table and sharing that time together.”
Of course, not all fried chicken is created equal. Who hasn’t excitedly ordered some only to be met with soggy, over-salted skin and dry meat? Perfecting a crispy bird requires practice — and the right technique.
According to Boemer, one of the big tricks to successful fried chicken is to make sure to season your bird evenly and not over-marinate. “If you do,” he warns, “the buttermilk and seasoning will start to pull the moisture out of the chicken and thin the batter, which could lead to a faulty crust and dry chicken.”
When breading, Boemer says to sift seasoned flour into a large bowl and place the chicken in one piece at a time. He moves the bowl back and forth with his other hand to coat the chicken and makes sure each piece is fully coated before moving onto the next, a trick that ensures even coverage and that ideal crust.
Coating the chicken, Boemer says, is especially fun to do with children because “inevitably flour will go everywhere and it’s never a bad thing to get a bit messy.”
While fried chicken makes an occasional appearance at the Boemer dinner table, there’s a rotating menu — with a lot of input from the kids. Taco and ramen nights are big hits. Sometimes they make a whole mess of dumplings, which the kids love forming.
The trick with dinners, he says, “is to continue to mix it up and let them be involved.”
When he’s not working at Revival, which now has four locations, Boemer can be found hanging out with his 10-year-old son. They’ve always been incredibly close, but the socially distanced times of the early pandemic made them even closer. They love to play tennis, soccer, basketball, and baseball. They have video game tournaments and go on bike rides to ice cream shops.
“Ten-years old is a great age,” Boemer says. “We can hang out and have a ton of fun. We also like to go to restaurants. He loves to try new foods and new spots. It's a special time where we can just talk about what's going on in his world and enjoy some great food at the same time."
Boemer says his son is interested in cooking on his own now and asks for instruction from dad. “It’s been a ton of fun,” says Boemer, “but tough to let go of the reins a bit.”
What dad doesn’t relate? But it’s worth stepping back to let kids learn by doing. And besides, good Southern cooking is a skill meant to be passed down.
Chef Thomas Boemer’s Fried Chicken Recipe
- 1 whole chicken — a 3-4 pound bird is ideal — cut into 10 pieces
For the Buttermilk Brine
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 1/2 Tbs. salt
- 1 tsp. back pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 Tbs. hot sauce
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
For the Seasoned Flour
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 Tbs. Salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- Make buttermilk brine and marinate chicken for a minimum of 4 hours.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven with lard to 300 degrees F. Make sure to leave enough room for the fat to rise once the chicken is added.
- Place seasoned flour in a large mixing bowl and remove chicken one piece at a time from the brine, and add to the flour while moving the mixing bowl back and forth. Make sure each piece is fully coated with flour before moving on to the next piece.
- Lightly tap off the excess flour and slowly lower chicken into the hot lard one piece at a time (a stainless steel spider is ideal for lowering.) Cook in batches if needed but be careful not to overfill and crowd the pot.
- Cook for 15 to 20 min or until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
- Set the pieces on a cooling rack (don’t rest on paper towels, as that will yield soggy skin) and wait at least 10 minutes before serving.