Juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, few people can resist good fried chicken. Justin Swain and Michael Solomonov are two of Philadelphia’s best chefs, and they know their fried chicken. Here, they share some of their tips and expertise so that you can make your own top-notch fried chicken at home.
Chef Justin Swain
1516 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
A Philadelphia native, Justin Swain is a graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. He worked with Chef Regis Jansen at Philly’s 1601 (now closed) and then went on to perfect his talents at Bridget Foy’s. When restaurateurs Evan Malone and Jill Weber opened REX 1516, Jansen was Executive Chef. He brought Swain in as sous-chef before falling ill. Chef Justin Swain took over and has been impressing guests at the South Street spot ever since. His classical training combined with a passion for southern cuisine allows him to create a unique menu of elevated comfort food.
While Chef Swain’s recipe for the fried chicken at REX 1516 is a secret (mainly a unique mix of spices) his tips below will help you make chicken that is moist and perfectly cooked on the inside while golden brown and crisp on the outside. Rex 1516 serves its fried chicken as a drumsticks and thigh platter with house-made smoked sriracha sauce, red bliss potato salad and a biscuit.
Tips and Recipe for Perfect Fried Chicken:
- Always brine the chicken. This keeps chicken from becoming overcooked and dry. It is an opportunity to introduce more flavor. Chef Swain brines his chicken in sweet tea for 24 hours.
- Chef Swain recommends purchasing a whole chicken and breaking it down rather than buying it in pieces. If using thighs, make sure you take a knife and make a cut along each side of the bone. Don’t cut all the way to the skin, but you want to increase the cooking area on the thighs so that your chicken doesn’t burn before it’s finished.
- After brining the chicken, pat it completely dry.
- Heavily season the flour you will be dredging your chicken in. Chef Swain uses a secret mix of spices, but generous salt and pepper will work just fine. Don’t be afraid to taste the flour for proper seasoning. Chef Swain then dredges his chicken in a mix of buttermilk and house-made sriracha sauce, then in the seasoned flour, mix again before frying.
- Temperature is important, both for the oil you are frying in as well as the chicken. Leave the chicken at room temperature for 30 minutes before frying to take the chill off from your fridge. Purchase a candy thermometer to help regulate the temperature of the oil. They are fairly cheap and they clip onto the side of the pot you are frying in.
- First, pan fry the chicken at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5 minutes. The lower cooking temp will assure the chicken is cooked all the way through.
- When you are ready to serve, finish the chicken by deep frying at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown.
- If you are worried about undercooked chicken, check the internal temperature with a kitchen thermometer. It should be at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chef Michael Solomonov
1632 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
1219 S. Second St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
3428 Sansom St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
701 N. Seventh St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Chef Michael Solomonov won a James Beard Award in 2011 for “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic.” Famous for his expertise at creating unique culinary masterpieces from simple ingredients, he is often praised as being one of Philadelphia’s top young chefs. In addition to being co-owner and executive chef at Zahav, he’s also a partner at Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts. Federal Donuts opened in 2011 as the first fried chicken and doughnut shop in the United States. Since then, it has expanded from the original South Philly location to now include four locations plus an outpost at Citizens Bank Park. Federal Donuts only offers three things: coffee, fried chicken and fresh cake donuts.
The fried chicken is available at Federal Donuts starting at 11 a.m. each day. Guests are usually lined up waiting because once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s sold as wings, halves (split breast, thigh and drumstick) or whole and served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut. Chef Solomonov’s recipe for twice-fried chicken and chili-garlic sauce appeared in “Fried and True: More than 50 Recipes for America’s Best Chicken and Sides” by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman. The recipe below serves four.
Federal Donuts’ Fried Chicken and Sauce
For the Chicken:
- 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- Kosher salt for seasoning, plus 1 tablespoon for the batter
- Oil (vegetable or canola) for frying
- 2 cups cornstarch
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1-3/4 cup water, plus more if needed
For the Sauce (makes 1-1/3 cups):
- 3/4 cup kecap manis (Malaysian sweet soy sauce, available at Asian grocers or online)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup chili-garlic sauce, such as Huy Fong brand
- 3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- The night before cooking, liberally season the pieces of chicken with salt. Arrange the salted chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Loosely cover the baking sheet with parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.
- To make the sauce, combine the kecap manis, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce and vinegar in a small bowl.
- To fry the chicken, fill a large (at least 8-quart) pot halfway with oil and heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Create a draining spot by setting a baking rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, flour and 1 Tablespoon of salt. Whisk in the water to make a crepe-like batter, adding more water by the tablespoonful if the batter seems too thick. Dip the chicken pieces into the batter, shaking off any excess. Fry the chicken in batches until golden, approximately 12 to 13 minutes.
- Drain the chicken on the prepared rack and increase the oil temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry the chicken an extra 5 minutes, or until the color deepens and it becomes crispy. After the chicken has cooled for 2 to 3 minutes, coat it with the sauce or serve with the sauce on the side.
Related: Top Spots For Fried Chicken
Michelle Hein is the social media editor for a women’s fashion company in Bucks County by day and a self-proclaimed food and drink fanatic by night and weekend. She enjoys attending wine classes, trying new recipes in the kitchen and going to old favorites and new restaurants alike in the Bucks County and Philadelphia area. If the writing gig doesn’t pan out, she constantly dreams of owning her own bakery…perhaps connected to the restaurant/bar that her lawyer fiance would love to open.