Is there anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken? Nice and crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside… I can get hungry just thinking about it!
Tuscans have a particularly savory and simple way to fry chicken: you cut up a young frying chicken, called a pollo novello in Italian, into smallish pieces, making sure to cut the breasts in half and split the thighs from the drumsticks. If you like, you can bone the pieces, which is relatively easy to do when the chicken is cut up.
You then dredge the pieces lightly in flour, then in beaten egg and shallow-fry them in olive oil over moderate heat. When they are nice and golden brown, season them with salt and serve them right away, with lemon wedges if you like.
And that’s all there is to the basic recipe! It could hardly be simpler.
NOTES: Of course, this kind of simplicity relies on the best quality ingredients for success. The chicken, in particular, needs to have great flavor. Modern chickens, as we all know, can be pretty flavorless, so if you’re not working with a fine, organic free-range chicken you are confident about, although it is not part of the original recipe, you may want to marinate the chicken beforehand. My favorite marinade for chicken includes salt, pepper, a finely chopped garlic clove, chopped fresh rosemary, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a good splash of olive oil. Leave for an hour or so before proceeding with the frying.
You can use pre-cut chicken pieces, of course, which saves time. This time, I happened to have some chicken ‘tenders’ (cut up and boned chicken thighs) on hand, and they worked very well indeed.
The main alternative to this version of Tuscan fried chicken is to substitute a pre-made batter for the usual flour and egg. The batter is made with flour, salt, olive oil and egg, then thinned out with some white wine. It needs to rest for an hour or two before using. You can also add some seasoning to the beaten egg, some grated cheese, chopped parsley, salt, pepper, although these additions are definitely heterodox. In fact, many traditional recipes admonish you not even to add salt to the egg, but to salt the chicken when serving, to keep the batter crisp and the tastes ‘clean’, in true Tuscan style.
In Italy, fried chicken is typically accompanied by fried vegetables appropriate to the season. For this meal, some nice fried zucchine ‘sticks’, dipped in the same flour and egg, went very nicely. And you can add to that other fried meats, typically chicken and calves’ brains, for a fritto misto
The trick to making fried chicken lies in maintaining the oil at the right temperature while you fry. If the oil is too hot and the chicken will brown before it is fully cooked inside; if it is not hot enough, the chicken will turn out a greasy mess. Keep your flame moderate, adjusting it up or down as needed while the chicken fries so that the oil bubbles up around the chicken pieces in a lively but not furious manner. If you have any doubts about the chicken being fully cooked, you can pop them in a hot oven for a few minutes as well—which you should do anyway to keep the chicken warm if you need to fry in batches, or to keep the chicken hot while you enjoy your first course. I find a rack is perfect for the task; it allows the hot oven air to circulate around the chicken pieces, ensuring they stay nice and crispy.
Pollo fritto alla toscana is, in fact, very similar to—albeit a bit more austere than—the Jewish-style fried chicken for Hannukah that I blogged about back in December.