Pollo fritto alla toscana

With a few rare exceptions, this blog shares recipes from two kinds of cuisines, both near and dear to my heart: Italian cuisine, which reflects where I live and what recipes I've learned here in my adopted country, and American cuisine, which is linked to my home country and the dishes I miss/can only enjoy here if I make them myself. These are two very distinct styles of cooking, of course; Italian cuisine is one of simplicity and straightforwardness, each recipe relying on a handful of good quality, straightforward ingredients (look no further than crazy-simple cacio e pepe or saltimbocca alla romana) while American cuisine is a bit more relaxed and forgiving with less rules, at times more excessive (cheeseburgers; sweet potato casserole; frosted, multi-layered cakes). The recipes from Italy and the U.S co-exist on this blog in culinary harmony -- you're just as likely to find tiramisu' as you are chocolate chip cookies, bagels as you are bucatini all'amatriciana -- but still stand firmly in their cuisine camps, with no overlap, all recipes delicious, but very different. 

And yet.

I'd had it in my head for a while to attempt to make fried chicken; I had, after all, conquered my fear of frying some time back, and apart from being delicious, fried chicken stood out to me as one of those quintessentially American recipes a blog that focuses on American cuisine should have (see also: Fudge Brownies; Avocado Cheddar Burgers; Apple Pie). I dove in to intense Fried Chicken recipe-research to prepare, when, low and behold, I came across one recipe labeled "Tuscan Fried Chicken," from one of my very favorite sites, Serious Eats. I was intrigued; was this simply fried chicken with some sort of Italian herb (oregano or basil can make any dish "Italian") or was there actually a story here? With a bit of digging (okay, google searches) I found recipes called pollo fritto alla toscana, or pollo fritto per Chanuka', and discovered that actually -- you may want to sit down for this -- fried chicken is a thing in Italy. With a bit of reading, I learned that pollo fritto is actually a Tuscan-Jewish dish traditionally eaten for and around Hanukkah, where the chicken is simply marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and spices, then battered in egg and flour before deep-frying. It would seem then that I was wrong, then -- here we have a recipe where my two cuisines cross paths, intersect, find common ground; fried chicken, the most American of all American dishes, is, apparently, also legitimately Italian, too. Who knew?!

But this chicken! It’s an experience, you guys: It's deeply golden brown and beyond crunchy 
 there is an audible CRUNCH when you bite in to it – and just when you’ve begun to wrap your mind around how crispy the exterior is, there’s the incredibly tender, juicy, chicken within, and just when you’ve processed how good all this is, there are all the flavors. There's a hint of tangy lemon and a bit of sharp garlic which temper the the richness of the frying, and then, lastly, a subtle kick (a nudge?) of spicy cinnamon and nutmeg. Now: while you may think cinnamon and nutmeg seem better suited for carrot cake or oatmeal cookies, trust me on this -- they give the chicken a toasty, warming flavor, leaving you wondering just exactly the secret ingredient was at the end of each bite. The finishing touch, extra salt sprinkled over the cooked chicken, is not to be underestimated, either -- it makes the whole thing even more addictive, in the way that only salt paired with fried food can. It tasted American, and yet the recipe was 100% Italian, and it was pretty cool to know that there is a place where my two cuisines meet, if only for a moment. Bottom line: do yourself a favor and make this, asap.

A couple of notes: If you don't have a meat thermometer or a kitchen thermometer to measure the oil temperature, I recommend you buy them -- they're very handy here and guarantee spot-on, perfectly cooked chicken. I used drumsticks only because that's what I like, but feel free to use whatever pieces you want. I fried my chicken two pieces at a time (I was cautious about the oil temperature dropping too much) which worked well, but meant about 45 minutes of frying; I think three pieces at a time would be alright, as long as you keep an eye on the temperature and maintain it at a good 325 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius). If you'd like to make this in advance, you can allow the chicken to cool to room temperature, then re-fry in hot oil just before serving, very briefly. I used a neutral vegetable oil for frying, but you could also use olive oil here; just be aware that anything fried in olive oil then tastes very much of olive oil, which isn't a bad thing, but if you want the flavors of the chicken to shine here, a neutral oil is preferable.

Looking for other chicken recipes? I've got this pollo ai peperoni, this lemon roasted chicken, this pollo alla cacciatora in bianco, and these cotolette di pollo. Looking for other recipes for things that are fried? I've got these polpette di melanzane, these zeppole sarde, these castagnole, this parmigiana di melanzane, these pumpkin doughnuts, and these carciofi alla giudia

(Recipe from Serious Eats)

8 pieces (about 4 pounds, or 1.8 kilos total) of chicken (drumsticks thighs, breast halves, wings)
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten

Vegetable, peanut, canola, or olive oil, for frying 
Lemon wedges, for serving

In a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag, combine chicken, lemon juice, garlic, salt, a generous grating of pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Seal and shake to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Do not marinate the chicken for longer than this, otherwise the acid will start to "cook" the chicken and make it tough after frying.
Remove the chicken from the bag and place on a baking sheet. Fill a wide bowl with flour and another with egg. Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, shaking off excess, then dip in egg to coat. 
When ready to fry the chicken, fill a wok, Dutch oven, or large cast iron skillet with about 1 1/2 inches of oil and heat oil until it registers 375°F (190 degrees Celsius for the rest of you) on an instant-read thermometer. This will take a few minutes, so be patient -- keep checking the oil temperature with your thermometer. When the oil is ready, add each piece of chicken to the pot, carefully; note that the oil temperature will drop. Fry chicken, turning occasionally and maintaining an oil temperature between 325 and 350°F (about 160-170 degrees Celsius) until the chicken is golden brown outside and on a meat thermometer registers an internal temperature of 145°F for breasts and 155°F for drumsticks and thighs, about 15-17 minutes.

Transfer the fried chicken to a paper towel lined plate or baking sheet to drain off the excess oil, then transfer them to a wire rack set over a baking sheet (this will keep the chicken nice and crispy). Sprinkle the chicken with salt and allow the chicken to rest for a full 3 minutes. Serve right away with lemon wedges. Serves 4.

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