A Complete Guide To
Making Pan Fried Chicken
If you're looking for a simple, delicious meal, you can't go wrong with pan fried chicken.
Pan frying is a basic cooking technique, but it's super versatile. It's the starting point for tasty dishes like chicken marsala or hundreds of other dishes that don't really have a name.
And with some roasted potatoes and delicious vegetables on the side, it just makes a great meal.
The thing about pan fried chicken is that it's easy to get it wrong, but it's even easier to get right. If you know how to do it – what sounds to listen for, what to look for – then suddenly it becomes one of the easiest and most delicious meals in the world.
So in this article, I'll go over everything you need to know to make perfect pan fried chicken.
First, I'll talk about how to prepare the chicken to get it ready for pan frying. Then, I'll talk about how to prepare the pan or skillet you'll be using. Next, I'll go over how to actually pan fry chicken. Finally, I'll talk about the best part of pan frying chicken – making a great pan sauce to go with it.
That's just 4 easy steps!
If you're actually looking for southern fried or deep-fried chicken, check out our articles on making fried chicken. It's quite a bit different from pan fried chicken!
Here we go!
No matter what dish you're trying to make, pan fried chicken is essentially a piece of chicken cooked in a hot, oiled pan. But if that was all there was to it, there wouldn't be any need for a whole page about it, right?
The first thing that sets apart different meals made by pan frying chicken is how you prepare the chicken. In this section, I'll talk about preparing the chicken pieces, seasoning, and breading.
Preparing The Chicken Pieces
When you're making pan fried chicken, there are a few things you need to do to get your chicken just right.
- Pick the right cut. I feel that skinless, boneless pieces are the best cuts for pan frying. Breast or thighs or whatever you like, but boneless just works best.
- A boneless piece isn't as rigid as a bone-in piece, so it'll flatten better on the pan. That means the whole surface will cook nice and evenly, and develop an even golden crust.
- When you're making pan fried chicken, it's best that each piece be uniformly thick, for even cooking. Using boneless chicken lets you pound it flat if needed.
- Get the right thickness. The chicken pieces should be uniformly thick, and they shouldn't be much thicker than an inch and a half.
- A uniform piece will cook a lot more evenly, so that every bite is juicy and perfect.
- When you pan fry, the chicken directly touches the hot pan, so the outside of the chicken gets hot much faster than the inside. If your piece is too thick, the outside might burn before the inside is cooked.
- If you need, you can pound the chicken to get it the right thickness. Just use a clean, flat-bottomed mallet, place the chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap, and pound the chicken until it's uniformly thick.
- Pat the chicken dry. Remember, one of the great parts about pan fried chicken is the tasty, golden crust. But you get that crust from a nice, dry heat. Any moisture will make it a lot harder.
Once your chicken pieces are just right, it's time to think about adding a little bit of flavor. And herbs and spices are your best option!
- You can sprinkle the chicken with just about any herb/spice combination you can think of.
- Thyme and sage, curry powder, garlic and onion powder, tarragon, salt and pepper... the possibilities are endless. Whichever spices you pick will turn the meal into something unique.
- You can also rub in the spice mixture.
- Rub it into the meat with your hand, and let it sit for an hour or so in the fridge. The flavors will penetrate the chicken and you'll get a much more intensely-flavored meal
- Don't be afraid to experiment. Some herb combinations won't work, but chicken goes with so many different flavors that it's hard to miss, especially if you're choosing spices that you like.
Some pan fried chicken dishes can be made with lightly breaded chicken. So if you're in the mood for something just a little crispy, you can lightly coat your chicken with flour before pan frying it.
I have another article describing in detail different ways to bread chicken, but for pan fried chicken the best way to do it would be to follow the 1-Method – just dredging the chicken in a bit of flour.. You can check out the chicken breading article for more details.
- If you're wondering about marinating your chicken, I'd say that for pan fried chicken, it's better not to.
- If your chicken is wet from a marinade, it'll add moisture to the pan, making it harder to get a nice golden crust.
- A marinade also makes it harder to get a good fond, which means you won't have as good a base for your pan sauce, if you're planning on making one.
- If neither of those things matter with you, then you can absolutely go ahead and marinate your chicken!
Preparing the pan is a really important step when you're making pan fried chicken. It's what makes the difference between a burnt piece of chicken, and a piece of chicken that's perfectly cooked, with a beautiful, flavorful golden crust.
Preparing the pan properly is actually the big secret to perfect pan fried chicken!
So how do you do it? Let's find out.
Picking A Pan
Well, first, let's go over the different types of pans you can use for pan fried chicken.
- A non-stick pan might feel like the safest choice, but it's not necessarily the best choice.
- Even if you use a pan that's not non-stick, if you prepare your pan properly, you won't have any issues with sticking.
- Because the pan is non-stick, it won't create as nice a fond – the brown bits at the bottom of the pan that make a pan sauce so awesome.
- A cast-iron pan is a great choice.
- Cast-iron retains heat really well, so that when you place your chicken in the pan, the pan won't cool down.
- On the other hand, because it retains heat so well, it can make it difficult to adjust the heat while you're cooking.
- Stainless steel pans are great for pan fried chicken, too.
- Stainless steel doesn't retain heat as well as cast-iron. That means that you'll lose a bit of heat when adding the chicken, but it'll also be easier to adjust the temperature when you're cooking the chicken.
You can actually use any type of pan to make pan fried chicken... but each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Preparing The Pan
Alright, now that we know a bit more about different types of pans, let's go over how to prepare the pan for pan fried chicken.
- Place a bit of oil in your pan. It should be just enough to thinly coat the bottom when the pan is hot, about a tablespoon or two.
- If you have a pan that can be heated without oil, you can always heat the pan first and add the oil when it's hot enough.
- Rouxbe has a great video about how doing this with a stainless steel pan can help you get just the right temperature.
- Heat the oil over medium to medium high heat.
- It's important to heat the pan gently. Heating the pan over high heat would be too rough, even if you lower the heat afterward.
- The oil is hot enough when it flows easily over the surface of the pan if you swirl it around. It should also have a streaky, shimmery sheen to it when you tilt the pan.
- Don't let the oil burn. If you do, you'll have to clean the pan and start over. Burnt oil doesn't taste particularly good, but it also won't cook the chicken properly.
So why is it so important to get the heat just right for pan fried chicken? Well, there are a few reasons.
- If the pan isn't hot enough, the chicken will stick when you put it in the pan. And when it comes time to flip it, it'll tear.
- If the pan is too hot, well, the chicken will burn. And that's just never good.
- Having just the right temperature means that the chicken won't stick, and will get a perfectly golden crust - adding a ton of flavor to your meal.
- When you add the oil to your pan, there shouldn't be any water or moisture whatsoever in your pan. Moisture will make the oil spatter, which isn't only messy, but it could burn you.
Alright, we've gone over how to prepare the chicken, and how to prepare the pan and heat it properly. Now comes the fun part – cooking the chicken!
The goal is to get a golden crust on the outside of the chicken, and a juicy inside. The golden color isn't just for looks – it adds an incredible flavor to the chicken.
Like I mentioned, preparing the pan is the most important step, the big secret to making perfect pan fried chicken. But there are still a few things to look out for when you add the chicken to the pan.
So here's how you do it:
- Place the chicken in the pan. You should lower each piece in gently, away from you. That is, the first part of the chicken to touch the pan is the part closest to you, they lay it down flat away from you.
- This way, if there's any moisture on the chicken, the chicken makes a little shield between you and the spatter!
- Listen to the sizzle when you place the chicken in the pan. The faster the sizzle, the hotter your pan is. Adjust the temperature if you need to.
- The thinner your chicken pieces, the faster a sizzle you want. You want to be able to cook the outside quickly without drying out the inside.
- If you have a thick piece, go a for a bit of a slower sizzle. It'll give the inside time to cook through while the outside browns.
- If you hear a lot of popping sounds, the pan is too hot, and you should lower the heat a bit.
- Cook the chicken on one side until it has a nice golden crust, then flip it over.
- Sometimes the chicken will stick even if you heated it just right. But once the crust forms, it'll lift off the pan, making it easy to flip – so don't try to shift it around the pan until it unsticks by itself!
- Cook the chicken on the other side until it's nice and golden brown.
- Check if the chicken is done. Its internal temperature should be about 165F to 170F. The inside shouldn't be pink anymore – but the best way to tell is with a meat thermometer.
- If it's not done yet, continue cooking the chicken at a medium sizzle on the same side until it's done.
- You don't want the heat to be too high, or the outside might burn before the inside is done.
- Don't flip the chicken too often. The heat needs to move from the bottom of the pan up to cook the center of the chicken. If you flip it around, the process has to start over.
- Set the meat aside and cover it to keep it warm. The meat should rest for 5-10 minutes before you serve it.
- The internal temperature of the chicken will keep rising a little bit as it rests, maybe 5 degrees or so. So you can take it off the burner when it's just 160F to 165F.
And that's how to cook the chicken. It's not at all hard, but making pan fried chicken does take a bit of practice and attention.
Alright, so far, we've prepared the chicken, heated the pan properly, and cooked the chicken so that it has a nice, flavorful golden crust.
So what's left?
Well, what's left in the pan is the fond, extremely flavorful brown bits stuck to the bottom. And the fond is the basis for a delicious pan sauce.
Nothing could be easier to make, and it's just about the best part about pan fried chicken!
What You'll Need
Most pan sauces are made up of the same basic elements, but depending on the specific ingredients you choose, the possibilities are endless. Here's what makes up a great pan sauce:
- The fond is a super concentrated burst of flavor for your pan sauce. It adds the natural flavors of the chicken to your pan sauce, enhanced through caramelization.
- The fond should be golden or brown, never burnt. If it's burnt, it won't add a nice flavor to the sauce, and you shouldn't use it.
- You need to have some liquid in your sauce. Adding cold liquid to the hot pan will help the fond lift off the pan and dissolve into the sauce, adding tons of flavor. This is called deglazing the pan.
- Try chicken stock, wine, juice, vinegar or even just plain water, or any combination of those. Each will add its own flavor and feel to the sauce.
- The most acidic liquids should be added first, to give the acid some time to boil off. You'll still have the depth of flavor, but you'll get a more subtle taste.
- If you're adding wine, take the pan off the burner to avoid creating any fireballs. And don't pour straight from the bottle – if the wine did catch fire, the bottle could explode.
- You can add as much liquid as you think you need for your sauce. Depending how many people you're serving, this'll generally be anywhere from 1 to 3 cups.
- Some aromatics can really add a nice depth of flavor to your sauce. It isn't necessary, but it can be really delicious.
- Try onions, garlic, shallots, green onions, or even mushrooms.
- The quantities aren't really important. Whatever you like is what's best! If you like lots of mushrooms, add lots! If you're a garlic fanatic like me, go nuts and put 3 or 4 big cloves.
- If you're in the mood for a rich, creamy sauce, you can add a little bit of cream to the sauce.
- A bit of butter, swirled in at the end, can add a lot of depth to the flavor and texture of your sauce.
- If you're using chicken stock, it'll give the sauce a great mouth feel all on its own, so that you don't really need the butter. It's healthier, and I even prefer it that way.
- Sometimes the sauce just won't want to thicken on its own, and you may need a little bit of flour to help it out.
- A little flour goes a long way. If you have a very liquid sauce, you would still only need to add a teaspoon or two per cup of liquid. The thicker your sauce, the less you need to add
How To Make A Pan Sauce
Alright, now that we know what we need, we can see how it all goes together to make an outstanding pan sauce to go with your pan fried chicken.
- Chop the aromatics as finely or as coarsely as you want them in your sauce.
- Heat a teaspoon of two of oil in the pan you cooked the chicken in over medium heat. Saute the vegetables a few minutes, until they soften and just start to brown.
- Bring the heat to high, and quickly add your liquids to the pan to deglaze it. Scrape up all the brown bits with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Add the most acidic liquid first, to give the acids time to break down and boil off.
- If you're adding wine or some other alcohol, be careful to take the pan off the heat, to avoid it catching fire.
- Turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer until it's reduced by about half. It should thicken a bit as it reduces.
- A great sauce will be a bit thick – if you drag a spoon across the pan, you should have a few seconds to see the bottom of the pan before the sauce fills in the gap.
- Of course, if you prefer a thicker or a thinner sauce, then let it reduce until you think it's just right for you. The only rule to follow is what you like best!
- Sometimes, it seems that no matter what you do, the sauce doesn't thicken enough. If that's the case, you can add a bit of flour to the mix.
- Try mixing a teaspoon or two of flour in a few tablespoons of cold water. Mix it really well until it's smooth and liquid, then whisk it into the sauce.
- Once the flour is in there, let the sauce simmer until it's as thick as you like it, stirring constantly. The sauce will thicken as it simmers.
- You can always add more flour if you need to, but always mix it with a cold liquid. Adding it directly to the sauce creates lumps.
- Take the pan off the heat.
- If you're adding cream, swirl in a bit into the sauce.
- Again, there's no set amount. Just pour a little bit in the sauce, then stir, and taste. If you want more, add more.
- If you're adding butter, add in a tablespoon or two and swirl it in until it's melted and the sauce is smooth.
And that's all there is to it! Just spoon a bit of sauce on the chicken, and you're ready to serve.
And that's how you make an amazing pan fried chicken, with a delicious homemade pan sauce to go with it.
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