Fried chicken is a beloved dish across the world, with a long and storied history. From its disputed origins to regional variations, fried chicken has evolved over centuries to become the crunchy, juicy, and irresistible treat we know today. Discover 15 surprising and appetizing facts about fried chicken that will enhance your culinary knowledge and satisfy your cravings.
Fried chicken is a quintessential comfort food for many cultures. The dish likely originated in ancient times, with early versions found in Scottish, West African, and Roman cuisines. Over the centuries, unique regional styles of fried chicken developed across the globe, from the American South to Japan and Korea.
While the exact origins are unknown, the basic method remains the same – chicken pieces coated in flour or batter and then fried to a golden crispness. The preparation seals in flavorful juices while the breading provides a tasty crunch. Fried chicken can be served hot, room temperature, or cold, on the bone or boneless, with an array of dipping sauces or seasonings.
From its importance in African-American culture to fast food innovations, fried chicken has a storied past and remains a beloved dish today. Read on to uncover 15 fascinating facts about the history, variations, and secrets behind this crispy treat.
1. Fried chicken likely originated in ancient Rome.
Believe it or not, the earliest accounts of fried chicken come from ancient Rome. A cookbook written in the 1st century AD by Marcus Gavius Apicius contains a recipe for fried chicken called Pullum Frontonianum. The recipe calls for chicken to be fried in a ball of oil and spices and then simmered in a sauce.
This suggests that even the ancient Romans enjoyed the irresistible crunch and flavor of fried chicken. The cooking technique spread throughout Europe over the following centuries.
2. Scottish immigrants brought their tradition of frying chicken to America.
In the American South, fried chicken is intricately linked with African-American culture and soul food. However, the cooking method was likely introduced by Scottish immigrants in the 1700s.
The Scots had a long tradition of frying chicken in fat without any seasoning. When African slaves were taught to cook fried chicken by their masters, they added spices and flavors from West Africa, revolutionizing the dish.
3. Enslaved African Americans helped popularize fried chicken in America.
Although Scots brought fried chicken to America, enslaved African Americans played a vital role in making the dish so beloved. Their unique cooking techniques and seasonings, such as using spices and frying in palm oil, transformed fried chicken into a flavorful soul food staple.
After Emancipation, African-American female entrepreneurs began selling fried chicken at stands and restaurants, further spreading its popularity across the South and the country.
4. The first published fried chicken recipe appeared in 1747.
English cookbook author Hannah Glasse was the first to publish a recipe for fried chicken in her 1747 book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy 1. Her version called for seasoning chicken pieces with salt and pepper, dredging them in flour, then frying them in lard.
This early published recipe helped standardize the basic frying method still used today. However, African-American cooks later added more complex seasoning to the dish.
5. Fried chicken was long considered a special occasion dish.
Before commercial farming, chickens were a valuable source of eggs and difficult to replace. Frying chicken was also very labor-intensive. For these reasons, fried chicken was reserved for special occasions like picnics, church gatherings, and holidays from the 18th century until the mid-20th century.
The dish remains a celebratory food today, even though mass production has made chicken more affordable and accessible.
6. Gordonsville, VA earned the nickname “Fried Chicken Capital of the World.”
In the late 1800s, the town of Gordonsville, Virginia became a bustling railroad stop. African-American female entrepreneurs began selling fried chicken out of their homes to travelers passing through the busy junction.
This cottage industry established Gordonsville as a fried chicken epicenter, earning it the nickname “Fried Chicken Capital of the World.” The town still honors this history today.
7. Harland Sanders revolutionized commercial fried chicken.
Colonel Harland Sanders 2 kickstarted the fried chicken fast food craze in the 1950s. His secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices and innovative pressure frying technique allowed Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants to produce fried chicken quickly and consistently.
KFC popularized commercial fried chicken across the US and internationally, paving the way for other chains like Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and Church’s Chicken.
8. Each part of the chicken offers different flavors and textures when fried.
From juicy breasts to crispy wings, each section of the chicken has unique qualities when fried up. Bony pieces with more connective tissue like wings and legs remain juicier. White meat dries out more easily but offers milder flavor. Thighs offer a balance of juicy dark meat and crispy skin.
The mix of textures and flavors is why fried chicken meals are often served as a combination of different pieces.
9. Buttermilk adds a tangy flavor and tenderizes the chicken.
Soaking chicken pieces in buttermilk before breading is essential for flavor and texture. The lactic acid in buttermilk tenderizes the meat while adding tangy flavor. It also helps the coating stick better. Simply substitute plain milk if you don’t have buttermilk.
10. Double dredging makes extra crispy fried chicken.
Dredging refers to coating chicken in flour or batter before frying. For a thicker, crunchier crust, double dredge the chicken. After the first flour coating, dip the chicken in buttermilk again then back into the flour. The extra layer prevents the coating from falling off and becoming soggy.
11. Cast iron skillets make the best-fried chicken.
Frying chicken in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet leads to the crispiest results. Cast iron maintains heat evenly, resulting in chicken that browns consistently without burning. Use an instant-read thermometer to monitor oil temperature.
12. Nashville hot chicken starts with cayenne in the breading.
Nashville hot chicken is fried chicken tossed in a spicy cayenne paste sauce. But the heat begins in the breading itself. The chicken is dredged in flour seasoned with copious amounts of cayenne pepper before hitting the fryer.
The spicy coating ensures flavor goes beyond the sauce. Mild to extra hot spice levels are offered to suit individual tastes.
13. Korean fried chicken uses a double fry method.
For an extra crispy crust, Korean fried chicken is fried twice. After initial frying, the chicken is quickly fried a second time to make the coating perfectly crunchy. The chicken is then tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce.
14. Karaage is Japanese fried chicken made with potato or corn starch.
Karaage is a popular Japanese fried chicken made with boneless chicken thighs and potato or corn starch for a light, crispy coating 3. It is seasoned with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and other Japanese flavors.
The bite-sized pieces are often served with spicy mayonnaise for dipping and make for easy, tidy eating.
15. Fried chicken sandwiches are a delicious modern twist.
While fried chicken has ancient roots, modern chefs keep innovating with new styles and flavor combinations. Fried chicken sandwiches have recently become a foodie obsession, piling crunchy fried chicken between buns with pickles and slaw.
From Nashville hot chicken sandwiches to Korean fried chicken sandwiches, this creative take on fried chicken is here to stay.
From ancient Rome to hip new sandwiches, fried chicken continues to evolve as a beloved dish across cultures. Its universal appeal lies in the irresistible contrast of crispy, salty coating and tender, juicy meat. Clever cooks keep reinventing fried chicken, but the basic method remains unchanged – a buttermilk soak followed by a seasoned dredge and hot oil bath.
Fried chicken holds a special place in African-American history and culture. Global variations like karaage and Korean style demonstrate fried chicken’s worldwide reach. No matter where you encounter it, a plate of piping hot fried chicken promises pure comfort and joy. Hopefully, these interesting facts have sparked your appetite and expanded your knowledge of this crispy classic.