Southern Pan-fried Chicken

2 quarts cold water
1/2 cup kosher salt (regular table salt will make the brine too salty)
1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 quart buttermilk
1 pound lard
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup country ham pieces, or 1 thick slice country ham, cut into 1/2-inch strips (see note)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the water and the salt, stirring until salt is dissolved. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and pour the salt water over. Cover and refrigerate 8-12 hours.

Drain the chicken and rinse out the bowl it was brined in. Return the chicken to the bowl, pour the buttermilk over and cover and refrigerate 8-12 hours. Drain the chicken on a wire rack, discarding the buttermilk.

Meanwhile, prepare the fat for frying: put the lard, butter and country ham into a heavy skillet or frying pan. Cook over low heat for 30-45 minutes, skimming as needed, until the butter ceases to throw off foam and the ham is browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ham carefully from the fat. (Reserve the fried ham for another use, such as snacking.) Just before frying, increase the temperature to medium-high and heat the fat to 335 degrees.

Blend together the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or on waxed paper. Dredge the drained chicken pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then pat well to remove any excess flour.

Slip some of the chicken pieces, skin-side-down, into the heated fat. Do not overcrowd the pan; fry in batches, if necessary. Cook for 8-10 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Drain thoroughly on a wire rack or on crumpled (not flat) paper towels. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Cook's note: A country ham (such as a "Smithfield" ham) is salt-cured, smoked and aged well. Whole country hams are expensive; it is possible, however, to buy country ham steaks. But you may also substitute thick-cut, smoked, streaky bacon for the ham in this recipe.



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