Pan-frying chicken can be a little tricky especially if you pan-fry whole chicken or large breasts. That’s because pan heat is unidirectional, it only goes one way. While the bottom of the chicken is getting heat, the top is actually losing it. This results in overheating of the bottom part and longer than needed cooking time, which leads to drier meat. To remedy this problem I like to cover the pan with a lid. This way the bottom of the meat is receiving heat from the pan, while the top is being heated by the steam generated during cooking.
This method works amazingly well. Steam heat that will hit the top of the chicken is a lot more gentle on the meat than the direct heat from the heating element. The steam will also condense and drop back to the bottom of the pan, keeping the moisture inside the pan and equalizing the heat at the top with the heat at the bottom of the pan. I’ve been using a similar technique for pan-fried chicken wings with great results.
Another challenge is to make the chicken skin nicely browned and flavorful. You can pan sear the chicken first then drop the temperature to low, cover and continue cooking until done. This works with chicken parts but not so much with the whole chicken. It’s almost impossible to get every part of the surface to touch the bottom of the pan to get a nice sear.
The solution I found for myself is to quickly broil the chicken prior to pan-frying. About 5-10 minutes is all that’s needed. In the end, you get a nicely browned, very flavorful chicken that is super moist and fall-off-the-bone tender. I am using the same technique here that was described by Julia Child in her Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom book, well, at least a part of it since I am not broiling the chicken to full doneness.
Pan-Fried Whole Chicken
- 1 whole chicken
- 2 tsp olive or vegetable oil for broiling
- For the sauce:
- 2 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup red onion roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup scallions finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or dry white wine
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar use with chicken broth, omit if using wine
- First, butterfly the chicken. Using heavy shears or a knife, cut down close to the backbone on each side, and remove the bone. Place the chicken skin side up on a flat surface and press with a heavy pan (or a fist) to flatten. Set aside.
- Position oven rack about 6-8" from the broiler heating element. Preheat the broiler to high.
- Rub the chicken with 2 teaspoons of olive or vegetable oil. Place skin side up on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (this makes it easier to clean later) and broil for 5 minutes. Check to make sure the chicken is browning nicely, baste with oil dripping and continue broiling for another 5 minutes or so, until you get a beautiful deep golden brown color.
- Remove the chicken from the oven, season with salt and pepper all over and set aside.
- In a large sautee pan with a lid, heat the oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, the broth and the herbs, and sautee for about a minute. Drop the heat to low, place the chicken in the pan skin side up, cover with a lid and fry for about 20-30 minutes, until the internal temperature in the thickest part registers 160F, basting with pan juices 2-3 times during cooking.
- Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes, then carve, pour the pan sauce over the chicken and serve.