Why Ina Garten's Fried Chicken Takes 11 Hours To Make

With its crispy, crunchy coating and tender, juicy meat, fried chicken is a comfort food classic for good reason. Perfect on its own, in a sandwich, or paired with waffles, it never fails to satisfy. And it's popular all over the world. From Japanese karaage to Ukrainian chicken Kievs, countries across the globe boast an incredible array of international fried chicken styles worth traveling for.

Ina Garten is also a fan of this flavorful fare, although her version takes longer to prepare than the fast-food variety. In fact, her recipe requires an 11-hour commitment. However, you don't need to be physically cooking for that long; the refrigerator does most of the work. Garten's method involves marinating her chicken pieces in buttermilk for around 10 hours, or even overnight, before cooking.

The "Barefoot Contessa" star opts for buttermilk — a tart, fermented liquid traditionally left over from churning butter — as her marinade. Also commonly used in pancakes, baking, and dressings, buttermilk serves to tenderize the meat. This makes it an essential step for achieving moist, succulent fried chicken.

The acid in buttermilk makes the chicken extra juicy

Soaking chicken in buttermilk overnight isn't primarily about infusing the meat with additional flavor, although it does impart a pleasant, subtle tanginess. Instead, the main goal is to improve the texture of the cooked meat, setting the stage for a winner of a chicken dinner.

The acid in the buttermilk acts to break down the protein structures in the chicken, resulting in softer, juicier, and less chewy meat. Ideally, the chicken pieces should be placed in a bowl, covered with buttermilk, and then wrapped in plastic before being refrigerated for around 10 hours or overnight. However, you can marinate them for up to 24 hours for even more tender results.

As for quantity, Ina Garten uses a quart of buttermilk for two whole chickens, each weighing three pounds and broken down into eight pieces. Feel free to adjust the amount of buttermilk based on the quantity of chicken you're preparing. If you're without buttermilk, don't worry; you can easily transform milk into buttermilk by adding an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar.

You don't need to deep fry your chicken for a crispy result

In addition to making the meat tender and succulent, another advantage of using buttermilk is that its thick consistency helps the flour coating adhere to the chicken more efficiently when it's time to cook. As we all know, a crispy coating is essential for that delicious crunch in fried chicken.

After dipping the chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt and pepper (you can also add other herbs and spices like cayenne for extra flavor), Ina Garten's approach to fried chicken involves more than just deep-frying. For a lighter, less greasy outcome — plus less time at the stove — she employs a two-step method. She first fries the chicken in hot oil for about three minutes on each side and then finishes by baking the pieces in a hot oven for 30 to 40 minutes, ensuring they're cooked through. The result is chicken with a crisp outer coating and moist, juicy meat.

If you're looking for an even lighter option that requires no oil, consider cooking the buttermilk-marinated chicken in an air fryer. Simply coat the buttermilk-soaked chicken in seasoned flour and cook it in the air fryer at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until fully cooked, turning halfway through. The chicken will stay tender yet crisp and only takes about 20 to 25 minutes to cook, making your favorite fast food even faster.