Granny Foster made the best fried chicken in the world—salty and golden brown with a crackly crust that gave way to meat as moist and tender as could be. The secret is the overnight brine of water, salt, and spices that drives extra moisture and flavor into the meat, where they are locked in during the cooking process.
One 3 – to 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces
3 tablespoons sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
Crisco vegetable shortening or canola oil, for frying
1. Place the chicken in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and the sugar, vinegar, and bay leaves and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Cover and refrigerate over night.
2. When ready to cook the chicken, place the buttermilk in a shallow bowl and transfer the chicken from the brine to the buttermilk.
3. Place the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon salt, the black pepper and cayenne in a separate large shallow bowl or plastic bag and stir or shake to mix.
4. Melt the shortening about 1/2 inch deep in a large cast-iron skillet and place over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches between 350° and 375°F. The melted shortening should be deep enough to submerge the chicken about halfway; the level of the shortening will rise slightly when you add the chicken.
5. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge or shake in the flour mixture, one piece at a time, to coat evenly on all sides, beginning with the large pieces. Shake off any excess flour.
6. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the hot shortening, reduce the heat to medium, and fry until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Check the pieces to make sure they are not browning too quickly; if so, reduce the heat or turn the pieces. Turn the chicken and fry the other side until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. The chicken is done when the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a small knife and an internal thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads about 165°. The chicken should cook for a total of 30 to 35 minutes.
Line a platter with a brown paper bag and transfer the chicken to the platter to drain, Season with additional salt and pepper and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving warm.