When it comes to cooking, Tuscany may be famous for its Florentine beefsteak, crostini with chicken-liver spread, thick ribolitta soup, and even its panzanella bread salad, not to mention extra-virgin olive oil and truffles. I believe few, however, would associate the area with fried chicken. Indeed, even after numerous trips to this region and having enjoyed many meals there, I never came across it. In fact, I only discovered it recently while preparing a recipe for a chicken and onion stew from Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, which I wrote about here a few weeks ago.
As I was checking the stew recipe for my post, I happened to notice another one on the facing page for “Pollo Fritto,” which the author translated as “Tuscan Fried Chicken.” It looked appealing. When I asked my husband what he thought about it, he quipped “Hmm. TFC. . .You could be the next colonel, but you’ll need something other than a white suit.”
I must admit that associating this dish with the Kentucky Colonel wasn’t too motivating. I’ve never been a fan of it or even of classic southern fried chicken. Even when I’ve had this traditional version expertly prepared by talented chefs in several restaurants throughout the South, I’ve always found it too heavy for my taste; the emphasis always seemed to be on the coating rather than on the chicken.
In Pezzini’s Tuscan version, however, the focus is as much the chicken as on the coating. She calls for marinating the chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper for a couple of hours. This step adds both flavor and moisture to the meat. In addition, rather than making a batter, she dredges the chicken pieces in flour after they’ve been removed from the marinade and drained. She then dips the chicken into lightly beaten eggs, which makes for a light but perfectly crisp coating that perfectly complements the chicken and doesn’t absorb much oil.
I followed Pezzini’s recipe rather closely but made a few changes. Rather than adding the salt and pepper to the marinade, I used it to season the chicken pieces prior to putting them in the marinade. For the last hour of marinating, I removed the chicken from the fridge to let it come closer to room temperature. For the frying, rather than peanut or corn, I used a blend of canola and extra-virgin olive oil. Finally, as I was cooking only for two, I prepared four small thighs, as opposed to the called for 12 small pieces of fryer.
In the recipe below, I’ve provided suggested levels of oil as well as specific cooking temperatures for the frying, which I found lacking in the original recipe.
The result of this first attempt was truly a winner of a chicken dinner and a dish that we’ll be sure to add to our repertoire of weeknight dishes. Enjoy!
Pollo Fritto (Tuscan Fried Chicken) adapted from The Tuscan Cookbook by Willma Pezzini
1 frying chicken, cut into at least 12 small pieces. (As I was cooking for two, I used 4 small thighs, trimmed of any excess skin and fat.)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, as needed
Peanut or corn oil for frying, as needed (I used a mix of canola and olive oil.)
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
2. Make a marinade with the olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, and put the pieces of chicken into it for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. (I used a zip-top freezer bag for this step and removed the bag from the fridge after the first hour to allow the chicken to come closer to room temperature.)
3. Put enough oil in a 12” cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet to come to a depth between ¾” to 1”. Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350°.
4. Meanwhile, take the chicken pieces from the marinade, drain, and dredge with flour. (I patted the chicken lightly with paper towels to remove any excess marinade.)
5. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the eggs, beat slightly.
6. When the oil reaches temperature, place four pieces of chicken into the beaten eggs, take out, let excess drip off for a moment, and then carefully place the chicken one piece at a time into the oil.
7. Fry the chicken, turning with tongs every few minutes and adjusting the heat to maintain a steady temperature between 300°–325°. Fry on all sides, for a total of 15 to 20 minutes—the meatier pieces take longer—then remove onto paper towels to absorb excess oil. Repeat with the next batch of four pieces, and the next. As you go through the process, keep the fried pieces warm on a heated platter or in a low oven. (My thighs were done after 15 minutes.)
8. When all the pieces are done, serve at once, accompanied by lemon wedges. (I used my only lemon for the marinade, so there were no wedges. For a side, I made a broccoli gratin.)
Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc