The prospect of working with hot oil can intimidate even the most well-intentioned cooks. But like many untested dishes in your cooking queue, deep-fried chicken sounds scarier than it is. Once you sink your teeth into your own deep-fried chicken – with a crunchy, imaginative topping – you may wonder why you waited so long to conquer this flavorful dish. To shore up your confidence, begin with deep-fried chicken tenders, which take less time to cook than thicker chicken breasts, thighs and drumsticks.
Place the chicken tenders in a large plastic bag with a zippered lock. Put the bag in a glass dish, in case of spills or leaks. Pour enough buttermilk into the bag to cover the chicken and zip it closed. Scrunch the contents with your hands. Marinate the chicken for several hours or overnight.
Set up a dipping station consisting of three bowls on a roomy counter. Pour flour in the first bowl, beaten eggs in the second bowl, and a thick, crunchy topping in the third. Consider crushed potato chips, cheesy crackers or corn flakes flavored with seasoning salt. Position a baking sheet covered with parchment paper at the end of the station.
Pull one chicken tender at a time out of the marinade bag and dredge it in the flour, cover it with egg and then coat it generously with the crunchy topping on both sides. Repeat until you fill the baking sheet with the chicken tenders.
Pour about 4 inches of canola oil into a deep fryer or large pot. Heat the oil until it reaches a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit on a deep-frying thermometer.
Spread some paper towels under several cooling racks near your stove. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Drop one tender at a time into the oil with a pair of tongs. Keep an eye on the temperature as you proceed; you want it between 300 and 325 degrees. Fry an uncrowded batch of chicken, or about four chicken tenders in the hot oil at a time.
Remove the tenders from the oil after they turn brown and float, which usually takes only a few minutes.
Transfer the tenders to the cooling rack and immediately sprinkle them with salt, as well as any other seasoning you like. Hot oil soaks up these additions like a sponge. Drain the tenders for a few minutes so the coating sets up, then transfer them to a clean baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to stay warm.