Fried chicken

Gussied-up fried chicken made simple at home. (Los Angeles Times/Glenn Koenig)

For some fans, fried chicken is all about the crust. For an extra-crisp, crackly crust, use cornstarch in place of some of the flour. Cornstarch is often used in Asian frying and lends a light, crisp crunch. A little baking powder is also great for lightening the texture. Season the bird a little more generously so the flavor stands up to the crust.

Or shake up the dredge a bit for flavor. Corn flour adds a nice sweetness, and cornmeal gives a little extra crunch.

When the pieces are ready, let them sit at room temperature for a while to give the crust time to dry and take the chill off the meat.

Can't beat lard

For frying, there's nothing better than lard. Maybe it's the flavor, maybe there's something to the way the fat reacts with the crust, but lard is a magical frying medium. (And there's a little hint of pork in every bite.)

You can also use a neutral, refined oil with a high smoking point, such as canola or vegetable; peanut oil is often preferred for its high smoking point. If you'd like, flavor the fat before adding the chicken by frying an onion, or some ham or bacon.

Chicken can be either pan-fried, or deep-fried. Unless I'm going for a thick, light crust where I need enough oil to keep the chicken suspended, I prefer to pan-fry. It dirties less oil, and it's easy to monitor all of the pieces frying at once. Use a good, heavy skillet to evenly distribute the heat (and I swear by cast iron the same way I swear by lard).

To pan-fry, melt enough fat in a skillet to come a good half to three-fourths inch up the side of the pan, and heat the fat to the right temperature, generally between 300 and 350 degrees. Too low, and the oil will soak into the crust rather than fry it; too high, and the crust might burn before your chicken is done. Use a thermometer to keep the heat at a consistent temperature, and make sure you've got a good, heavy skillet to evenly distribute the heat.

Fry the pieces until the crust is crisp and golden-brown and the meat is tender, anywhere from six to 10 minutes a side depending on the size of the piece (remember, white meat cooks more quickly than dark). Some recipes call for covering the pan with a lid while frying; although this helps retain heat and maybe cooks the pieces a little faster, I find it makes for a crust that's less crisp.

Drain the crisp chicken, then serve it hot. Or better still, let it sit awhile to allow the flavors to mellow and marry. After all, doesn't comfort food sometimes taste best the next day? Or perhaps in the middle of the night, by the light of the fridge?

Yeah, it's a beautiful thing.

noelle.carter@latimes.com