Take that, Col. Sanders: Pistachio fried chicken

January 5, 2007


There is some truth in advertising. Fried chicken really is finger lickin’ good.

But it is also extremely hard to prepare well at home, at least in our experience — which is why Col. Sanders is wearing that stupid grin on KFC’s ubiqutous sign. The colonel knows that when a fried chicken urge overtakes you, you’re more likely to grab a red-and-white bucket of his crispy fried breasts and thighs than attempt to make your own.

Until now.

That’s right. It was while flipping through TV channels over the holidays that my husband and I had our hopes rekindled for the possiblity of tasty home-fried chicken. A stroke of luck (or my husband’s overactive clicker finger) landed us on the Food Network just as Paula Dean, soaked in her Southern charm, was showing viewers how to make some alluring fried chicken. Not only did it look outstanding, she made it seem so simple.

This was in contrast to our past encounters with frying chicken at home. Those results had been less than appetizing: greasy bird parts, soggy coating that slipped off and failed to deliver a crunch, and a generally unappetizing fried oil smell that lingered for too long. Col. Sanders was not only grinning at us… he was taunting us.

But my husband must have gotten fried chicken on his brain anyway, because not a week after seeing this episode he declared that he was going to attempt pistachio fried chicken… a nuttier variation of Paula Dean’s recipe. Despite the TV evidence that this recipe could work, I was somewhat skeptical.

Skeptical, that is, until I saw those beautiful chicken quarters exiting our cast iron pan. Golden brown and delicious they were, with meat that was tender and moist. And when I pulled away a delightfully crispy piece of skin and was met with a satisfying and terrific crunch, I knew that we had vanquished the colonel.

Yes, folks, you can make good fried chicken at home. And if you have a taste for a nutty, crunchy skin on your fried chicken… try my husband’s pistachio fried chicken. You won’t be sorry, and — bonus — the colonel just might be!

Click here to download the recipe for Pistachio Fried Chicken



I really like Paula Dean. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Ms. Dean does U.S. Southern style cuisine and has a very successful batch of shows on the Food Network. That woman just has the warmest personality and such enthusiasm. You would think she had just discovered cooking instead of being the very accomplished restaurant owner of Lady & Sons in Savannah, Ga.

This recipe was inspired by an episode of hers that my wife and I caught. She made “Bert’s Southern Fried Chicken.” It was the only time I’d seen a home-cooked fried chicken recipe that came out looking just right. Believe me, I’ve made a few in my day that were complete disasters.

So when thinking about a semi-themed series of posts about pistachios, I decided I wanted to make something crusty with them. I’d heard recently of a fish done with a pistachio crust, but decided I wanted to do something a bit more home cooking. So I opted for fried chicken. When my wife found out, she said to me, “You should look up that Paula Dean recipe and see if there is anything to learn.” My wife and I think a lot a like, because I had already printed it out and read through it.

The results were stupendous. As much as I’m proud of every dish I post here, this one earned a special place in my heart: It is really great. It has terrific flavor and crunch. It also gave me hope that fried chicken at home is not a disaster and can look just as good as some fancy restaurant’s. So while it’s now my recipe, I do encourage you try Ms. Dean’s if you want the traditional version.

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Pistachio Fried Chicken

Yield: 4-6 servings

One 3 lb. to 4 lb. whole chicken or chicken pieces with skin on
Canola, peanut or vegetable oil to fry

1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (skip if using salted nuts)

Egg wash:
3 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk (regular milk can be substituted)
Hot sauce (optional)

1. It’s butchering time. Carefully remove the legs, thighs, breast and wings. Do this by running the blade of your knife along the crevices of the bird and circling its joints. After you have cut the meat to the bone, you want to “pop” them out of joint and cut them free. Use a good pair of kitchen shears or a cleaver to remove the breast meat. You want to keep the bone on the back of the breast to keep it all together while cooking. Butchering a bird is not easy to describe in mere words. But go slow and steady and eventually the bird will come in pieces. If you want to skip this step, feel free to buy skin-on pieces from the market.

2. On a cutting board or large plate, lay out the chicken pieces. Salt and pepper them liberally and allow them to sit for 15-30 min. You want the pieces to be close to room temperature when cooked. You can, however, do this step in advance and simply cover and refrigerate for hours or overnight and come back to it later.

3. Time to make pistachio flour — or at least our version of it. Using a food processor, take 1 cup of shelled pistachios and pulverize for at least 1 min. steady. The goal is to get a powdery substance. It might start to ball a bit from the fat and moisture in the nuts. Most important is to achieve small grains. Now add the flour, baking powder and salt. Process again for another 20 seconds. The result should be a very fine powder. Place mixture in a large zip-top bag.

4. Add the egg wash ingredients to a bowl and whisk together. Dredge the chicken pieces through the mix and then add the parts to the bag with the pistachio flour. Shake the bag vigorously to coat the chicken. Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the bag and lay out on a clean cutting board or plate.

NOTE: You may need to coat the chicken in batches.

5. While the coated chicken is resting, in a large pan or, even better, a cast iron skillet, add enough oil to be fill the pan about halfway. Do not go past halfway. You are going to fry, so it is extremely important that you are careful to not let the oil overflow (remember displacement and bubbling!). Turn the heat to high and allow it to heat for about 4-6 min. You are aiming for about 325F, or when a few drops of water sizzle when they hit the oil.

WARNING: It’s important you are very careful from now on. You shouldn’t do this with small children running around or yippee-type dogs at your feet or cats known to rub up against you in a sneak attack. Frying is great, but people can get hurt if we don’t make sure everyone’s aware that it’s going on. So go slow. This means laying the food down in the oil and only letting it go once it’s in the oil. You do not want to splash. Remember, it hurts to get burned! Now that I’ve been a good guy, back to the fun part!

6. Once the oil is hot, slowly add the legs and thighs (dark meat) with meat side down. There will be a lot of bubbling – but that’s a sign things are going right. Cook for 2 min. and then add the breast meat with meat side down, and the wings. Cook for another 1 min. and now lower the heat to medium or medium high. Continue to cook for another 5 min, for a total of 8 minutes on this side. Turn the meat over using a pair of tongs. Cook on the other side for another 6 min.

NOTE: If you can’t get them all in one batch it’s OK. The oil will be good for cooking, it will just be darker.

7. While the chicken is cooking on the second side, set up a place for it to drain (e.g. a plate with paper towels or an upside down rack over newsprint). This will help wick away the excess oil.

8. Remove the chicken from the oil and allow it to drain. The temperature on the bird should be close to 160F. If you don’t have a thermometer, the color on the chicken should be slightly darker than what you see at popular fried chicken places, but not burnt. Let rest for at least 10 min. Serve hot or cold. Enjoy!


  1. God, that looks GORGEOUS – I’m from the South and grew up making/eating home-fried chicken, but this variation looks amazing. I’m definitely going to try it the next time I fry! (I’ve already cast my vote for you guys, btw – the blog is LOVELY. The photos are delicious, the stories and concept engaging, and the recipes absolutely right on. Well done!)

  2. I’ve always loved munching on pistachios but since I’ve been in Sicily, I’ve learned that there are so many different ways to enjoy them! Thanks for sharing yet another great way to enjoy one of my favorite nuts! I think I’ll save this one for my when my husband returns from deployment…he’ll be in heaven! Check out one my recent posts if you’re interested in a pistacchio pasta sauce recipe 🙂

  3. I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight! 🙂

  4. How do you think this would come out if it was baked? I don’t fry anything, but love the texture, tough thing to get otherwise. AND I love pistachios!!!

  5. I think I came across your site by accident, but it certainly caught my eye as I love chicken cooked this way, (Pistachio fried chicken.) However on your recipe you have 2 small photos covering information about the recipe, I could not move these photos and wonder if you could e-mail those details, thank you for a very enjoyable site.

    Ray Crawford

  6. I’d be happy to email you Ray. But you can click abobe where it says so, and the recipe has a PDF file that gives the direction. If you are having problems, feel free to email me at myhusbandcooks@gmail.com.

  7. I can’t understand why you don’t have good results frying your own chicken as its so simple to make is you stick to the basics. I also must add that the Pistachio Fried Chicken sounds unreal..almost too good to be true and what a great idea! I’ll have to try it.
    Your basic fried chicken doesn’t need to be dipped or rolled in liquids before frying. I learned how to make great chicken from a professional Chef from Thibideaux, Lousiana. So for you, this is her simple recipe.
    Put about a 1/2 inch of corn oil in a frying pan and heat over a medium-high heat.
    Roll your clean and dried chicken in a combination of flour, pepper and salt. Once thoroughly coated, place the chicken in the oil, making sure that the other pieces don’t touch while frying. Fry for 10 minutes on one side and then turn the chicken over for about 12 more minutes, making sure to move the chicken around the pan after it fries in one spot every four or five minutes. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels or on a brown bag and serve! Its as simple as that. You’ll have a lovely crispy coating, without any oily flavor and I’m sure you’ll like this as much as any other over-dipped milk/egg/floured recipe.

    By the way, I did make Bert’s Chicken after seeing Paula’s show. The chicken was good but it seemed like a waste to have to throw out the eggs after having raw chicken sit in it while in the fridge.
    Now I have to make some pistachio flour as I’m trying your recipe next! Wish me luck!

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