The Canned Ingredient That Guarantees Moist, Tender Fried Chicken

If you've ever cooked fried chicken, you know it's more complex than it appears. There are a lot of pitfalls involved, whether it be overcooking your chicken until it's a dried husk or ending up with a raw bird. There are a lot of ways to screw up fried chicken. Fortunately, you can always use one secret ingredient to help elevate your meal and make your chicken both tender and moist.

We're talking about cream of chicken soup, of course. If you never thought of dousing your bird in soup before battering it, then you might want to think again. The soup performs double duty, enriching the chicken's flavor while helping to create an even cook. A major issue when frying is that the cooking method sometimes zaps all the moisture out of the meat. This is especially true with leaner cuts of meat like chicken breasts. The cream of chicken soup provides a barrier between the bird and the heated oils, helping to trap in juices rather than evaporate them. Think of it as culinary sunblock. 

In addition, the cream of chicken soup also acts as a binder for your flour and cornstarch mixture. You should end up with a nice golden crunch on the outside and warm tender chicken on the inside. But how do you properly use this method?

Taking the dip

When it comes to using the soup to enhance your fried chicken, it's a fairly easy process (or about as easy as making any fried chicken). First, you will want to simply combine your can of soup with a large egg and seasoning salt. Depending on the amount of chicken you're cooking, feel free to double the ingredients. Likewise, you should add any other seasonings that strike your fancy. The egg will act as a binding element to help the flour and/or cornstarch batter stick to your chicken. However, you can substitute the egg with another binder as well.

In a separate bowl, you will combine your flour and other ingredients like cornstarch to make your batter. From there, it's as simple as dunking your chicken in the soup-slash-egg-wash and then coating it with the batter and frying it up. The cream of chicken soup mixture will help the batter cling to the chicken evenly and should provide a nice layer of moisture that will help it golden brown in the oil. Alternatively, you can use the soup as a marinade, prior to cooking, to impart more flavor to the dish. (However, this may not be the best approach, as we will explain later.)

Which cream of chicken to pick

When choosing your cream of chicken soup, you may just want to stick to one brand instead of trying to mix and match. Since different brands have their own versions, this could prevent you from muddling the flavors. Likewise, when buying your soup, it's important to note that the condensed version is the same thing. Condensed just means that it has less water in the can.

Of course, if you wanted, you could always make your own cream of chicken soup as well. The soup is mostly chicken broth or stock mixed with a bit of cream anyway, but for simplicity's sake, it's recommended you pick up a can from the store. Almost every brand from Pacific to Campbell's has its own cream of chicken soup, so pick your favorite.

You could also replace cream of chicken soup with other cream soups – like cream of mushroom — if you want to experiment with the flavoring. When serving, why not fix up a bowl of soup as a side dipping sauce or coat your fried chicken in a soup gravy to complete the meal?

Mistakes to avoid

We've all committed culinary missteps in the heat of the moment, only to regret them once we're staring at our dinner plates. As mentioned before, you can use cream of chicken soup as a marinade, but you may want to use buttermilk or milk instead. Both will do a better job, because they act as a tenderizer. If you do use cream of chicken as a marinade (or even milk for that matter), you should resist the urge to rinse off the chicken before cooking. Instead, simply patting the meat dry will lead to similar results without any food safety mishaps in the kitchen sink.

With cream of chicken in the equation, the biggest mistake you may make is forgetting to use a brine beforehand. Brining your chicken is a crucial stage between marinating your bird and blanching it in your soup mixture to coat and fry. Putting your chicken in a salt bath will give it an added boost of flavor and help make it juicy. When combined with the cream of chicken hack above, your fried chicken will be the talk of your next cookout.