I once wrote that an informal review of the most influential Southern cookbooks in my collection revealed as many ways to fix fried chicken as there are cooks making the iconic dish, with innovations appearing in all time periods.
A lemonade bath before frying moistens the chicken legs served by chef Chris Scott, a finalist on Bravo's "Top Chef." Mojo criollo infuses Cuban chicken with garlic, orange and lemon juice. Evaporated milk gives Creole chicken a New Orleans flair. I learned from a far-reaching 1987 culinary opus, "The Black Gourmet Cookbook: A Unique Collection of Easy-to-Prepare, Appetizing, Black American, Creole, Caribbean, and African Cuisine," that birds soaked overnight in a marinade of soy sauce, lime juice and rum will transport you to the islands. There are saltwater brines, pickle brines, vodka brines — chef Todd Richards's buttermilk brine leans into the hot chicken style, adding a dose of hot pepper sauce and red pepper flakes to the mix in "Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes."
While all of these methods can produce wonderful chicken, through it all, marinating in buttermilk remains a classic go-to technique for succulent chicken; the acidic cultured milk tenderizes the meat. For the blazing taste of Prince's Hot Chicken, add a couple of tablespoons of hot pepper sauce to the buttermilk marinade and increase the cayenne pepper exponentially, depending upon your heat tolerance.
In a small bowl, combine the salt, celery salt, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. Pat the chicken dry so the spices will stick, then place the chicken in a long, shallow glass baking dish. Rub half of the seasoning mixture onto the chicken pieces, turning to coat all sides. Carefully pour the buttermilk over the chicken and refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours and overnight if possible, turning once or twice.2.
In a plastic or lunch-size brown paper bag, combine the flour and the remaining seasoning mixture. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, shake off each piece to remove any excess, and place 1 piece at a time in the bag. Close the bag and shake well to coat evenly on all sides. Let the coated chicken rest on a wire rack while you repeat until all the chicken has been coated with the seasoned flour. (Discard the buttermilk.)3.
Pour about 3/4 inch oil into a heavy, deep cast-iron skillet and heat to 375 F over medium-high heat (use a thermometer, or if a small cube of bread sizzles immediately but does not burn when dropped into the pan, the oil is ready). Adjust the heat to maintain this temperature as needed. Working in batches of a few pieces at a time (do not crowd the skillet), add the chicken and cook until golden-brown, about 12 minutes, turning once. Drain the chicken on paper towels and serve hot.