September is National Chicken Month. To commemorate this delicious bird, Joe Fontana, owner of Fry the Coop, a three-location — soon-to-be four — Chicago-based counter-service chain specializing in Nashville fried chicken met with MEAT+POULTRY to share his secret to making great-tasting, succulent, crunchy boneless, skinless chicken. 

“It’s a two-fry process with an extra dip right before serving,” he says. “The frying and dipping is with beef tallow.”

Fontana is a native of the Chicago suburbs. Less than five years ago he was living in Southern California and running a successful meatball pop-up stand business and wanted to bring the concept to Chicago. After the location he secured fell through and another one presented itself, he had decided to change directions, and instead brought his new-found addiction — the fried chicken sandwich — to the Windy City. While the Fry the Coop concept was inspired by the twisted chicken served at San Diego’s Crack Shack and the simplicity of the In-N-Out Burger menu, the crunch and flavor profile of the chicken has a Nashville hot spin.

The company sources never-frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Mar-Jac Poultry, Gainesville, Georgia. His employees hand-trim and cut the chicken, followed by tenderizing with a hand needler and dry rubbing with a salt, pepper and cayenne pepper blend that marinades for about 24 hours.

“We then coat the breasts in buttermilk and bread them with a seasoned flour mixture. Then they are fried twice,” he says. “The first time is in the prep. They are blanched at 250˚ F. This fully cooks them and seals in the juices. The breasts are then chilled until order.”

When the order has been placed, they get fried again. This time at 350˚ F.

“This warms them and makes them crispy,” he says.

Upon removal from the fryer, the breast is dipped in a vessel of melted beef tallow and sprinkled with the desired heat level of hand-crafted seasoning.

While the chicken is halal, the beef tallow currently is not; however, Fontana is working with his fat/oil supplier and will soon be using halal-certified beef tallow.

“We use the beef tallow for our fries, too,” he says. “They are double-fried Burbank Idaho’s and made following McDonalds’ famous ‘formula 47’ recipe.”

In addition to serving the chicken on a brioche bun, there are options to put it between a glazed doughnut, alongside waffles or atop a bed of fries.