Food & Drink

Tanya Holland’s Fried Chicken

by Kristina Gill

I consider this week’s recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken a treat not only because I haven’t had real fried chicken since I can’t remember when, but because it is a recipe by Tanya Holland from her recent Brown Sugar Kitchen cookbook. The cookbook is named after her restaurant in Oakland, which specializes in modern soul food. Grace’s family has a tradition of eating fried chicken on New Year’s Eve, and hopefully with this recipe you can perfect your technique by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around.   If your family has a cherished fried chicken ingredient or tradition, we’d love to hear about it. If not, now’s the time to start your own family tradition. Eat the chicken alone, or add waffles (we have a gluten free waffle recipe here)!  To see Tanya make her fried chicken, visit the Brown Sugar Kitchen website. -Kristina

Tanya Holland is the Executive Chef and Owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-Side BBQ in Oakland, CA. Holland is known for her inventive takes on modern soul food, as well as comfort classics. The author of Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland, and New Soul Cooking: Updating a Cuisine Rich in Flavor and Tradition, Holland is perhaps best known for her role as a host and expert on Soul Food for the “Melting Pot” series on Food Network. Holland has contributed to The Huffington PostFood & WineSignature Bride, and Wine Enthusiast magazines, and has been featured in articles in O Magazine, The Wall Street JournalSavoy, Travel & Leisure, Sunset, and numerous local publications. Holland continues to the share her love of modern Southern fare by bringing home her passion for soul food and the amazing experiences shared through the act of enjoying a meal with family and friends.

Photography by Jody Horton


Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

When I was growing up, my mother fried chicken at least three times a week. She cooked it in a cast-iron skillet and always used vegetable shortening. The seasoned flour went into a paper bag. She’d drop the chicken pieces in and give them a good shake before frying. I took her fried chicken for granted, assuming it was what everyone was eating. Only later did I learn most of my friends only knew fried chicken as fast food. Years later, when I was working at a restaurant in Manhattan, I discovered a buttermilk-soaked version of fried chicken that rocked my world. That’s the way I’ve made it ever since. The buttermilk bath serves as a tenderizing brine that makes the chicken extra moist and flavorful. You’ll notice that I cook the chicken just until crisp in the frying pan and then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking. The skin stays crisp and I know for certain that the meat is cooked through all the way to the bone.


  • 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus 1 tbsp
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 tbsp
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3½ lb/1.6kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 cup/240ml buttermilk
  • Canola or rice bran oil for deep-frying
  • 1½ cups/185g all-purpose flour


  1. In a large bowl, combine the parsley, tarragon, onion powder, paprika, 2 tsp salt, garlic powder, cayenne, 1 tsp black pepper, oregano, and thyme. Add the chicken pieces and toss to coat. Pour in the buttermilk, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. In a large cast-iron frying pan, add oil to a depth of 3/4 in/2 cm and heat the oil to 350°F/180°C over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and set a wire rack on top.
  3. In a large wide bowl, combine the flour, 1 tbsp salt, and 1 tbsp black pepper. One piece at a time and letting any excess buttermilk drip back into the bowl, transfer the chicken to the flour mixture. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.
  4. Fry the chicken, a few pieces at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan and turning occasionally, until crisp and browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the rack over the baking sheet to continue cooking in the oven until the internal temperature registers 165°F/75°C, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Serve immediately.


Why Tanya loves this recipe: This recipe is really a blend of my heritage cooking, my formal training and my restaurant experience. I remember my mom’s fried chicken as quite tasty, but once I had hormone-free, sustainable chicken rubbed with fresh herbs and buttermilk, coated with organic flour and fried in rice bran oil, there was no going back. I learned how to cook intuitively and with lots of love from my mother, but at school and in restaurants, I learned the importance of consistency, and how to cook large amounts of food. I also learned the importance of working with the best ingredients possible. I’ve made this recipe thousands of times now, maybe tens of thousands of times, so I know it works. And I know it works because people keep coming back for more. I’m sure you will, too!

Suggested For You


  • It was also odd for me when my friends would talk about frying chicken as a challenge and eating it during the occasional, fast food meal. I came up with good crispy fried chicken at big Sunday dinners and throughout the week, if my granny felt like making it to go with butterbeans and peas or greens.

    The pictures have me drooling, especially with the waffles, and I’m excited to have another cookbook to add to my collection.

  • Oh my…..fried chicken is my absolute favorite…and her recipe sounds divine. I look forward to getting her cookbook.

    Many thanks…

  • My husband loves fried chicken and for the first few years of our marriage I made him a fried chicken dinner every Sunday with all of the fixings. Eventually I became concerned about the fat in our diet and told him I wouldn’t be continuing our Sunday tradition in deference to a healthier diet. Shortly thereafter my husband went for his annual physical and eagerly reported to me that he was in excellent healthily. He had talked with the doctor about fried chicken and as he told me this he handed me a prescription slip from the doctor. Written on the script: “Fuller’s cholesterol is excellent. He can have a fried chicken dinner every Sunday” . That settled that!

  • I love that you can see little burn scars on the inside of Tonya’s wrists — the mark of someone who has cooked!

  • We travel an hour and a half and then wait whatever amount of time it takes to get a table and enjoy the incredible food of Brown Sugar Kitchen. Will have to do it again soon.