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2 cups low-fat buttermilk
Coarse salt
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 whole chickens (2-? to 3 pounds each), each cut into 10 serving pieces (wings, thighs, drumsticks, and 4 breast pieces)
3 cups self-rising flour
2 cups vegetable oil

Marinating the chicken in buttermilk makes the meat moist and flavorful. Chicken breasts cook faster than other parts, so fry them separately in the last batch. For fried chicken with less fat and fewer calories, remove the skin before marinating.

1. In each of two 1-gallon resealable plastic bags, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, and half the chicken pieces. Shake to coat; refrigerate up to 2 days.

2. In a large, shallow bowl, whisk flour with 2 tablespoons salt and remaining 2 teaspoons cayenne. (This pungent spice is made from ground dried chiles. Used in small quantities, it adds heat to dishes without being overpowering.) Dredge chicken pieces, one at a time, in mixture, shaking off excess.

3. In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet (or other heavy-bottom skillet), heat oil to 350° on a deep-fry thermometer (or until a pinch of flour sizzles when dropped in the oil).

4. Carefully add 1/3 of the chicken. Cook 10 minutes; turn chicken with tongs. Cook until golden brown, juices run clear, and internal temperature is 165°, about 10 minutes more. Transfer to a rack to drain. Season with salt, if desired. Return oil temperature to 350°. Repeat with remaining chicken.