Can I use sodium metabisulfite to use my fried chicken’s crust a lighter color? Do you have any other suggestions?

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To be honest, I have no idea if sodium metabisulfite would help or how it would help. I’ve never played around with it before…and I don’t know anyone who has off the top of my head. Nor can I suggest an additive that would artificially lighten the color of fried chicken batter.

I’m assuming that if you’ve reached the point where you’re considering additives to solve color issues, you’re secure in your technique and this isn’t an issue with simply leaving the chicken pieces in the oil a little bit too long.

Here are some frying technique tweaks that might give you avenues for manipulating the darkness of the crust while still getting cooked chicken on the inside:

A) Try frying the chicken using a different oil, batter-style or piece size. (I assume you’ve already thought of this and don’t want to switch)

B) Try frying with new oil. Oil that has been used for a few batches tends to impart darker colors to fried foods than fresh oil (usually that’s a good thing).

C) Try pre-warming your chicken to lower the frying time necessary to cook it through, which may help you get cooked chicken before the crust overbrowns.

We haven’t tried this ourselves yet, but Harold McGee recommends wrapping meats and immersing them in warm water for 30-60 minutes in order to bring their internal temperature to around 100˚F/40˚C.  He says this can reduce cooking time by a third or more.

Obviously you’d want to cook them ASAP once they hit that target temp for food safety reasons, because at that point you’re well into the temperature danger zone and bacteria grow fast.

D) Try frying at an even lower temperature.

You mentioned frying at 170˚C.  In Modernist Cuisine, Myhrvold et al suggest that reducing your oil temperature further to 160-165˚C (320-329˚F) can slow the maillard browning reaction on the outer crust while still cooking the interior. We haven’t tested this either, and depending on your piece size this may slow cooking enough that you end up with greasy chicken.

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