There are few things in this world as good as a piece of crispy fried chicken. The juicy flavorful meat, surrounded by a delicious crispy coating—c’est magnifique! But to get this wonderful crispy coating, you’ll have to use flour in your recipe.
But is it possible to fry chicken without flour? Luckily, especially for those that are gluten-intolerant, you can still fry chicken without flour. You can choose to completely leave out the flour, or you can use an alternative like corn starch, potato starch, rice flour, or chickpea flour.
In today’s article, we will be looking at exactly what effects flour has on fried food and how to choose the best substitute. Then, we will give our most recommended alternatives to flour specifically for fried chicken.
Traditional Fried Chicken
To understand the substitutes for flour, you first have to understand how flour is used to make crispy chicken and also how it affects the crispiness.
Only then will you be able to choose an appropriate substitute and one that will work best—even ones that aren’t on our list!
So, let’s have a look at classic deep-fried chicken!
Deep-fried chicken, regardless of the exact ingredients used, always consists of a flour-based coating. This coating can either be a dry one or more like a batter.
Flour-based batters can literally consist of flour, water, and salt. Naturally, these coatings usually have other ingredients included to make the coating extra crispy and flavorful.
Dry coatings are usually applied as follows: the piece of chicken is first dipped in some seasoned flour, then into either whisked egg or a type of egg-and-milk mixture.
The chicken can then be coated in flour again (this is optional) and deep-fried.
Many companies prefer coating their chicken in breadcrumbs or panko crumbs after the egg mixture to give it that extra crispiness. Sometimes they even double coat their pieces!
Purpose Of Flour For Fried Foods
Flour has a few functions when it comes to fried foods, not only chicken. First, the most important function it has is to give the chicken a beautiful golden-brown color once it has been fried.
When heat is applied to food, different ingredients naturally react in different ways.
Some brown faster than others, some develop strange and unappealing flavors, some undergo unappetizing textural changes, and some simply cannot handle the intense heat.
Flour is the perfect ingredient that browns at a very slow and uniform pace so that you can ensure the chicken has been fully cooked before the coating has turned too dark or even burnt.
It also doesn’t change flavor or texture when the chicken is frying.
When it comes to adding flavor, flour by itself doesn’t add much, so it is incredibly easy to manipulate the flavor of your fried chicken.
You can create a fairly neutral-tasting chicken that pairs with an incredibly flavor-packed dipping sauce.
On the other hand, flour also creates the perfect base to add a ton of spices, herbs, and spice mixes. This is another way to add flavor to your coating without having to add additional accompaniments like sauces and marinades.
Can You Fry Chicken With Corn Starch?
You may have seen a ton of recipes that calls for corn starch instead of flour, so the answer is definitely yes!
Corn starch is a fantastic alternative to flour for any type of fried food. Just keep in mind that, like most substitutes, it does have a very different effect on the end product.
Using corn starch instead of flour for fried food will give you an extra crispy coating. Many people also claim that it gives a much more beautiful golden-brown color, however, this is up for debate.
The added crispiness is thanks to the molecular composition of corn starch. This powder does not absorb as much oil when it is fried and provides a dried coating. This also means that your piece of chicken is lower in fat.
One other major benefit of using corn starch instead of flour to coat chicken is that it is gluten-free! So for even those with extreme sensitivity, it is a fantastic option and will open up a whole new category of recipes.
Like flour, corn starch also has a very neutral flavor so that you can create any flavor profile that you would like.
It browns slowly so that the chicken can be fully cooked before burning and does not change texture when it is heated for a long time.
If you are using corn starch to simply coat the chicken before frying it, make sure to get a nice thin and even layer of powder. When it is too thick or uneven, it can potentially create a gummy texture (which the flour can also do).
And if you don’t want to fully replace the flour, simply make a 50/50 blend of flour (gluten-free if you want) and corn starch.
This will give you the best of both worlds: a nice neutrally flavored, gluten-free, uber crispy, and evenly browned piece of chicken.
When you use corn starch for batter-based coatings, the batter itself will have a much thicker consistency compared to a flour-based batter, so make sure to take this into consideration.
Best Alternatives For Flour In Fried Chicken
There are quite a few substitutes for flour if you are making fried chicken. The most important question to ask yourself first is why you want to substitute the flour?
If you are looking to make gluten-free deep-fried chicken, then you may want to use gluten-free flour or corn starch.
If you simply ran out of flour, you can use any of these substitutes or even remove it completely! And if you are looking for a healthier substitute (like for low-carb deep-fried chicken), then you may want to look at special flours.
Nevertheless, below is our list of the best substitutes for flour when making fried chicken that can cater to any need!
Don’t Use Anything!
Yes, folks, this is an option believe it or not! You don’t have to use flour or any alternative or substitute! Depending on which frying technique you use, you can still get crispy fried chicken.
First, do not remove the skin. The skin has some fantastic crisping characteristics that when fried at the correct temperatures, can help you get a very crispy piece.
You can also marinate your chicken. Of course, this isn’t necessarily overall healthier, but it is a flourless option.
Place the chicken pieces, with their skin still on, in the marinade for at least 24 hours. When you deep fry the chicken, not only will you have added flavor, but a deliciously crispy texture with juicy meat.
When you are breading your chicken with flour, egg, and breadcrumb mixture, again, simply leave out the flour part. The breadcrumbs, especially if you are using panko crumbs, will create a crispy enough coating without the added flour.
Potato starch is the closest substitute to corn starch, and considering corn starch is the best substitute for flour, it just makes sense to use this.
Potato starch is derived from the roots of potato plants. The roots are crushed to help release the starch from the cells. Then, the starch is dried to finally make potato starch.
It is very similar to corn starch when it comes to the effects it has on fried foods. It creates an extra crispy crumb because of its similar molecular structure.
It has a neutral flavor which makes it perfect to try out different spice blends in the dry coating.
It also works as a gluten-free substitute for flour and it can be substituted in a one-to-one ratio. Again, just keep in mind that a potato starch coating (when applied dry) should be evenly thin to prevent gummy areas.
Despite the name, this isn’t really traditional wheat-based flour. Rice flour is made from rice granules and is not wheat-based, but rather grain-based.
This also means that they are gluten-free, perfect for those still wanting to eat some crispy chicken.
Rice flour can be made from either white rice or brown rice. Regardless, it still has a relatively neutral flavor so can be mixed with spices easily to create many different flavor profiles.
Rice flour creates a very crispy fried product and we would highly recommend trying it.
This is a very finely ground flour that is made from chickpeas. They are incredibly nutritionally packed with protein and other nutrients. Unfortunately, it does have some flavor to it that could potentially change that of the fried chicken.
However, in our opinion, this deep earthy flavor makes that of the chicken stand out even more, so we absolutely love it!
Chickpea flour is also a gluten-free alternative and has much fewer calories compared to normal wheat flour.
If you are making a batter, we would recommend mixing in a bit of club soda to create a nice light batter for delicate crispy chicken. Otherwise, the coating may come out dense as chickpea flour itself is quite heavy and dense.
Is Frying Chicken Without Flour Healthier?
If you are looking for gluten-free and carb-free fried chicken, then removing the flour will definitely create a slightly “healthier” chicken. However, you also have to remove the breadcrumbs used.
If you are looking to decrease the calorie count or fat content, then removing the flour won’t do much if anything.
Because you are using so little flour to make the coating for your chicken, it will maybe drop the calorie count by 2-3 grams per piece.
So in our opinion, it doesn’t make it healthy enough to be worth removing it for this reason. Unless you are not frying it, it won’t become healthier. This also applies when using any of the above-mentioned substitutes.