Any Southern cook worth her salt knows that the best way to get tender, tangy, juicy fried chicken is to soak the raw pieces in buttermilk overnight. Cooks in India and Greece use yogurt in much the same way. Milk, especially fermented milk products such as buttermilk and yogurt, contains acids and enzymes that help tenderize chicken.
Start by seasoning your raw chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Place them in a bowl, a resealable plastic container or plastic zipper bag. If you prefer more intense flavor in your chicken, whisk seasonings into your milk or buttermilk. Italian and Cajun seasonings complement chicken, as does a simple mixture of lemon pepper, rosemary and sage. Pour the milk over the chicken pieces, covering them completely. Cover the bowl or seal the container or bag and let the chicken soak in the refrigerator for 60 minutes to overnight.
Thoroughly drain any excess buttermilk from your raw chicken pieces before breading and frying them, because the thickness of the buttermilk can interfere with the formation of a crisp crust. Never reuse any type of marinade for gravy or sauce unless you first boil it for at least 5 to 10 minutes.