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La Belle Cuisine
The Immortality of Fried
Southern Journal by John Egerton
Southern Living September 1995
Southern Living - One Year Subscription
"What makes fried
chicken so special in the South - the real importance of it, the immortality
of Southern fried chicken - is all tied up in tradition and memories.
For instance, I can describe to you all the ways I learned to love fried
a boy. I can call them up through every one of my senses. There
was the sound
it frying in the skillet, the smell of it on the platter,
the golden-brown sight of
the crispy touch, the indescribably delicious
taste of it. And more.
In the early forties, practically every family I knew in my small-town
youth raised chickens for eggs and meat, both staples of the
Southern diet. In
those war years, before I reached the age of 10, I was
well acquainted with the clipped-wing fleet of hens, roosters, and pullets
that thrived on cracked corn
and table scraps in
a fenced area just outside
our back door. When you grow
up seeing eggs laid to be hatched or cooked,
and pullets dispatched by a hatchet
blow or the swift snap of a wrist, you
develop a more direct understanding of
food chain than you do from
One of my chores was plucking the feathers. My mother cut up the chicken and
refrigerated the pieces in salted water. When the time came, she patted the
chilled pieces dry, dredged them in flour, and fired them in the highest
of hog lard, melted to a depth of an inch or so in a capacious black
But as familiar as fried chicken was to us, it was not your everyday fare;
it was special. You served it to company, to the minister, to out-of-town
guests. It was
for family reunions and summer wedding parties and church
dinners. It was
funeral food, a personally delivered platter that bespoke
And nobody - nobody - ever hinted that it might be hazardous to your health.
the contrary, we considered it a vivid symbol of wellness and contentment
even prosperity. Properly done, our fried chicken was never too greasy,
the outside and moist within, spiced to perfection. And as
sure as Sunday,
it was complemented with a bird's nest of mashed potatoes
and a brimming pond
of rich brown gravy.
The occasions of our feasting on a plenitude of pullets were numerous enough
run together now in my recollection, almost as if this was event hat
every Sunday of my young life. As soon as Sunday school was over, I
an eye out for Mom, just to make sure she has headed to our home
There, in the kitchen, humming to herself, she would finish the green beans,
potatoes, and yeast rolls, and bake a pie or a cobbler. Finally, when the
was right, she would begin to lay the floured chicken pieces into the
hot lard. Meanwhile, midway through the church service, my brother and I
would begin squirming on the back bench.
Sometimes, in a state of near delirium, I imagined that I could actually
that chicken cooking in our house. Once when my Sunday school teacher
for a way to explain the meaning of eternity, I suggested that it
felt like the
less wait for a pulley bone and all the other wonderful
my mother's Sunday dinner.
I was fortunate enough to end up with the big, deep, heavy cast-iron skillet
lid that produced all those poultry masterpieces a half-century ago. To
we still recognize it at our house as the one and only vessel for
serious chicken frying.
There is a reassuring comfort in the knowledge that
this utensil will never wear
out, never lose flavor, never fail. It is an
heirloom worth its weight in silver or
gold, and as much to be treasured as
a fine old piece of furniture and as prized
a precious memory."
In Pursuit of Perfect Fried Chicken
by Susan Dosier
"Without fried chicken,
a picnic is just a meal with ants; a family reunion is
a series of
endless hugs; and a church covered-dish supper - well, the
this omission leaves the spirit wanting.
An occasional rendezvous with the frying pan won't kill you - and it can
downright fun. Our day with food writer and historian John Egerton of
Nashville, proved that point heartily. John's book
Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History
(University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill)
has provided history and
inspiration to our staff for years. So it was only
natural to invite him to
The grease started popping about 9:30 a.m. We cooked eight broiler-fryer
chickens every way imaginable and concluded about 1 p.m. to sample them
Each was judged as critically as a prize pickle at the state fair. Here's
what we discovered.
A cast-iron skillet is ideal, but an electric skillet or a
fryer will do
the job. The chicken cooks more evenly, browns
to a prettier
color, and is much
more crispy when fried in a cast-iron skillet
oil's temperature remains more constant.
A fresh chicken is best. Some stores fool us with frozen birds that are
before they are sold. Get to know your butcher and ask for help.
Vegetable oil with 1/4 cup bacon drippings is our fat of choice.
In an effort to keep the kitchen somewhat clean, we opted for the oil in our
iron skillet to be three-fourths the height of the chicken - usually 2
The chicken absorbed less oil (we measured how much oil was left in the
after each batch) when it was soaked in buttermilk or salt water in
refrigerator overnight. Salt water offered the best results for us;
a close second.
Seasoning the chicken offers more room for variation than any other step.
Our favorite recipe was simple. The chicken was dredged in a combination of
salt and pepper. Dipping in beaten egg before flouring left the
and it absorbed much more oil. We tried batters with herb
seasonings, but the
flavor didn't come through.
Add the chicken to the skillet when the oil reaches 360 degrees F. Then keep
sizzling at 300 to 325 degrees F. for the remainder of the frying. We
candy thermometer to test the oil's temperature.
We covered the cast-iron skillet after adding the chicken. Covering helps to
eliminate spatters and it didn't make our chicken soggy.
"The whole objective is to get the right color and outside texture and cook
the chicken through in about 30 minutes," John says. "Take the chicken out
pan when it's brown enough to suit your taste."
And when we did take it out of the pan, we drained it on paper towels, let
and sampled it gustily. Even the most disciplined of our tasters
gave in. We now smelled like a Southern picnic basket. We'd definitely
learned a few new tricks.
John summed it up for us. 'We did what came naturally,' he said. 'We broke
the rules, but we didn't break them all to pieces. And you know, we ended up
where Mary Randolph was in 1828 with "The Virginia Housewife," one of
first cookbooks published in the United States. Her recipe called for
a chicken, dredging in flour, sprinkling with a little salt,
putting the pieces
in a skillet with hot fat, and frying to a golden brown.
Then it instructed to
gravy with the 'leavings' ".
It's good to know that some things never change."
How to Cut Up Chicken with a Pulley Bone
The other name for the pulley bone is the
wishbone, the V-shaped breast
of the chicken.
Cutting up a chicken using a sharp knife to get at the joints and
shears to trim the rest saves money - and many argue that it's a
product altogether. Assistant Test Kitchens Director Peggy Smith
us a quick lesson.
1. First remove the legs by cutting at the
joints with a sharp knife.
2. Crack the back thigh joint, finding the joint with your fingers. Cut
straight through to remove thigh; repeat on the other side. Use
kitchen shears to trim extra skin and fat.
3. Stretch out wings and cut into the joints, removing them.
4. Cut down the back from the tail end to the neck end. Clip along the
ribs with kitchen shears. You'll now have a large breast section.
5. Press your fingers on the neck end of the breasts; the pulley bone
to these two plump muscles. You can feel its V-shape with
your fingers. Cut
straight down from the top of the breast to the
the ribs and pulley bone and separ-
ating the pulley bone from
the rest of the
breast. Your piece will
be shaped like a plump "V". Be
careful not to crack
while you're feeling around for it.
Tip: If you don't cut up your own chicken,
you'll find pieces with the
bone cut out for you in packaged chicken
cut up country style.
Our Best Southern Fried Chicken
3 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt
A 2- to 2 1/2-pound broiler-fryer
chicken, cut up
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup bacon drippings
Combine 3 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl;
add chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours. Drain chicken; rinse
with cold water, and pat dry. Combine 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon
pepper; sprinkle half
of mixture over all sides of chicken. Combine
remaining mixture and flour
in a gallon-size, heavy-duty, zip-top plastic
bag. Place 2 pieces of chicken in
bag; seal. Shake to coat completely.
Remove chicken, and repeat procedure with remaining pieces. Combine
vegetable oil and bacon drippings in a
12-inch cast-iron skillet or chicken
fryer; heat to 360 degrees F. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, skin side down. Cover and cook 6 minutes; uncover and cook 9 minutes. Turn chicken pieces;
cover and cook 6 minutes. Uncover and cook 5 to 9 minutes, turning pieces
during the last
3 minutes for even browning, if necessary. Drain chicken on
towel-lined plate placed over a large bowl of hot water. Yield: 4
- John Egerton
Note: For best
results, keep the oil temperature between 300 and 325
degrees F. Also, 2 cups
buttermilk may be substituted for the saltwater
solution used to soak
chicken pieces. Proceed as directed.
Fried Chicken Gravy
1 recipe Our Best Southern Fried Chicken
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk or water
[we use milk or a combination
of milk and chicken broth]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Fry chicken according to recipe directions. Pour off pan
drippings, reserving 1/4 cup drippings in skillet. Place skillet over medium
heat. Add flour to the drippings, stirring constantly, until browned. Add milk
gradually; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly (about 3 to
5 minutes). Stir in salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Yield: 1 2/3 cups.
1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
6 chicken drumsticks
4 bone-in chicken breast halves, skinned
1/2 cup non-fat buttermilk
3 cups corn flake crumbs
2 to 3 teaspoons Creole seasoning
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
Vegetable cooking spray
Combine water and salt in a large bowl; add chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Drain chicken; rinse with cold
pat dry. Place chicken in a shallow dish; pour buttermilk over the
turning pieces to coat. Combine corn flake crumbs and season-
gallon-size heavy-duty, zip-top plastic bag. Place two pieces
seal. Shake to coat completely. Remove chicken, and
with remaining pieces. Place coated chicken, bone
side down, in a
15-by-10-by-1-inch jellyroll pan coated with cooking
spray and spray
with cooking spray. Place pan on the lowest
rack in oven. Bake
at 400 degrees F.
for 45 minutes (do not turn).
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Featured Archive Recipes:
Annie Lou's Fried Chicken
Gigi's Oven-Fried Parmesan Chicken
Jean Anderson's Oven-Fried Chicken
Marcelle Bienvenu's Crunchy Fried Chicken
Notes from a Southern Expatriate, with Recipes
“Whenever we want chicken,” says
Mrs. McCollum [of Rockingham County,
North Carolina] “I just go out in the
yard and catch one. It doesn’t seem to me
like I do anything special about
frying chicken, but my children like the way
I do it, especially Susan –
it’s her favorite. It’s real crispy and brown outside
and juicy all the way
to the bone. I always make chicken gravy, too, so we can
spoon it over
from The Grass Roots Cookbook
, by Jean Anderson, 1992, Doubleday
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