FOOD WISE: Fried chicken – a little bit of heaven in July
By CHEF RENEE MORGAN
Good gravy! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! Can you believe the luck? Not only was July 6th National Fried Chicken Day, but July is also National Ice Cream Month. Have we died and gone to heaven? July must be God’s favorite month.
Oh sure, the French have their Coq au Vin, the Japanese make a wonderful dish called Chicken Karaage, and who can resist Italian Chicken Cacciatore. But when push comes to stove, nothing can beat some old fashioned Southern Fried Chicken. I mean, come on now…what is better than the juxtaposition of the salty, sweet, juicy and crunch all in the same incredible, perfect bite. That sounded a little naughty, didn’t it?
Most of us think of fried chicken as soul food and how good is an expertly fried chicken leg with a mess o’ greens (I know collards are traditional, but I like turnip greens) and a big ol’ slab of cornbread, dripping with butter? We think of this as soul food because fried chicken is rumored to have gotten its start in the slave communities of early America. Fried chicken has really been around much longer than that. The Scots fried whole chicken in fat and brought that style of chicken dish with them as they immigrated to America. But African-American slave communities really made fried chicken the dish we enjoy today. They introduced the idea of battering and spicing the chicken, adding a previously lacking depth of flavor. However, fried chicken required ingredients that were considered expensive for slave communities so it would have been rare, indeed, for them to have served fried chicken at a meal. Whatever the origins, I am grateful for it.
There really aren’t many foods out there as simply perfect and as frustrating at the same time to home cooks as properly prepared fried chicken. I’m sure we’ve all had that piece of eagerly anticipated fried chicken only to be let down by a greasy, limp, over-cooked-on-the-outside-still-raw-on-the-inside, rubbery piece of you-know-what. Folks are always telling me their chicken cooking troubles. I can sympathize. Back in the day, when I first started cooking, I was that cook. My chicken….oh, what’s the word I’m looking for…uhm, SUCKED! Shhhhh, my husband doesn’t know. He thinks I’ve always made “the best fried chicken ever.”
The quintessential fried chicken authority in my life was my Auntie Ruth. She was, and still is, a proper southern lady in every since of the word. I suppose she learned from my MawMaw who was a Louisiana Pentecostal preacher’s wife and let me tell you, those bee hive hair-do ladies knew a thing or two about fried chicken. Anyhoo, as a new young bride who was completely lacking in cooking skills, I had the pleasure of spending time with Auntie Ruth and much of her time was spent in the kitchen. Those times are probably part of what gave me a love of cooking, all those times hanging out in the kitchen, cooking and talking my troubles out with my wise aunt.
There were a couple of things that I noticed Aunt Ruth did when she prepared chicken that seemed to make a difference. First, she soaked the chicken in a mixture of buttermilk and spices for several hours and sometimes even overnight. Then, when she took the chicken out of the buttermilk, she patted it dry with a paper towel before flouring it. She said it wouldn’t develop a nice golden crust if it was too wet. She also cooked the chicken in a big cast iron deep skillet so the chicken could be totally submerged in oil. You can also pan fry the chicken so that it’s halfway submerged in oil but I like the deep fry method because the crust fries very evenly.
Finally, I noticed she cooked the chicken at a lower temperature than I did. This allowed the chicken to cook fully to the bone while developing a golden brown and delicious crust. No more burned on the outside and raw on the inside. Certainly this technique required more patience and we all know that patience isn’t my strong suit. But the result is so worth it.
The trick is to have the oil hot enough to fry the chicken without burning the skin before the meat is cooked through. A temperature of about 350-360 degrees should do the trick. Of course, you know I must give you the mom-type safety warning so be sure to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to avoid any possibilities of dangerous creepy-crawlies (technical professional culinary term).
Okay, now that we’ve got the chicken under control, let’s deal with the next important topic: ice cream. I mean, even now as a grownup, when you hear the familiar tune of the ice cream truck, don’t you kinda want to take off running to the window like a little kid to claim their favorite frozen treat? Wouldn’t it be just my luck that a whole month devoted to ice cream comes around just when I’m trying once again to diet. Ugh! I better save the sweetness for next week.
You know, everyone has their own favorite ice cream and fried chicken. I’d love to hear about your favorites. Please tell me about it at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com and check out my website at www.chefalicioushospitality.com.
Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill, TX with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.
Best Southern Fried Chicken
1 broiler/fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups low fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Flour, for dredging
Canola Oil, for frying
Place chicken pieces into a plastic container and cover with buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
Pour enough oil to come about halfway up the side of a deep cast iron skillet or heavy fry pan. Heat to 350-360 degrees F. Do not allow oil to go over 360 degrees F.
Drain chicken in a colander and pat dry. Combine salt, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Liberally season chicken with this mixture. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
Place chicken skin side down into the pan. Put thighs in the center, and breast and legs around the edge of the pan. The oil should come half way up the pan. Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 10 to 12 minutes per side. Drain chicken on a rack over a sheet pan. Don’t drain by setting chicken directly on paper towels or brown paper bags. If you need to hold the chicken before serving, cover loosely with foil but avoid holding in a warm oven.