Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Southern Fried Chicken

Today is my son J’s 9th birthday. We had been planning to go to the Japanese Steakhouse to celebrate, but with his brother’s newly diagnosed shrimp allergy, I saw tears on the horizon – either B’s if he was not allowed to have shrimp, or W’s if everyone ate shrimp except for him. So I volunteered to fry chicken…
My friend JB and I had a girl’s weekend in Asheville last weekend. Both of us have Mississippi born-and-bred mothers and grandmothers who fried chicken regularly, but JB has never cooked it and I’ve only done it once. I don’t remember when or why or for whom I made this meal, but I do have a vague memory of it being somewhat successful. We decided that we were depriving our children of a piece of their cultural heritage by allowing this skill to drop by the wayside. I called Mom for a refresher course, and here are the instructions she gave me:
Ingredients: fresh chicken cut-up country style so that you have a pully-bone, salt, pepper, flour, Crisco shortening
Equipment: large skillet with top, two brown paper bags, paper towels
I am also planning on using a frying thermometer.
Instructions: Wash your chicken, and while it is still wet, lay it out on a brown paper bag and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper, then with flour. The water on the chicken will make the flour stick. Turn the chicken pieces over and do the other side, then add more flour, fold up the sides of the bag and toss it around a bit. Leave it for as long as you can – at least 20 minutes, but an hour is better.
Heat Crisco shortening in a large skillet over moderately high heat. You should have about an inch to an inch and a half of shortening in the pan, enough that when you add the chicken that at least the bottom half is immersed, but not so much that it spills over the top of the skillet. The shortening needs to be hot but not smoking. (This is where I plan to use the frying thermometer. Several cookbooks I consulted suggest that the oil should be about 375 degrees when you add the chicken). Shake the excess flour from the chicken and add to the skillet, starting with the dark meat and thicker pieces. Don’t put the pieces of chicken too close together – they should not touch. They will draw up some as they cook. The oil will cool off some when you add the chicken. Turn the heat down to medium and cover the skillet. This is where things get a little less precise… You only want to turn the chicken once. It will take at least 10 minutes to cook the first side. If you listen carefully to the sound of the chicken frying, it will sound different when it is done. (Sounds kind of hoo-hoo, but I remember that I could hear a difference last time). You can see the chicken getting brown around the edges. You get all that? So at some point you are going to make the decision to turn the chicken over and cook the other side. Total cooking time will be in the 20-30 minute range.
When it is done, remove it from the skillet and drain it on a layer of paper towels laid over a brown paper bag. If you have to fry a second skillet of chicken, note that the shortening may have cooled off some, so you may need to turn it back up a bit to get it back up to 375. You may also need to add more shortening.
J chose the rest of our menu as well: homemade macaroni and cheese, butter beans, strawberries, and crescent rolls. And his dad (under duress) made a Hershey bar pound cake for him last night. Oh, to be nine.

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