It’s a dying art form, I’m thinking. Chicken is healthy, but the grease might not be.
But I have to say I miss it. What I think I really miss is my mom’s and my grandma’s fried chicken, which was a celestial experience. I can get close, but I can’t quite get there.
I realized why a summer or two ago. Grandma Belle used to fry a thigh or two and keep them in her refrigerator, as if they were leftovers. But I caught on. She fried them just for my brother and I, in case we stopped by, in case we raided her fridge, in case we were hungry. Is it any wonder I get food and love all mixed up at times? That’s because it is all mixed up at times.
I also realized why my chicken will never taste the way theirs tasted. For starters, there’s that 40-years-of-skill-and-care thing. And secondly, they used a little bit of bacon grease. That’s the over the top ingredient, and even I can’t go there. Wishful thinking, though.
But this is the season for fried chicken: Memorial Day, The Fourth, and Labor Day. I allow myself two small pieces at the family picnic. That carries me through the summer and honors the memories of my matriarchs. And those small servings are not going to sink me.
Here’s the best I can do:
8-10 medium sized chicken pieces. You can use all legs and thighs if you wish. If you want chicken breasts, you can buy the chicken breasts that have been halved (left and right sides of a whole breast). I half them again. Feel along the meaty side of the breast,
you’ll feel a line of demarcation. Cut down that line. You’ll have to work through a little bit of bone. But that is easy enough.
Soak the chicken for at least an hour to over night in buttermilk. A pint should do it. I actually prefer the shorter soaking time; I like the flavor and the texture better.
You’ll need white Crisco for this. Veggie oil just doesn’t do it. You won’t get the crispness. Heat enough shortening to fill a cast iron skillet to about half an inch. When you put a little bit of flour or water in the oil and it sizzles, it’s ready.
Make a flour concoction. White flour, salt and pepper are the basics. You can add things like Rosemary or Oregano, hot pepper flakes, garlic, whatever you like.
Run a fork through the flour, mixing all of the ingredients. Pull the chicken out of the buttermilk and dredge them in the flour a piece at a time. You’ll get a great crust on the chicken if you do this one. You get a glorious crust if you do it twice. Buttermilk then flour; buttermilk then flour.
Slide the pieces into the oil, being careful not to crowd the pieces. Watch the chicken carefully. Oil + absence = disaster. When it starts to brown, turn it over. I turn the chicken 3-4 times in about 40 minutes. Pull the chicken out of the oil when it is BG & D.
Golden brown and delicious, the chefs say. Let it drain and cool on cake racks. Although you might not be able wait, it’s best if it’s cooled for about 2 hours. The crust magically develops as the chicken cools. If you want it warm, you can do that in the oven for a few minutes.
Serving suggestions: You need a backyard with old trees, 20-30 cousins, aunt and uncles, moms and dads, grandma and grandpas, red checkered table cloths, folding chairs, Aunt Bernice’s’ potato salad, watermelon, and cold beer.