“The french fry did not become America’s most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes – and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they’re so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken…”
Chapter 39: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. FOOD RULES: An Eaters Manual by Michael Pollan
“Frying chicken is so much trouble that people didn’t used to make it unless they had guests coming over and a lot of time to prepare. The amount of work involved kept the frequency of indulgence in check.”
Chapter 60, Treat treats as treats.
FOOD RULES: An Eaters Manual by Michael Pollan
Back when I was in the Navy, stationed on a destroyer out of Norfolk, I was often invited to my cousin’s wife’s mother’s house in Suffolk, Virginia for Sunday Dinner. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and all the good Southern stuff was a standby. That was the sixties and I’ve eaten fried chicken since – especially in the South when we would visit Eric at Duke or later when Brian lived in Tifton GA – but when I’d think about making it, I stopped when I read, “Pour about three-inches of oil into a deep heavy pot…” and looked for another recipe. And I never cared for Colonel Sanders fried chicken. Besides, how can you beat a roast chicken?
Now, I was fresh from a Knife Skills class taught by Dave-the-Butcher and I had a nice half-chicken from Marin Sun Farms. I needed to cut that chicken up for practice. Why not make Fried Chicken? I searched “fried chicken recipes” on the Internet – there are a gazillion of them out there – and settled on one from Emeril Lagasse when he was with the Food Network. It seemed straightforward and used his “Essence” to “kick it up a notch.” I had used his Essence before in other dishes… its good. I cut up my half-chicken. My knife skills class paid off; the pieces are tidy and beautiful, not “mangled as usual.” Six pieces: leg, thigh, two pieces of wing and two pieces of breast. Perfect for two.
Combine a pint of buttermilk with 1 ounce Essence, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed in a large nonreactive bowl. Stir to blend. Immerse the chicken in the mixture and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and for up to 24 hours.
The next day I took out the chicken, and let it come to room temperature. Here’s a leg and wing waiting to be breaded and fried. Now for the once-dreaded frying part. The recipe called for 4-inches of oil in a deep heavy pot, heated to 300°F. I figured that if the oil nearly covered the chicken and I fried in small batches so the temperature wouldn’t drop too much when I put in the chicken, I’d be good.
I needed only about 1 1/2 inches of oil to cover the chicken, and the heavy cast iron pot held the heat steady. Worked fine.
I had to leave the thickest piece of breast in a little longer to come up to 180 degrees.
Now, that was good. Nice crispy breading with a hint of Emeril’s spice; the meat juicy and tender. The accompanying dish is blanched asparagus with a blanket of prosciutto and soft scrambled eggs. Lucky for me, that dish was featured in the New York Times Magazine the week of the fried chicken. As much as I liked the fried chicken, it won’t be a regular on my menu. As Michael Pollan so aptly put it, “Treat treats as treats.”
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, adapted from Emeril’s Potluck, William Morrow and Company Publishers, New York, 2004. Adapted for a half-chicken May 2010.
Ingredients – for two
1 pint buttermilk
1/4 cup Emeril’s Original Essence, divided
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 cloves garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
(2.7-pound) half-chicken, cut into 6 pieces (2 wing, leg, thigh 2 breast)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Peanut oil, for frying (about 1 quart)
Combine the buttermilk, 1-ounce Essence, salt, sugar, and garlic in a large nonreactive bowl. Stir to blend. Immerse the chicken in the mixture and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and for up to 24 hours. Combine the flour, the remaining 1-ounce Essence, and the cayenne in a large doubled brown paper bag and shake to blend. Drop the chicken, a few pieces at a time, into the flour mixture and shake thoroughly to completely coat. Remove the chicken and shake off the excess flour. Repeat the coating process with the remaining chicken pieces. Place the coated chicken on a large wire rack set over a sheet pan and let rest until ready to fry, at least 20 minutes. Heat 4 inches [I used about 1 1/2 inches, about a quart] of oil to 300 degrees F over medium-high heat in a medium Dutch oven. Fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn and fry until golden brown on the second side, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels. (Note: An even oil temperature is the key to success; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer should be kept in the pot at all times. And the temperature should remain between 280 degrees F and 300 degrees F at all times.) Allow the chicken to rest on a rack at least 5 minutes before serving. (Internal temperature should be right around 180 degrees.)
Forget about The Colonel: we had Pete Rinaldis in Durham, NC once upon a time in the 80’s…he apprenticed under the KFC Colonel then started his own chain that didn’t quite match up. But he lived in Durham and would almost always take a star turn out in the dining area and we would cheer and shout when he walked out and he would thank us for coming to his place. We loved Pete’s tender crispy chicken…then again we also luv’eda the chicken fried steak at Chick-Fil-A back then.