Tonight I am a card-carrying member of the Sorority of Southern Women Who Fry Chicken!
To be honest, I've been afraid to fry anything since my attempt to make french fries back in 1984 or 1985. My girlfriend's husband made some comment like, "Do you think you could have added more grease to these?"
That was my last attempt to fry anything until today.
Today's rite of passage has brought back so many wonderful memories. As a little tyke, I watched Grandma make fried chicken, sitting on a tall stool by the stove so that I could watch her work her magic.
I can see her twisted arthritic fingers flicking a tiny pinch of flour into the hot oil in a big cast iron skillet to test it's readiness for the chicken. I think that was the same cast iron skillet that I used today.
So many years later (Grandma died in 1979) I can just smell that heavenly aroma that permeated her house and floated onto the porches around her house!
The anticipation for that first piece of Grandma's chicken was so intense that I always picked off pieces of the crust as the freshly fried chicken was cooling on its metal cooling rack on the kitchen counter.
Thighs were (and still are) my favorite piece, along with the gizzard and the chicken heart!
Grandma and Unc would save me the gizzard and heart to enjoy when Mama and I stopped by Grandma's house on the way back home from school. Before we walked through Grandma's front door, I could smell that fabulous Southern fried chicken aroma, and I would practically run to the kitchen for my thigh, gizzard and heart!
So, today, bolstered by good advice from my friends on Facebook, I joined the esteemed ranks of Southern Women Who Fry Chicken!
Today, Unc cut up the big ten pound bag of chicken and provided a second opinion on the hotness of the oil and the readiness of the pieces to be turned or taken out of the skillet. I was very thankful for his help and advice!
He even tasted that first piece with me to evaluate my technique.
What I learned is that I really want my fried chicken to taste just like Grandma's fried chicken. I thought I wanted to make crunchy chicken with thick crust like one of the fast food chicken chain restaurants. To make Grandma's chicken will necessitate a few changes in my recipe for next time.
Here is a synopsis of what I learned (that might help you join me in this tradition):
1. Soaking in buttermilk gives the chicken a faint sour/tart flavor reminiscent of fried dill pickles. Soaking in buttermilk helps the meat stay moist and juicy, and helps hold onto the flour coating.
2. Next time I will soak our chicken in sweet milk with an egg. This is what Grandma did...I'm pretty sure.
3. I did add a little corn starch to the flour today to make crunchier crust like the fast food chicken. It REALLY does do that, but I realize that I want Grandma's chicken, so I will not add the corn starch next time.
4. For a bit more crust (especially since we remove the chicken skin), I could soak the pieces in milk/egg, dredge through the flour, dip again into the milk and dredge again in the flour.
5. I've read numerous techniques for seasoning the chicken, including soaking the chicken in brine (salty water) or adding the salt/seasoning AFTER the chicken has been fried.
What I will do next time is rub salt and pepper into the chicken meat before soaking it in the milk/egg....OR, it may work best to rub the salt/pepper into the chicken meat AFTER it soaks in the milk/egg. I have yet to experiment with those two techniques.
At any rate, the flesh today was not seasoned as I remember Grandma's chicken, or Mama's chicken or Louise's chicken or Dollie's chicken...four ladies who have spoiled my family with superior Southern Fried Chicken. (By the way, Miss Dollie said she uses a little seasoned salt instead of plain salt. I called her when my first piece was not flavored like her fried chicken or like Grandma's fried chicken.
6. I also learned today that keeping the hot oil at the proper temperature for optimum frying is more of an art than it is about following directions. I just need some more practice in this area.
7. I just learned from my friend Teresa that leaving the skin on the chicken will give it more flavor. Today the dogs got the chicken backs and chicken skin...raw...look up BARF diet for dogs to understand.
I would rate my first attempt at fried chicken at a 5 out of a maximum of 10. The meat was moist and cooked well. A couple of pieces were cooked a little too much. None of it was undercooked. The crust was crunchier than I wanted, and the salt/pepper did not reach the meat as well as I wanted.
When I achieve the Southern Fried Chicken that Grandma, Mama, Louise or Dollie have cooked in the past, then I will proudly accept a rating of 10!
Unc and Gordon were so supportive! Mr. Wardell was here tonight to go with Unc for some late afternoon fishing for catfish, and he said the chicken was delicious. Mr. Wardell is a sweetheart, and he knew this was my first fried chicken. *grin*
So tonight, I am again flooded with happy memories of watching these four women cook Southern Fried Chicken. I feel a bit chagrined that my chicken was only a 5, even though I KNOW I will achieve that perfect 10 with some practice.
Today's cooking adventure has awakened deep feelings in me of wanting to earn my place in a long, long line of excellent Southern cooks, my genetic foremothers. I want my two fellas to be sneaking a freshly fried piece of chicken to eat almost as soon as it comes out of the skillet.
There are some nuances of emotions to today's experience that I don't fully understand yet...something I can't quite see...but this rite of passage today has moved me deeply. Maybe it has something to do with Mama's death in January and taking my place as Top Female in our little family of three. If you know what I'm experiencing, please email me and help me understand these emotions.