Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fried Chicken Flop

The other day, I was going through my cooking magazines- I get Bon Appetit, Cook’s Illustrated, and Gourmet- and I came across a piece in Gourmet about Scott Peacock, the great chef from Atlanta. I see grits, and biscuits and - fried chicken. True southern food.

I've been trying to cook fried chicken since I was maybe about 10 years old. My mother showed me, over and over again and damn if I could ever do it. She'd always take over, at some point, because I was about to burn it or I didn't have enough flour on it or or or... I never could do it. Not even with her right there.

If I could learn how to cook one thing? It would be fried chicken. And not with some damn fry-o-lator, but the way they make it down south. People guard their fried chicken recipes like they guard their BBQ recipes. You inherit them. Everything is passed on by word of mouth because god forbid there is anything to steal.

I know how my mom made her chicken. Every step. I just can't do it. To be honest, I haven't tried for years. Over Thanksgiving, though, Walter asked me to try again. I think I had written about it or maybe I was just reminiscing- because it was perfect. The golden brown coating, thick, full of pepper and paprika and salt, never one spot more brown than the other, never clumped; the chicken was always steaming hot and juicy, cooked to the bone, no red streaks to gross you out, perfect through and through. And it had a hint of smoky bacon flavor. She cooked it in bacon grease, few tablespoons, whatever a pound of bacon would give her- that’s it.

I'd sit on the stool in the kitchen, munching on the bacon, waiting for the chicken. Or at least waiting to pick off a few pieces of the coating. If it was a hot and humid summer day, she would make egg and potato salad, too. If we were having company? She'd hard boil a bunch of eggs and make deviled eggs.

I would sprinkle the paprika on top after they were filled.

The fried chicken, for those Yankees coming to the house? Was something they had never experienced before and you could see it on their faces when they took a bite. Didn’t matter if it was served hot or cold, it was an experience. While my mother always hid the fact she was from the south, for the most part, she smiled knowingly when people would ooo and ahh.

That chicken was her southern pride, beaming from every pore.

I read the recipe and decided to give it a try. It's different than my mom's- far more time consuming, far more fancy- but after Walter asked, I've been thinking about it.

Why not?

I finished it a little while ago. It tastes like cardboard on very juicy, completely bland chicken. The coating pathetically thin and flavorless. The house stinks like grease (thank god it's warm today).

Jeanine, even though she is currently mad at me (don't ask) and generally in no humor to be nice, ate a piece and said Well… uh... it's okay.

She knows of my fried chicken quest.

More paprika, more salt, a lot less oil, more bacon grease, more pepper, overnight buttermilk soak good but need to get more flour stuck on the chicken for coating.

It's a failure- today.

But the image of that fabulous fried chicken, in a picnic basket, on one of the islands in Down East? Or of perfecting a recipe to whisper into my own boys ears someday?

It’s going to keep me trying.

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Anonymous Bil Browning said...

Allow me to share my idea of "fried chicken."

Get in your car and drive 4 blocks to KFC.

Easy, no?

(Can you tell I am the most horrible cook in the word? I burn water.)

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Christy said...

I can't fry chicken to save my life. (And being the southern gal that I am, I have somewhat of a complex about it!)

Popeyes is way better than KFC. Yum.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

DAMMIT! Im on Weight Watchers!

Even though you say it didnt come good, I just licked my computer screen looking at that picture!!

9:35 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Christy, that's like living in Boston and not knowing who the Red Sox are.

oops. just added to the complex, didn't I?

A friend reminded me I was a yankee...and I have to say, I did have the opportunity to join the Daughters of the Confederacy- my great aunts were members. That gives me that one drop of blood...

and laura? if you're going to blow that many points? wait till it's good. it really sucked.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

I don't know. I'm a southern girl and I hardly fry anything. It's not good for you and it gunks up the kitchen. What part of the south was your mother from? I never knew anyone who fried chicken in bacon grease. Everyone I know who used bacon grease mostly used it for flavoring greens and beans.
Could be a regional thing.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Ms. Moon, my mother was from Virginia, Lynchburg. and bacon grease was her special secret.

I agree, frying is a horrible thing, probably why I put it down for so many years. but... every once in a while, I dream about that chicken.

gotta get it right.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

Well, you're chasing a dream and ain't nothing wrong with that, girl. Fry away. Do you have the right skillet yet?

6:08 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Not the right skillet yet. Have one in Down East.

But something about being in Maine, rural Maine, and southern fried chicken just doesn't seem right.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

A place to start looking?
Not sure if their stuff is still made in the US, but they surely cover the basics.
And goodness- Maine is as good a place as any to fry chicken.
That's what I think, anyway. Of course, since I don't fry chicken, that means very little.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

Honey, you and I are on the same quest. I must say, your chicken actually looks pretty good in the picture. I've tried Scott Peacock's recipe. It turned out pretty well, but I think I need more practice. I've decided my big challenge is keeping the oil temp right, and Peacock's recipe isn't really helpful in that regard. My mom always said start hot for about six minutes on each side then, lower the fire to medium heat and fry each side again until nice and brown. I really like his coating though. Hang in there!

5:52 PM  

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