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.
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.