Winner, winner chicken dinner
By Tracey Koch
May 10, 2012
Fried chicken has been around for centuries, and it can be found in many different countries.
It is believed fried chicken was most likely brought to America by Scottish plantation owners who settled in the South. That would explain why fried chicken is considered a quintessential Southern dish.
However, when I was growing up in New Orleans, my family, like many others, did not fry chicken. My mother is a wonderful cook who always made us lovely dinners every night, but she rarely, if ever, fried chicken.
No worries, because we did enjoy fried chicken from time to time. It was always a treat and generally purchased from our neighborhood Popeye’s. Remember, this was the ’70s in New Orleans and there was no Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. The other times we were fortunate to have fried chicken at our house were when my parents were out and the wonderful lady who helped take care of us would come and stay.
Lola Robinson was a very important person in our household. Having no children of her own, she was like our second mother. She helped sort out sisterly squabbles, knew how to get stains out of everything, loved us as if we were her own and could fry up some fabulous chicken.
As I got a little older and began to become more interested in cooking, Lola, after much pestering, taught me her version of fried chicken. Lola had a few cardinal rules that she insisted on following when frying chicken. First of all, she would soak the chicken in buttermilk for several hours before frying. Lola said it was essential to making tender juicy fried chicken. I have to say, she was right.
I read several recipes and people’s comments on the Internet regarding soaking chicken in buttermilk. The vote is unanimously in favor, and the times that I have skipped the soaking step, I have regretted it.
Secondly, Lola would dredge her chicken twice in flour. Once she drained the buttermilk off the chicken, she dredged the pieces in seasoned flour. Then, she dipped the pieces in egg wash and then dredged them again in the seasoned flour. The second coating of flour ensures the crust adheres to the chicken, preventing it from sliding off. Here again I must say Lola was right. I have tried skipping the second dredge of flour and was sadly disappointed with some tender, yet naked, fried chicken.
Her last few rules were simple. Use self-rising flour in place of all-purpose flour. The leavening agents added in the self-rising flour help to make the crust light and crispy.
To ensure all of the pieces cook evenly, Lola would always cut the breasts in half straight through the bone. Keeping the pieces more uniform in size helps the pieces of chicken cook at the same time.
Finally, she would say this last step is very important — never overcrowd the pan when frying chicken. I remember asking her why. Her response was something like, “Because you just don’t or you’ll get soggy chicken.” Again, Lola was right.
The technical reason is too many pieces of chicken in one pan will lower the temperature of the oil, resulting in the chicken poaching, not frying. She told me that if you were in a hurry, have two skillets going instead of cramming too many pieces in the pan at one time. To her, cleaning two skillets was not as bad as soggy chicken.
It will be 20 years this summer since Lola Robinson passed away. Her influence on me as a girl growing up helped me become the woman that I am today. So many of the things she taught me are now such second nature, I don’t even think about them. However, whenever I begin to fry chicken, I can feel her with me standing over my shoulder guiding me every step of the way.
Homemade fried chicken to me is a comfort food like none other. It conjures up images of family togetherness and good times.
I have included a couple of my favorite side dishes to go along with this Crispy Fried Chicken. One is a delicious roasted sweet and new potato salad with a light vinaigrette. The second is a fun take on tangy coleslaw with green apples and blue cheese. Both sides are great for summer suppers or family picnics and complement fried chicken perfectly.
Utensils and cookware you will need:
- Large skillet
- Splatter screen (not a necessity but is quite helpful)
- 3 shallow baking dishes
- 2 large baking sheets fitted with wire racks.
- Do not overcrowd your skillet when frying. Too many pieces of chicken will make the oil’s temperature drop. The low temperature of the oil will essentially poach your chicken, not fry it. The result is greasy and soggy chicken.
- Use a splatter screen over your skillet. This will allow the steam to escape while keeping your skillet covered and preventing hot oil to pop out and burn you, not to mention it will keep oil from splattering all over your stove. A splatter screen can be found at most grocery stores on the aisle with other cooking supplies.