Sara Whitman

Fried Chicken... Finally

Filed By Sara Whitman | August 06, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: goal setting, moms

For those of you long long long time readers, you know I have battled with my inadequacy around fried chicken. fried-chicken-cooking.jpgTry as I did, over and over, I never, ever managed the beautiful, delicious, fried chicken my mother made.

Now, those of you who had my mother's fried chicken- and there are a couple who read this- you know it was the stuff of blue ribbons at the country fair. That is, if my mother would have ever been caught dead at a country fair. Perfectly browned, full crispy crust, and juicy, perfectly cooked chicken.

Even the breasts, which we all know are almost impossible to do- without a deep fryer.

Nope, she fried her chicken in a shallow pan, with bacon grease. There, I gave the family recipe away. Good luck trying to make it great. It's only taken me a quarter of a century to get it right.

My sister and I used to argue about how to do it. My sister would say, buttermilk. Gotta soak it in buttermilk.

Mom didn't do that.

Yes, she did.

No, she didn't. We never had buttermilk. Ever.

Well, my friend chicken is soaked in buttermilk, Cathy would say.

Yeah, but Mom's wasn't. I want her chicken. I want to be able to do that fried chicken. You make delicious fried chicken. But... it's not Mom's.

Today, as I stood over a hot stove, wondering why I let Ben talk me into yet another try which I was certain would fail, I could almost smell my sister leaning over my shoulder.

Too hot. Turn down the grease. You letting Ben roll those drumsticks? Has he washed his hands?

Ben was eager to help- eager to eat, too.

I could see that day in my mother's Canfield Road's kitchen, when I begged her to show me one more time.

Oh lord, she had said, I haven't done that in so long.

But she was game, as long as I was washing the dishes. She knew I could make her potato salad. I could make her cinnamon buns.

My mother was a meticulous cook. Dishes were washed as she went along- always using the measuring cup to stir an egg, and usually only a fork for stirring, cooking, testing. (Yes, I am the same way in the kitchen, although not quite as anal.) I sat on a stool, by the counter and wrote everything down.

And watched. Watched when she turned the chicken, watched when she rolled them in flour, then egg, then flour. Contrary to deep fried chicken, she cooked it low and slow.

My mother was never, ever in a hurry. It was annoying when trying to get to the airport, but delicious when it came to the results in the kitchen.

So, with my sister over one shoulder, and my mother's kitchen in my head, I proceeded with Ben Boy to make fried chicken.

It's going to be awful, I said.

No, not this time, Mom. You can do it. I mean, Grandma was from the south and she was your mother.

fried-chicken-drumsticks.jpgNo pressure.

I did one thing I've never done before. Something I always do with chicken now- brine it.

Then, I followed the recipe. From my head, from my heart, from my sister's bad advice.

Halfway through, I thought, Nope. It's going to be bland and awful. I can't get the crisp right.

Oh well, at least I bought drumsticks on sale for a buck a pound.

But then, I turned the heat down, and it started to come together. I took off the first batch and put in the second.

I sliced into one of the thicker legs. I wanted to know if it were cooked through. And I took a bite.

I did it. Almost- the gorgeous blue ribbon coating didn't happen- and I know what to do to achieve it (I've done that before).

I got the taste. The slight bacon flavor, salty, juicy chicken deliciousness. I felt like I took the same bite I did when I was five years old.

I did it.

Ben tried it. He said, Mom, this is total deliciousness. I mean, it's so good. It's salty and crunchy... thank you.

I will never run a marathon. I will never sail the seven seas. I will never climb Everest.

Doesn't matter. I finally made my mother's fried chicken.

(Imgs personal photos)


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If you are southern, fried chicken is one of those recipes you'll find in your genetic memory like iced tea and corn bread.

If you're lucky enough to be Cajun, you get the bonus recipes of seafood gumbo and jambalaya.

Can I come over, Sara? I grew up in the coal fields of extreme southern Illinois, near the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, where fried chicken, chicken and dumplin's, and pulled pork BBQ rose to the level of religious experience. While I've found really good BBQ in Colorado (the owner is from Yazoo City, MS), I haven't found fried chicken worth a hoot in the entire Rocky Mountain region. Congratulations on your achievement.

I'm from Mobile Alabama. My grandfather was a cook in the military and often cooked chicken. Other family members did too and everyone did it differently. There is no 'wrong' way to cook chicken other than under cooking it.
You can brine it or not. You can do a wet/dry/fry or a wet/dry/wet/dry/fry or even do nothing and just fry it.

My mom? Not a bad cook so much as horrible. She's the only person I know to have welded pots and pans to stoves still to this day. She's also the only person I know who just takes the chicken and puts it in a pan with hot oil...less than a quarter of an inch. So, she fried the chicken but in the end...well, I taught myself how to fry it by the time I was 12.
wet/dry/fry is typically Butter milk soak then drege through flour thats seasoned with black pepper, cyanne and pepperika. Its best to fry it in either bacon grease or lard. At least a half inch of oil. With this technique its best to do a hot quick fry and lay it aside on aborbant cloth tea towels to let the oil drain out and let it finish cooking while it cools.
But, there are as many ways to fry chicken as there are wasys to make remolade sauce.

My grandma made really good fried chicken, of course she raised and butchered it herself. She would just salt, pepper and flour it, then fry in about 2 inches of lard. Of course, there would be milk gravy and mashed potatoes to go with it. So good! When I make it, I do it pretty much the same way, except I use a good quality oil with just a spoonful of lard for flavor.

Rachel Bellum | August 7, 2011 11:10 AM

My mother is one of the few cooks I know who made/makes fried chicken with the skin off. It's not a concession to "healthy" food. She's always made it that way. She can't remember why she started doing it that way. It's always made in a cast iron pan with all the chicken in a big pile. The various pieces thrown in any way they'll fit. Not necessarily even in the grease the whole time.

It's so good.

The crust is salty. Beautifully so. With an almost caramelized taste, The color of the crust will vary from light tan to dark brown in places, but mostly a gorgeous dark gold. It's unevenly coated which I find extra pleasing. Not only do I enjoy rustically presented food, I find the unevenness helps keep the taste of each bite fresh. However, don't get the wrong impression unlike with a lot of other people who try to cook with the skin off the coating always sticks just fine.

The meat of the chicken is always moist. Even though she breaks all the rules about keeping meat moist. For instance, her only utensil for this process is a fork and she frequently pierces the chicken as she moves it around in the pan.

Between the pan frying and the lack of skin, the result comes out surprisingly light. I was an adult before I would eat fried chicken outside of my home because I found it all too greasy, and only learned to do so then because I had little choice.

She doesn't do anything special. Salt, pepper, flour and chicken. But somehow the results are unique.

To be honest I've never even tried to replicate this process. It's too intimidating. She can't even explain how it works. I'm going to have to learn before long though.

It is to me the only way chicken is supposed to taste. Everything else is a poor substitute that probably belongs in a separate (and inferior) category. No disrespect intended to anyone, I'm just saying my Mom's chicken kicks the ass of all other chicken. That's all.

Thanks a lot. Now I'm craving fried chicken. And there's no options here but drive thru.

As I think you've figured out, Sara, the secret, or at least a very important part of it, is controlling the temperature perfectly. Too hot, and the bacon grease will burn. Too low, and the chicken will take all night to fry. Probably, a good food thermometer would tell you a world of information. Except I've never known a mother that used a food thermometer. Next question, do we want to measure the temperature of the meat, or of the grease? I've never tried it, but I bet you'd want the grease to be at the perfect temperature -- but I don't know what is the perfect temperature, and I doubt your Mom would either if you could still ask her. (And that's the miracle of Mom-cooks: How in the world did they develop the sensitivity to judge and control the temperature of the grease so perfectly?)

By the way, Sara, if all else fails, go to the PBS website and find a show called America's Test Kitchen. They claim to have experimented until they had the best fried chicken possible. But I know it wasn't your mom's recipe, because I remember they used Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix as one of the ingredients in the coating. I think they used buttermilk to moisten the coating, also, just enough to make it just a tiny bit clumpy. And I'm sure they didn't fry it in bacon grease. I'll see if I can find the recipe, and if I do I'll post the link.

Found it, I think ... this may not be the exact same recipe, because I don't see the corn muffin mix. Also, they made me register for their website, and then tried to get me to buy page after page of junk I didn't want. So ... screw'em! Here's the whole recipe inline ... plus the actual link, for those who don't mind the hassle, is Cook's Country from America's Test Kitchen


BATTER-FRIED CHICKEN

Serves 4 to 6

Halve breasts crosswise and separate leg quarters into thighs and drumsticks.

Ingredients

BRINE

1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (see note)

BATTER

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
5 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups cold water
3 quarts peanut or vegetable oil

Instructions

1. MAKE BRINE Whisk water, salt, and sugar in large bowl until sugar and salt dissolve. Add chicken and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

2. MAKE BATTER Whisk flour, cornstarch, pepper, paprika, cayenne, baking powder, salt, and water in large bowl until smooth. Refrigerate batter while chicken is brining.

3. FRY CHICKEN Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from refrigerator, pour off brine, and pat dry with paper towels. Rewhisk batter. Transfer half of chicken to batter. One piece at a time, remove chicken from batter (allowing excess to drip back into bowl) and transfer to oil. Fry chicken, adjusting burner as necessary to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325 degrees, until deep golden brown and white meat registers 160 degrees (175 degrees for dark meat), 12 to 15 minutes. Drain chicken on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet. Bring oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken. Serve.