For those of you long long long time readers, you know I have battled with my inadequacy around fried chicken. Try 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.
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)