Sunday, June 8, 2014

Anny's Fried Chicken

Tidbit for the cook ~ Gone
What says Sunday Dinner louder than Fried Chicken? In my book, nothing! My childhood in the river-bottom community where I was raised left me with more fond experiences than I can count. We had wide open spaces to play and explore, close family relationships with grandparents and learning experiences through living the small farm life. And the incredible food we enjoyed remains such a strong memory. I can almost taste it simply by thinking of it. On any given Sunday we enjoyed Spring fryers straight from coop to frying pan to table, as well as pot roast resting in rich, brown drippings, with rice or creamed potatoes waiting for a drizzle of the meaty gravy.

Truly, our family was favored with great cooks and green-thumb gardeners. When you put those two talents together you get farm to table goodness. Having both maternal and paternal grandparents with years of experience at vegetable gardening, coupled with acres of rich river-bottom soil, well, the results were bounteous. There was definitely lots of hard work, but with abundant reward. Those garden patches gave us peas and butter beans straight from the vine and fresh thin-skinned new potatoes that were scrubbed clean, cooked right then and there, plopped into an old crock bowl and served naked with only salt, black pepper and fresh homemade butter. Now that's a taste unmatched. Simply divine! Corn-on-the-cob wonderfully sweet and chin dripping delicious was always a favorite of my brother and me. I love the squeaky snap when biting into a fun food like corn-on-the-cob. 

You want luscious? Well, while the potatoes were still fresh and new, we scrubbed them spanking clean and scraped off most of their red papery skin, boiled them in salted water and ladled over a sauce closely akin to BĂ©chamel. We called it white gravy and speckled it with loads of black pepper. That dish is truly one of my very favorite potato recipes. 

Fresh tomatoes sliced, chilled and sprinkled with crystalline salt and dotted with black pepper were always sitting pretty on the dinner table. Fried eggplant and fried green tomatoes sat beside hot cornbread, sliced and ready to serve. And my favorite squash (Patty Pan) cooked down-low with a whole diced sweet onion and a generous nub of butter. Of course, at Ma's table there was always a bowl of green Cayenne peppers fresh from the garden. Their long skinny pods twisted and gnarled as if to warn of their heat. Wow, were they evermore hot, too. She made pepper sauce with them and we poured the peppery vinegar over everything from fried fish to field peas. It remains a staple in my kitchen to this day. Another treat was fresh crisp cucumbers and sweet onions that were sliced thinly and doused with a generous splash of vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar, chilled and passed around the table as day pickles. So cool and stimulating, a real palate cleanser with its piquant vinegar bite. 

Looking back to those simpler times is a comfort to me now. My culinary chops learned and earned there in that tiny community and family kitchens of my raising. And now, there are certain dishes that speak loudly to me of those days and times like no other. Fried chicken is definitely one of them. When I make my version, I like to think I'm surrounded by the matriarch's of our family putting in their two-cents worth. So my way to crispy fried chicken employs a little bit of both my grandmothers methods and of course, Mama too. This is how it goes. 

First, I was taught at a very young age the proper way to 'cut-up' a chicken. I still practice that today. It's way too easy and economical to buy the whole bird and do-it-yourself. Don't be intimidated by a task that is dead simple.

A whole bird washed (yes I wash my chicken) and dried ready for the process.
Note: The process of breaking down a whole chicken into frying pieces begins by removing the wings. Then to the running gear, remove it and cut in half.  Done, a thigh and a drumstick, every kiddo's favorite piece. Then remove the wish-bone from the upper breast if you like. My little brother and I always made a wish on the 'pulley bone' as we called it. Then cut the breast in half and the back in half and you have a deconstructed chicken. I usually fillet the breast halves and leave the 'tenders' next to the bone. I also remove that narrow bone attached to the top of the breast as seen in the first photo here. It's my nibble while cooking. Ma always gave my brother and me that little bite before dinner to make us happy until dinner was ready to serve. I miss her so much.

As you can see I'm using only half the chicken. Just The Horn Player and yours truly for dinner so there's no need for a bunch of leftovers. So I cut the bird in half with kitchen, aka poultry, shears by using the backbone as a guide. Beginning at the neck, cut alongside the backbone all the way to the Parson's nose and voila, first step done. Next lay the chicken out flat, skin side down and using a sharp knife or the shears again, break through the breast bone and continue until there are 2 halves of chicken. You may need to put a bit of muscle in the breast bone area, but it isn't that tough to do. You can also completely remove the backbone if you like by cutting alongside just as you did in the first step and discarding it. Now, wasn't that easy.

I season with a dry rub mixture that, to me, is perfect. I usually make up a batch and use the amount I need to season the chicken and reserve the rest for later. It's also good on pork chops.

4 tablespoons coarse Kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried sage or poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Sprinkle the seasoning mixture over the chicken and toss around coating every piece of chicken well. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so for the spices to meet and greet one another. I use waxed paper pressed down against the chicken to cover. I love waxed retro.

Into the fridge
Remember I mentioned I feel so connected to Ma and Mammy when I cook. This is one of those times. Mammy used nothing but all-purpose flour to coat her chicken and Ma used nothing but white corn meal. So, you can guess what I do, I bet. Half all-purpose flour and half white corn meal. I add a bit of paprika to the dredge and mix it in. Mama loved paprika. Place the chicken pieces in one at the time and coat very well.

The flour/meal combination adds so much crunch to the chicken. It's frying and getting nice and crispy. I use cast iron to fry my chicken in just enough hot oil to come up about half way on each piece of bird while it's frying. I love cast iron.

Thigh (my favorite) and drumstick

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