In my blood

The question that I get most regularly when someone finds out that I’m from Alabama is “can you make fried chicken?”  I’m not sure where this pervasive stereotype comes from, but people up here seem to think that we make and eat fried chicken 5 days a week down south (really, it’s only 3 or 4, depending on the season…) and that every person with southern blood seems to posses this skill.  Well, I don’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE fried chicken- who doesn’t?- but not only have I never made it myself, it also wasn’t something that people in my family ever made.  I didn’t have a granny who stood barefoot in a kitchen on Sundays and churned out heaping plates of southern cookin’, and while I can make some mean biscuits and both of my parents are quite fabulous cooks, that whole image of the big southern meal wasn’t really much a part of my childhood.  We were as likely to have stir-fry as chicken and dumplings. 

Regardless of that, I have come to want- nay, need- a repetoire of southern recipies that I feel that I have mastered.  Call it a desperation to connect to my upbring if you want, but really I think it’s just because southern food is so goddamn fabulous and I know I can impress people with it.  Either way, it works out well for you if you come over to my house for dinner.

About a month ago, one of my friends up here requested that I make her fried chicken.  I warned her that it wasn’t something that I had ever made before, but that I’d be willing to give it a go as long as I could make it at her house (the clean-up is a nightmare) and it could be on a weekend when I had all day.  It just worked out that the 4th of July fell perfectly, so we planned it for this weekend.

I combed quite a few trusted sources, before finally settling on the Alton Brown method (how do I love thee…? Let me count the ways:  sweet tea, pizza dough, fried green tomatoes, roast chicken…) which was perfect in it’s simplicity.   One thing that was pervasive in all recipes: use a whole chicken that you cut up yourself.  Sounds like excellent reasoning, but hell if I know how to cut up a chicken.  Good thing for us all, the friend who I’m making this for has a roommate who’s an executive chef, and he invited us to come down to his restaurant in Providence, RI for lunch and a chicken-hacking lesson on Friday afternoon.   How awesome is that?

And- AND!- not only did he volunteer his expertise, he also knew where to get me some excellent, fresh chickens.  Turns out there is an abattoir (that’s a GRE word for slaughterhouse, y’all) right in the middle of this swanky street in downtown providence.  Awesome.  The chickens I used were alive mere hours before I stuck my knife in them.  It was surreal to be standing in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant in my sandals and jeans while GIANT pots (we’re talking witch cauldrons here) of chicken stock bubbled away, a pizza oven was roaring a few feet away and a guy was making fresh pasta at a table next to me, but it was a great lesson and now I am theoretically adept at dismantling a chicken in an efficient way.  Also lunch was fabulous.  

And  through the entire thing we were all desperately clinging to our cell phones awaiting news of the delivery, which was taking place as we were at the restaurant.  Damn…that really was a crazy day.

The chicken pieces got a nice, long soak overnight in buttermilk and the next afternoon I set out to attempt to fry chicken.  There were many false starts, I’m sorry to say.  First of all that there was SO MUCH CHICKEN.  Chef Jeff got three chickens so that I would have ample practice, and that makes for a shit-load of bird parts.  I was cooking them for hours- being severely impeded by having only one properly-seasoned cast iron skillet (and I’m not about to enrage the southern-cooking gods by using anything else).  And then I didn’t have a thermometer.  Every source I saw was adamant about having the oil at 325 and not to allow it to stray to either side, so I was doing a lot of guess work.  The very first piece I removed was unbelievably perfect with a beautiful, golden crust.  I could hear Colonel Sanders crying.  And then it all went to hell…pieces were cooking too slowly and then too quickly and they were perfect on the outside and raw on the inside and there was much hemming and hawing and stamping of feet.

And t hen they started to burn.  Fast.  And then the fire alarm went off.  So we were all rushing frantically to the smoke detector waving towels and pans at it and I was trying to turn down the heat while molten crisco was sputtering all over the kitchen and then…

And then Chef Jeff walked in.  To witness my utter failure!  But he just smiled and said “I think your oil is too hot” and I bit my tongue to keep from saying anything snarky.  After another 20 minutes of frustration, I got everything evened out and the remaining 1900 pieces cooked to my standards.  They were quite beautiful.  And really, really tasty. 

We sent some over to the neighbors and when they came over afterwards to play lawn games with us they told me it was the best friend chicken they had ever had.  Bless their yankee hearts. 

It was far from perfect, to be sure, but it was certainly edible.  And now I’m on a mission to perfect fried chicken.  I’ll be happy to cook you some on my quest, but you have to clean up after me.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ezra on July 6, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    That sounds like a good fourth. But, isn’t it an OSHA violation or something to have on sandals in the kitchen at the restaurant? My grandmom was the stereotypical southern chef. She always made the big southern meals. Her southern cooking skills are nearly unparalleled in my opinion. But, I don’t remember a single time that she made fried chicken. She does make the best fried corn bread known to man, though.

    Mainly, this reminds me of the time a roommate in Auburn decided to fry some fish. That went well. Do you remember that?

    Reply

    • I actually don’t…was this in the house on Alice street? Are you as shocked as I am that I actually remember that street name?

      Reply

  2. Posted by Ezra on July 6, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    I am shocked, because I had no frikkin’ idea. Don’t you remember the fire? We had to repaint the whole thing and redo part of the ceiling. I just remember the fire was out of control and Sean was screaming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” And when I got into the room Brock was sprinkling baby powder (that we had for the pool table) on the fire. All I could think was, “How are you going to put out a fire without ripping the top off the powder container?!? There’s barely anything coming out!!!” At the same time, I said you have to put something on top of it. And Jeremy grabbed a couple of pillows to try to cover up the now towering inferno. Which only resulted in scorch marks on a pillow. Finally, someone, either Brock or Sean, grabbed the pan and took it outside. In hindsite, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Sandie on July 7, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I promise that if you make it home for Thanksgiving we will do a throw-down on fried chicken. I am sure that your dad will not have any objections to letting me experiment on my recipe. However, the buttermilk marinade is very important as well as the seasoned flour…

    And I don’t think I ever heard about the fire on Alice Street but in retrospect it sounds like quite a hilarious if not exciting adventure…kind of like the toga party at 804 Terrace Acres!

    Another funny story…a friend of mine had a brother who came home drunk one night and decided he wanted to make some fried fish—in his drunken stupor he battered the fish in uncooked GRITS (thinking it was cornmeal) and then fried the fish in left-over bacon grease. It was only the next morning when his sister found the opened grits box on the counter that he realized what he had done and why his fish had tasted like greasy fried cardboard!!! As we have all done when we were drunk (or “whatever”) and had the munchies, he had eaten all the grits-fried fish the night before and wondered why his stomach felt a bit unusual…

    Reply

  4. Posted by Daddums on July 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Hell Yeah!. I’ll even kill and clean the chickens. It’s ON!!

    Reply

  5. Posted by Ezra on July 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Uhhh… Can I get in on this chicken fry?

    Reply

  6. Posted by Sandie on July 8, 2009 at 9:55 am

    It would be WICKED AWESOME to have you here Ezra! You can help kill and pluck the chickens! (Would you also like some fried goat?)

    Reply

  7. Posted by Ezra on July 9, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I don’t know if I can deal with all of the northern slang that will apparently be prevalent in the east central Alabama area. But, I could bring my puppy so that he can help herd the chickens and goats.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Sandie on July 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    You can rest assured that the only time the northern slang is heard in our house is when the whiskey starts flowing and we start speaking in tongues (er, that is Scottish, Irish, Czech, British English and Boston accents; we haven’t spent enough time in Sand Mountain yet). Taylor and her dad are actually really good at accents. I can only say wicked awesome half-way decent. Taylor’s dad can even do a gay drunk czech guy with a lisp accent…it’s actually pretty hilarious; maybe even worth a trip to Notasulga…

    Your pup however, will need to be leash trained by then–our chickens, cats, horses and goats don’t quite understand puppies yet…maybe time for an introduction!

    Reply

  9. Posted by Ezra on July 10, 2009 at 12:22 am

    Well, it only took about two days to leash train him. He’s wicked smart. But he doesn’t have to make the trip. They use dogs like him to herd stuff like chickens, duck, and geese. So the idea of chickens just made me think of it.

    Reply

  10. OH MY GOD! Would you two like to exchange emails so you can stop having conversations in the comments of my blog? Jeez, you two!

    Reply

  11. Posted by Sandie on July 10, 2009 at 10:49 am

    My feelings are REALLY hurt Taylor…you should feel honored, not ANNOYED, that I actually read your blog and want to make comments. However, I must secretly admit that I have a crush on Ezra…

    Oh shit! I shouldn’t have said that…now Ezra might feel uncomfortable coming for Thanksgiving. Thanks Taylor for screwing up my fantasy life!!!

    Reply

  12. Posted by Ezra on July 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I don’t have anything to say. I just know that this will show up in your email inbox.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Sandie on July 10, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Well, I can’t say anything either since whatever I say may elicit some sort of comment from someone…

    But, once again, Ezra, it is just you and me who are exchanging comments on this blog…we are cursed, cursed I say!! What was it Taylor said…? “We will burn in hell for this!”

    P.S. Your pup is also welcome for Thanksgiving!!!

    Reply

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