Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I live in North Carolina but I am a native Jersey girl.  When I meet people, one of the first questions people ask is "Where y'all from?" I think the way I say coffee (pronounced CAWfee) alludes to the fact that I'm not a southern girl.  And by the way, in case you were never taught this very important lesson in geographical etiquette, please note the following: I can say 'Jersey' because I was born and raised there. If you're not from New Jersey, you are not allowed to say 'Jersey'. We find it offensive. We are also offended by anyone with the opinion that 'The Garden State' has nothing more than a nasty airport, parkways and turnpikes to offer it's visitors.  There are parts of New Jersey, beautiful parts, that weren't shown on The Sopranos.
Getting back on track, I am not a southern girl, but in my heart, I am.  I love living in the south.  The music, the food, the people, the food, the weather, the food. I love it all. But I really love the food. I've loved southern food since I was a Yankee in a New Jersey zip code.  Southern food is homey. Comforting. Don't get me wrong, I love all types of cuisines, but southern food is what's written on my heart.  It's simple food.  But simple is not easy.  Family recipes are passed along to the next generation, and family recipes don't like imposters. They're not recipes so much as they are remembering what she did when you were looking over mama's shoulder while she was fixin supper.  Frying chicken, making biscuits, making sausage gravy to go with the biscuits, baking a red velvet cake or making Carolina pit barbecue (the good kind - with vinegar). And don't forget the slaw that belongs on top of your pit barbecue. 
My first food love was not baking. It was cooking. I know my way around a kitchen. I'm known to make beurre blanc on special occasions. I know what an 'amuse bouche' is.  I'm familiar with 'sous vide' cooking. For me, cooking is nothing like baking where precision is required. Cooking frees the rebel within us. There's nothing like grabbing what's in the pantry and creating a meal your family talks about for days. In my humble opinion, this is the foundation of southern cooking. Take available ingredients and make a meal that sticks to your ribs. The kind that tastes so good it makes you want to 'slap your momma'. (No mom, I don't want to slap you, it's just an expression!) It's simple food, cooked well. And it's an art.   

I have struggled for years to make fried chicken. I have tried battered, I've tried floured, I've tried oven fried, I've tried deep fried. What was once my nemesis is now something that I have gotten just good enough at that my family actually requests it. And they ask me to make extra for snacks or tomorrow's lunch. I'll share the recipe with you and it is my wish that you too can acquire the skill it takes to fry a chicken in such a way that one, it's cooked; two, it's not burnt (a nice amber, not burnt) and three, it tastes so good that the faces at the table are looking at you with their mouths agape in disbelief.  (Don't worry; the same thing happened to me.  If it weren't for the inaudible expletives coming from the kitchen as hot oil bungee jumped from the pan, my family would have thought it was take out, too!)  I don't think it's the ingredients so much as the method of cooking that helped this recipe become part of our rotation.  For the fried chicken challenged, it might unlock the door to fully cooked, juicy, perfectly browned fried chicken.

I fry chicken in two cast iron skillets. Depends on how much chicken you're cooking but don't crowd your pan or your chicken wont cook right.  Sometimes I brine the chicken in a gallon of water with a cup of salt (anywhere from 1-24 hours) or sometimes I soak it in buttermilk that's laced with Texas Pete. That's hot sauce to you Yankees. Wink.

As for the chicken, I am a thigh girl, my kids like the drumsticks cause of the built in handle and my husband is a cliche. Yep.  He's a breast man, culinarily speaking.  
When I can make biscuits like my southern cooking hero, Mrs. Jarod Benson, I'll share that with you, too.  If I can get into her house, even if I have to tackle her on the linoleum, I will. Her biscuits are THAT good, bless her heart. In the mean time, if you've got the recipe and the technique that's going to make me a Paula Deen stand-in, and you're willing to pass it along, this girl, southern at heart, is always up for a challenge. 

Just Plain Good Fried Chicken
1 cup shortening
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 2 to 3 pound chicken, cut into pieces, skin on

Heat the shortening in a large, cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. In a brown paper bag, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Shake the chicken, two pieces at a time in the bag to coat. Place them in the skillet. Repeat until all of the chicken is coated and in the pan.
Fry the chicken over medium to medium-high heat until all of the pieces have been browned on both sides. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 25 minutes. Remove the lid, and increase heat to medium-high. Continue frying until chicken pieces are a deep golden brown, and the juices run clear. 

And may the fry gods smile upon you as you write your own fried chicken history.