A few years ago, when I thought of American cuisine, I would completely draw a blank. Pizza? Not very original. Hot dogs? Does that even qualify as real food? I think the only thing that I could name with any surety would have been chocolate chip cookies. Ehm.
But it’s the south where you see that a definite cuisine has evolved. There are real ingredients, fresh produce, actual cooking, defined flavors and a distinct character. Southern food draws from many influences, and they have each made their mark in different areas. Some dishes are fantastic but need an acquired taste, if you grew up eating those foods, you would love them, but I think none has the universal appeal that crispy fried chicken does!
One recipe that I particularly enjoyed reading was in the book, ‘The Help,’ by Kathryn Stockett. Set in Jackson, MS, this bestseller turned movie paints a poignant picture of the life of African American maids in the racist South of the 60’s. Interestingly, we were living in Jackson when I read this book, and it elevated my experience of reading it manifold. I was in that very place, walking those very roads…
There’s something about experiencing a story in the place that it is set. My brother was living in Boston when the movie, ‘The Departed‘ was released. I could just hear the enjoyment in his voice when he talked about how much he could relate to the locations, the atmosphere, the accent.
Another time I was discussing with a friend who was living in London at the time, about how disappointed I was in the movie, ‘Finding Neverland.’ I had started watching it thinking I was going to see Peter Pan. That’s what everyone used to say! It’s Peter Pan. But it turned out to be a boring, rather depressing, woeful tale about how the author of Peter Pan, J M Barrie, ‘found’ his story, drawing inspiration from a family he met. Anyway, she argued that I had completely missed the point, and I couldn’t feel any connection to the characters or the story because I didn’t know what it was like to actually go to Hyde Park and to sit on that very bench…
Like when I had a great time watching Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ because I had had such a wonderful time visiting New Orleans! Beignets, gumbo, the bayou, voodoo, there’s so much character in that city. I think I’m the only one who likes that Disney Princess, though! What you associate something with makes all the difference in how you feel about it.
Coming back to ‘The Help’ and fried chicken- I don’t use the recipe given in the book but I have collaborated with another Southern Cooking Queen for my recipe- Paula Deen. Well, she doesn’t know that we have collaborated, but we have.
While searching for a good recipe, I took notes from whatever good recipes I found and put this one together. There are many ways of making very good fried chicken; this recipe is just what I’m using these days.
Soak the chicken in buttermilk. Now, supposedly, this will make the chicken very tender, and I have done it many times. No doubt the chicken is tender, but chicken in America, generally speaking, is very tender so if you are asking how much more tender it makes it, I wouldn’t know. I have tried it without the buttermilk too, and can’t say there is a big difference. Your call.
Season the flour. This step is one that does make a significant difference. It adds a lot more flavor to the chicken, rather than having a totally bland coating.
The chicken will turn a couple of shades darker after you take it out of the oil, so don’t over fry it. Fact. It will also get tough.
For the gluten free version: Replace the flour with cornflour. I have also tried making it with Masa harina but didn’t like how that turned out. Note that cornflour takes longer than flour to brown.
- 1 chicken, cut into pieces
- 1 heaped tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup hot red pepper sauce (OR try Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce)
- 2 tbsp water
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 tsp aluminum free baking powder
- 1½ tsp McCormick Montreal Chicken Seasoning
- Oil for deep frying
- Toss to coat the chicken evenly with the salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Lightly beat the eggs, water and hot sauce together.
- In another dish, combine the flour, baking powder and chicken seasoning.
- Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Coat completely.
- Heat the oil enough that the chicken sizzles when added to it, but doesn’t immediately start to brown. The pieces have to cook completely first.
- Fry in the heated oil until golden brown and cooked through, turning once. I start off on a little under medium heat to thoroughly cook the chicken, and then turn it up a little to brown. Do not over crowd the pan. It takes mine about 5 minutes on each side, (we also get pretty small chickens) but keep in mind that dark meat takes longer than white meat. Check a piece to make sure that the chicken is done.
- Drain on paper towels and serve immediately!
[Adapted from Paula Deen’s Southern Fried Chicken.]
Now that was easy, wasn’t it? Remember, don’t let the chicken get too dark. If it’s getting dark and still not cooked through, then lower the heat and cook it for longer. The chicken should just be done when you take it out. If you leave it in too long it will get tough.
Some recipes also call for double dipping in the flour for an extra crispy coating. I have learnt from experience that that is unnecessary. This recipe is good for a very crisp and crunchy coating.
The chicken seasoning makes the crispy coating look very pretty indeed- the flecks of the herbs are clearly visible! But if you don’t have McCormick Montreal Chicken Seasoning, or any other chicken seasoning, and don’t want to buy any, then you could just use salt and pepper and a touch of your favorite herbs.
The other great thing about this recipe is that the hot sauce adds enough flavor that you don’t need to worry about marination.
Update: I love it when people try my recipes because it gives me a chance to learn something new. Thanks to Raabia who tried the recipe, we now have a few more tips for you!
If you only have whole wheat flour, then mix it with cornflour to lighten it up. Otherwise it will be too thick and heavy.
Nando’s Peri Peri Sauce is a great substitute for the hot sauce!
If the chicken is not cooked through, then finish it in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.
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