The Cuisine Scene/Brenda's Bistro
The Southern Way
some people may think otherwise, the South is actually part of the
United States. Granted, the speech, geography, and customs may differ
from other parts of the country, but in Louisiana where I grew up, we
had the same values as everyone else. We just expressed them a little
We Ďcarriedí someone to the
store, and instead of someone getting angry, they had a hissy. Weíd
explain someoneís bout with nerves as, ďNervous as a long-tailed cat in
a room full of rocking chairs."
Instead of prairies, we had a
sea of cotton fields with fluffy white bolls that resembled rows of
cotton candy. Instead of mountain ranges, our swamps and bayous were
dark mysterious wetlands with moss-laden cypress trees, marsh grasses,
vines, and palmettos. While green and beautiful, the bayous could be
deadly to those less careful. Alligators, cottonmouths, copperheads and
turtles made their homes in the marshland as well as snowy egrets,
herons, pelicans and many other birds.
We had fish or chicken frys
and family and friends brought hot or cold dishes for the outdoor
feast. Tables under shady live oaks held mounds of fried chicken, pots
of black-eyed peas, corn on the cob, sliced fresh red tomatoes as well
as a batch of fried green tomatoes, sautťed dandelion greens, hot
buttered cornbread, potato chip cookies, and Mississippi mud cake. We
bit into wedges of chilled watermelon, the juices running down our
chins as we spit seeds into the lawn. When I was a pre-teen, the game
was to see who could spit the farthest, but when I became a teenager, I was suddnely too dignified to participate in anything so crass as spitting
While I was in high school,
the Kennedys entered the White House and Mrs. Kennedyís sophistication
caused the girls to abandon ponytails and poodle skirts for sleek
bouffant hairdos and A-line skirts.
While most things have changed
over the years, I was thrilled to discover that not every custom has
been abandoned. On a visit to my aunt and cousins in Louisiana, the
family tradition of outdoor get-togethers continued. I indulged in all
my favorite childhood foods, and while some things grow better in
memory, Southern fried chicken and some of the other dishes were as
good or even better than I remembered.
For those of you who do not
have friends or relatives in the South, Iíll share my fried chicken
method since I donít follow a recipe. I think youíll be amazed at how
easy it is to prepare.
Our Familyís Southern Fried Chicken:
Chicken cut up into pieces *
Salt & Pepper
Heavy skillet, preferably iron
* It doesnít matter if you have three pieces of chicken or three-dozen. The process is the same.
Some people mistakenly think
good fried chicken is a complicated process where you start by soaking
the chicken in milk or buttermilk, pat it dry, then start the dipping
procedure by rolling each piece a couple of times in flour or a
seasoned bread crumb mixture, roll again in a batter of milk and eggs
and finally, a last dredge through the flour. Just thinking about it is
exhausting. And unnecessary. Besides, I donít like it. I never had
Southern fried chicken prepared like that until I left the South. To my
way of thinking, the only thing all that batter accomplishes is crisp
batter. I want crispy chicken skin, and in order for that to happen,
the grease has to reach it. So, hereís my advice:
Take your chicken pieces,
rinse thoroughly under cold water, and instead of patting them dry,
immediately roll each piece in flour. If some pieces dry, wet them
again before rolling in flour.
My grandmother would fill a
small paper bag about half full of flour seasoned with nothing but salt
and pepper, and she'd place the chicken piece inside, shake it until covered and
place it in a pan of hot grease. To this day, no one fries chicken that
tastes as good as hers. Of course she used bacon grease, a staple in
the South, and oh, what a good flavor.
Today I keep a small can of
bacon grease in the fridge because I donít use it as often as my
grandmother and I donít want it to spoil. Most of the time I fry the
chicken in canola or sunflower oil, but sometimes, to get that special
flavor, Iíll add a spoon or two of bacon grease.
When you flour your chicken,
flour one piece at a time, and use a bowl with high sides so you wonít
have flour all over the kitchen. I know flouring each piece takes a
little longer, but that way the flour coats the piece evenly, and when
you place it into the skillet, it browns evenly.
Very important: make sure the
grease is hot. Otherwise, if the chicken sits in cold grease, itíll
absorb more grease. You donít want the oil smoking, just hot enough for
the chicken to sizzle as soon as you place it into the skillet. And
donít have the flame too high because you donít want burnt chicken. So
first, I set the skillet over the burner and wait a couple of moments,
add the grease, then thoroughly flour a piece of chicken. Then, with
the flour still on my hand, I rub my fingers together over the grease,
and if the tiny drops of flour that drops into the grease sizzle, then
itís time. I quickly flour the rest and place them into the
skillet, making sure the pieces do not touch. Even if I have to do
several batches, I find they crisp better if they are separated. Salt
and pepper each piece.
Now your skillet is very
important as well. We old-time Southerners use iron skillets. Nothing
like them for distributing heat evenly, because you donít want the
pieces in the middle burning while the outside pieces barely cook. We
use iron skillets for chicken and corn bread, but if you donít have
one, just use a good, thick skillet. If Iím using my iron skillet for
cornbread, Iíll fry chicken in the old 11Ē electric skillet I inherited
from my mother. Itís at least fifty years old and heavy enough to fell
an elephant. If youíre not sure about your skillet, you can test it by
opening a can of soup, pouring it into the skillet and heating it to
boiling. Water will do as well, but the soup is thicker. If the water
or soup on the outer perimeter boils evenly with the middle, then you
have a good, even-heat distribution skillet.
I like deep-fried chicken, but
my favorite is cooked in a skillet. I use enough grease to cover the
bottom half of the large pieces. After youíve fried chicken several
times, youíll be able to tell about when to turn them over, but if
youíre just starting out, let the chicken fry for about ten or more
minutes, uncovered, except for one of those splatter tops. Or place a
regular lid about three-quarters across the skillet. If you cover the
chicken entirely, chances are itíll steam and get mushy and you donít
want that. After the bottom half is good and brown, turn each piece
with tongs, as you donít want to puncture the chicken and let the
juices run, then salt and pepper them again and let them brown. When
both sides are golden brown, remove from heat. I hold each piece a
second or two over the skillet to let it drain, then place on a platter
covered with paper towels. Iíve heard a metal drain pan is better, so
one day I may try that. Then, repeat the process to fry the next batch.
Iíve also heard some people place their first platter in the over to
keep it warm, but not me. I donít want to jeopardize the crunch.
Some people like to add some
seasonings such as paprika, or garlic salt, or even pepper flakes, but
the way I fry it, I donít need the color and I like the natural flavor.
But every person has a different taste, so try the different flavors.
Itís fun to experiment, and when you hit the right combination for your
family, you might start your own tradition.
Next time, if you like, Iíll
share some of my other recipes, such as Mississippi mud cake, potato
chip cookies, which are delicate and delicious. And how about fried
green tomatoes? Theyíre similar to fried zucchini, but with a slight
Till then, bon appťtit, yíall.