As I walked past the deli counter at the grocery the other day, a platter of fried chicken tempted me briefly, but I walked on. With my grandmother and mother both gone, the chances of my ever tasting the One True Fried Chicken again in this life are negligible.
Nevertheless, hope flickers in this vale of sorrow and disappointment, and so I offer to those of you who cook what little I know of the technic* of my mother’s cookery. (I would even be willing to evaluate experimental productions, without fee.)
First, get hold of small pieces of chicken. Large pieces take longer to cook and therefore soak up more grease.
Soak the chicken in milk for a time. (I don’t know, overnight, a couple of hours? I wasn’t a damn spy in the kitchen.)
It’s OK to take the skin off if you have dietary concerns, but it’s better with the skin on. Similarly, you can use vegetable oil rather than lard. Save the lard for the pie crust.
Dredge the pieces of chicken in cracker crumbs rather than flour. Crispier that way. Any seasonings you mix in are your business, but salt and pepper are enough.
Put enough oil to cover the pieces of chicken in your grandmother’s iron skillet. All right then, your mother’s iron skillet. If you don’t have an iron skillet that has been seasoned for a least a generation, we might as well abandon this project right now.
Turn the heat on — gas or electric, it doesn’t matter — and throw three or four grains of popcorn into the skillet. When the corn pops, the oil will be hot enough.
Ease the pieces of chicken in, turning them to cook evenly. When they are the right shade of golden brown, take them out and let them rest for a few minutes on paper towels. They should taste just as good eaten warm or cold.
If you can master this, you will have revived a remnant of civilization in a world given over to inferior fried chicken, opening the minds of those you feed to the prospect of more graceful living.
Sometime, too, we need to talk about country ham. The real dry-cured stuff, not that stuff you find in the grocery that has been injected with saltwater for curing.
And after that how to replicate my grandmother’s homemade biscuits, which is what the ham should be eaten with.
*Technic is, sadly, a seldom-used word to identify skill. It derives, like technical and technique, from the Greek techne, or practical and applied knowledge; it is distinguished from episteme, which can be understood to mean abstract or theoretical knowledge.