Skillet Fried Chicken
Thursday, August 02, 2012
I come from a long line of women who consider their cast iron skillets a prized possession. Those babies take years to season. Some brides in the south receive them as wedding presents (lucky, huh?) You can separate a "true" cook from a fake one by asking to see their glistening black beauty (and no... that's not a euphemism). I know women who would loan you their man before giving you their crusted jewel. When I was a kid, my favorite meal was fried chicken. And anyone who knows anything knows that the best fried chicken is created in a cast iron skillet. I've eaten a lot of fried chicken - it's still my favorite food. Growing up, it was my birthday meal request every year. During church on Sundays, I prayed for fried chicken on the lunch table more than I prayed for the needy.
As a child growing up in the south, we really didn't go out to eat very much. At the time I thought it was more about my mom being the best cook around; I didn't realize it was because to feed a family of six cost more than my parents could choke down. But, when we did eat out (which was on VERY rare occasions, like having to stop at a diner because we were traveling and my mom didn't have time to pack the usual bologna sandwiches), I would commit one of the cardinal sins of restaurant ordering sins that all children were taught: 1. NEVER order orange juice (it's too expensive), or 2. NEVER order fried chicken because it takes too long to come out of the damn kitchen. But my love for fried chicken far surpassed the fear I had for my parents. What were they going to do, spank me in public?
Fast forward to today, and I STILL love fried chicken. I also own my very own cast iron skillet. But, I have to confess, my skillet wouldn't win a prize for most cooked in. My kids would quickly rat me out and tell everyone that I NEVER fry chicken, regardless of how much I rave about it. Well hell, it's a kitchen pain in the ass. All that sizzling grease and mess and then you can't JUST have the fried chicken, everyone expects mashed potatoes, gravy from scratch, and all the other crap that goes so perfectly with southern fried chicken you can't NOT make it if you're already going down that road. So, I do the opposite of my parents. We go out to eat fried chicken. Our favorite place to get fried chicken is easily Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles - it's a Los Angeles institution. Every time I step in to the cramped dining room of Roscoe's, I feel like I've stepped back into my childhood. The sweet grease wafting through the air, the sound of lips smacking and fingers being licked. This is a no nonsense dining experience. My go-to order is #21. A big, crispy chicken breast, red beans and rice, side of greens and a block of sweet cornbread as big as a trucker's fist. Oh, and did I mention the sweet tea? Look, this place isn't for any of you fussy eaters. You dare ask for anything without butter or gravy and they will throw you right out the back door on your skinny ass. You know it's good just by glancing in the kitchen - naturally, they use cast iron skillets. Big, beautiful cast iron skillets that deliver the perfect piece of fried, crispy chicken. I figure why get my skillet dirty when I can just go to Roscoe's??
But for those of you without a Roscoe's in sight, here's Mama McQueen's skillet fried chicken recipe, just like how we did it back in the day. There's no exact recipe or instructions, you just have to try it out and get better each time you fry.
1. Cut a whole chicken into pieces and soak them in salt water overnight. We always got our hen from the backyard, but I suppose you can buy one from the store if you're not fortunate enough to live on a farm.
2. Dry off the pieces with a paper towel and prepare an egg wash from the eggs and milk. Salt and pepper each piece, dip in the egg wash, and completely cover with flour. Repeat.
3. Heat up a cast iron skillet with plenty of grease (like Minnie says in The Help, Crisco really does taste best). Put the chicken pieces in the pan, and poke with a fork to help cook them through. The key is to only turn the chicken pieces once, so time your pieces wisely. It depends on the size, but aim for 4-7 minutes a side.
4. Drain those babies on paper towels, and make gravy out of the remaining grease in the pan. Eat and ENJOY.
Chicken and waffles photo from Beef Aficionado