Sometimes in life one just wants to relive a taste from long ago. Some might long for their grandmother’s spaghetti sauce or their aunt’s pumpkin pie. Most folks can buy a jar of sauce or pick up a pie at the local store, but our hearts want that particular pie we remember from before.
In an effort to recreate one of the foods from my past, I have spent the summer frying chicken. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, I hate the salty fried chicken that fast food places serve.
Second, I wanted chicken that tasted like what my mom used to cook. As many of our readers know, I lost my mom almost three years ago and I am not ashamed to say I am still working through that loss. One of the ways I have tried to do that is to learn to cook the things she used to cook. But, not just be able to cook them so that they are edible. I want them to be as good as they are in my memory.
The keys: practice, music and patience
As my fried chicken improved, I came across a principle that I think women of my generation may not have really learned. Or, I will say, I don’t think I ever took it to heart.
So here it is: Cooking takes practice! I know it seems simple now that I have said it. But, I I don’t think I ever really thought about. My mom just always made it look so easy. But she cooked two to three meals a day, seven days a week. We rarely had money to go out to eat and frozen dinners back then were too expensive for a family of five.
Another thing that I didn’t really realize until just recently was the importance, at least in my case, of music in this endeavor. Looking back, I realize that every one of these awesome cooks I am trying to replicate had a radio in the kitchen, and it was always on.
Now, while I fry chicken, I dance and I sing because I only cook fried chicken when I am the only person in the house. And, I have found it to be stress relieving.
That is a breakthrough folks because cooking has, in the past, been stress inducing for me. And I don’t think I am alone in this. I was raised by a single, hard working mother, who was always overtired and in need of more help than she ever got. I am sure that her reaction to some of those attempts was more a function of exhaustion than unkindness. Still, my first attempts were often met with rants about how dirty the kitchen was than acknowledgements that I was trying to help.
Though I never thought the cancer that took her from us was going to win, its discovery did give us pause and time to talk through some of those miscommunications and to offer and accept apologies.
Some say LOVE is the secret ingredient, but I would argue that it is patience.
Frying really good chicken takes time. It is not a quick dinner. In fact, mine never got good until I stopped trying to rush through it. And, it is a messy proposition. So just go into it knowing you are going to have to clean and you are not going to get a long list of other things accomplished while you fry chicken.
My other tips for friend chicken would be to know it is going to take much more flour and spices than you ever thought possible.
I fry skinless boneless chicken breast. I do that because it is the healthiest way to do it and because I don’t like dark meat. My seasonings include garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and just the hint of salt. I like all purpose flour for the flour and I use eggs with just a splash or two of lactose free milk.
I probably start with about four scoops ( I have an ice scoop in my flour that is about a cup) of flour and usually have to add some more before I am done.
The key with the seasonings, I have found, is that you have to be able to see the seasoning after you have mixed everything together or you won’t be able to taste them once the frying is done.
So, if you mix your flour and seasonings together and you can’t see black pepper … and I mean really see a great deal of it … then you need to add more to the flour. And when you add more flour, add more seasoning.
Now how to get that crunchy crispy coating. I worked on this FOREVER!
You have to dunk the chicken in the flour first lightly and then in the egg and then back for a longer stay in the flour. Then let it sit for just bit before you put it in the grease. I have not found a way to do all of the breading first and then do all of the frying. Maybe someone can do that and I have just not figured it out yet, but that is where I am with it at this point.
And I think it has to be drained on clean, day-old newspaper. I have tried paper towels, parchment paper and dish cloths to help with the straining of the grease and nothing works like the inside (not color coated) pages of a newspaper. OK, I am a journalist, so you knew newspapers were gonna show up here somewhere, right?
I found that the perfect cooking temperature on my stove (and electric dinosaur ) is between the 7 and 8 on the knob. And I cook it for six minutes and then flip it and cook it for two more. That might be too long for some folks, but I do not like to bite into raw chicken.
I am sure there are a million other ways to get great chicken. This is just the way I have found to get it on my own stove in my own kitchen.