Fried & True rediscovers that all-American classic — fried chicken

in Potpourri by

That first crunch of the golden brown coating. The steamy rush of savory juices hitting your tongue. The unmistakable burst of flavor. These are the things that make fried chicken the mouth-watering classic that has been featured at family meals across the nation for generations. So forget the diet! What better time to indulge in a helping of fried chicken than Independence Day weekend—a time when we recall occasions spent gathered around platters of this most American delicacy?

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Lee Schrager and Adeena Sussaman

It may not be the fanciest dish on the menu, but fried chicken has served the test of time and continues to be a staple at dinner tables and restaurants throughout the land. And now, fried chicken is celebrated in all its deep-fried glory in Fried and True, More than 50 Best Recipes for America’s Best Fried Chicken and Sides by Lee Brian Schrager with Adeena Sussman. 

More than just a cookbook, Fried and True is a 256-page love letter to fried chicken, the people who create it, and the culture that’s produced it. “It’s comfort food, and it isn’t a black, Asian, or white Southern thing,” writes Whoopi Goldberg in the book’s foreword. “It’s a human thing.”

In fact, the book seems to argue, fried chicken has become an American thing. Believed to have been brought to the continent by Scottish immigrants in the 18th century, fried chicken evolved at the hands of Southern slaves who developed its unique styles in both their masters’ kitchens and their own. From there, the dish spread across the country, and as a result, it’s been at the center of family meals for untold millions of Americans over hundreds of years.

Fried and True takes the reader on a delectable tour of centuries of fried chicken evolution in America. It starts, fittingly, in the South, where chefs and cooks regaled the authors with “tales of Sunday suppers, pre- and post-church repasts, family reunions, and other festive meals where fried chicken played a pivotal role in the proceedings.”

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Arnold’s Country Kitchen
Nashville, Tennessee

We visit chicken shacks in Nashville, TN, including Arnold’s Country Kitchen, where you can enjoy your meal with Braised Turnips and Collard Greens, or another Southern staple, Fried Green Tomatoes. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken offers six levels of spices, ranging from “Mild” to “Shut the Cluck Up!” Head to New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, and you can visit Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy Restaurant, where Chef Ray “Boom Boom” (no last name required; he doesn’t use one) will fix you up a plate of his famous Hard-Fried Chicken (see recipe below). You may even get to hear restaurant owner Kermit Ruffins, an award-winning jazz musician, blow some tunes on his trumpet as you devour your meal.

Up north, you can visit Café Boulud in Manhattan, where Chef Gavin Kaysen will prepare Skinless Fried Chicken, Baked Beans, and Pickled Fresno Chilies. Across the Brooklyn Bridge, enjoy Fried Chicken and Cauliflower Mash at the Root and Bone. Take a drive up the pike in Boston, and you’ll find Highland Kitchen’s Fried and Frozen—a meal of fried chicken served with a frozen mango cocktail. And don’t forget to visit the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, birthplace of the famous Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip.

Hard Water Wings
Fried chicken wings
at Hard Water

Fried chicken takes on a decidedly Asian twist with some scrumptious dishes from the West Coast. Seattle-based chef and culinary author Nathan Myhrvold was inspired by a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean flavors and techniques to create his Crispy Chicken Wings and Sauce, Korean Style. Turmeric, coriander, and sriracha butter help define the Vietnamese-styled Fried Chicken from Chef Charles Phan’s Hard Water restaurant in San Francisco.

Finally, the book gives us a chapter of non-traditional ways to indulge our passion for fried chicken. Try a Fried Chicken Taco with Corn Elote for a change, or Chicken Schnitzel and Dill-Cucumber Salad. And for the health-conscious (if such a thing can go along with fried chicken), there’s even Gluten-Free Fried Chicken as well as Sweet Chick Vegetarian Fried Chicken (made with seitan, or wheat gluten) and Waffles.

Much like its subject, Fried and True is a book to be savored one delectable morsel at a time. It’s a wonderful indulgence of tremendous flavor that reflects generations of shared history and warm family meals—in all, a perfect Independence Day treat.

 

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KERMIT RUFFINS’ AND RAY BOOM BOOM’S HARD-FRIED CHICKEN

Perhaps because the chicken is deeply chilled before frying, Boom Boom cooks his chicken a little longer than most; it emerges with the signature “hard-fried” brittle crust, notable for aggressively salty seasoning.

Serves Four

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup all-purpose seasoning, such as Morton’s Season All

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, for frying

1 whole chicken, washed, patted dry, cut into 8 pieces, and well chilled

Sea salt

MAKE THE DREDGE: In a large bowl, combine the flour, seasoning, baking powder, and pepper.

FRY THE CHICKEN: Prepare a deep-fryer or fill a large (at least 6-quart) pot halfway with oil and heat to 355-360 degrees Fahrenheit. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, shake off the excess, and fry until the chicken is dark brown and the crust is brittle, 16 to 18 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt to taste.

Michael Ruscoe is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Southern Connecticut. He is the author of the novel, "From the Stray Cat Files: You’ll Do Anything," the anthology, "Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature," and numerous educational texts. An instructor at Southern Connecticut State University, Ruscoe is also lead singer and songwriter for the indie band Save the Androids! In his spare time he earns karma for his next life by ardently following the New York Mets. The proud father of two children, Ruscoe also cares for and supports a pair of goldfish, who, in all honesty, are not very good conversationalists.

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