A lot of the things I eat as snacks and appetizers are not what doctors and nutritionists would call healthy.
But that’s to be expected, since many of the entrées I enjoy are not that healthy, either.
Last week, as I waited patiently in line at the best buffet restaurant on the planet — the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle — my eyes were fixed on its delicious fried chicken. Then I noticed sitting next to a large tray of fried chicken was a smaller tray of fried chicken livers. I hadn’t had them in years!
It’s not that my wife won’t fry them for me, but she tends to buy chicken already cut up. If I want livers, I have to buy them separately. Mama cut up a whole chicken — usually two to feed her four young’uns and Daddy — that included the liver, heart, gizzard and neck.
She used the neck and the “piece that went over the fence last” to make broth for the rice she fixed with her chicken. The organs were battered and fried along with the wings, thighs, breasts and drumsticks.
My sisters were happy to let my brother and me have the organs. I preferred the liver, while he preferred the heart and gizzard.
As I was piling chicken livers on my plate at the Blue Willow, I noticed another delicacy staring at me from the stack of crispy fried chicken. Someone had deliberately removed the outer skin from a thigh and generously left it in the tray for me. I love crispy fried-chicken skin, especially that big piece of skin covering the thigh. Its salty-juicy flavor is something I can taste just thinking about it.
Chicken skin was something I tended to have all to myself as a kid. Not only did my sisters remove it from their thigh or drumstick, but Mama, Daddy and my brother often would indulge me by giving me their skins.
There’s yet another skin I love to snack on, one that has become popular with lots of folks. Pork skins, or rinds as some folks call them, were not so commercialized when I was growing up. Sure, I might find a bag among the tater chips at Uncle Ralph’s bait store, but you rarely found them in a grocery store and certainly not in a restaurant.
Pork skins are taken from the pork bellies from which we get our bacon. If the skin is thick, only then will I call it a rind or “cracklin,” which is great when added to hoe-cake corn bread. I prefer pork skins thin so that when they’re dropped in a pan of hot oil, they puff up and become super-crispy.
Commercial brands add salt, paprika or chili powder after the skins are fried. They tend to hold onto the crispy flavor longer than they maintain their spiciness. I’ve found bags of pork skins in gas stations that were out of date and somewhat bland but still crispy.
I salute restaurants like the Rusty Pig for offering fresh-cooked pork skins as take-home snacks. They can be filling, so I prefer to save them for later. A restaurant near Fort Bragg — Memphis Barbecue — serves them hot out of the fryer to customers as they’re browsing the menu. They can be habit-forming and hurt your appetite for what you came there for in the first place — ribs.
It’s too bad commercial corn- and tater-chip manufacturers haven’t tried to make a brand of fried chicken skins. Restaurants willing to save and fry up skins from chicken breasts and thighs would definitely find a customer in me.