There is a dearth of cookbooks featuring recipes for Northern fried chicken.
That’s because the whole world knows that fried chicken is a Southern thing with its roots going back to the ignominious Old South, when European and African cultures clashed but eventually meshed.
According to wisegeek.com, ancient cultures like those in China, Egypt, India and Rome were frying chickens thousands of years ago, but it wasn’t anything like the fried chicken we know today. Scottish families who settled in the South in Colonial days brought with them their recipes for frying whole chicken in animal fat, probably from sheep. I suppose this technique was pretty much the way whole turkeys are fried today.
Shortly after the Scots arrived, slaves were brought to America. African slaves, who had been frying chickens in palm oil for centuries, soon were called on to prepare meals for the slave owner. Fried chicken then was perfected, with whole chickens cut apart at the joints of the legs, thighs, hips and shoulders. African spices were added and the separated pieces of chicken were breaded in corn meal and/or flour before being fried in animal fat, probably from hogs.
Southern fried chicken was, therefore, born from a blending of African and European cultures. Though it often is imitated by chefs around the world, those who love it know you can’t take the “Southern” out of fried chicken and expect it to taste the same.
The best fried chicken is made in a cast-iron skillet or deep-fryer. I like both, but the iron frying pan method tends to leave a bigger mess to clean up.
You can’t fool me with pressure-fried or oven-fried chicken; it’s not the same. It has to be fried — really fried — to a crispy, golden brown in cooking oil or lard, or it’s not Southern fried chicken. Marinating chicken in salt brine or buttermilk and using a variety of spices to season it before frying only changes the regional flavor. It’s still Southern fried chicken.
Some of the best fried chicken I’ve had outside my home, my mama’s or mother-in-law’s can be found locally at Sybil’s Family Restaurant in Jesup. Great fried chicken also can be found at Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, S.C., the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle and the Bulloch House in Warm Springs.
The Bulloch House, by the way, features that part of the chicken rarely talked about anymore: the pulley bone (also called the wishbone). The pulley bone is taken from the top of the breastbone, and there’s more flavor in the pulley than the rest of the chicken combined.
I’m told by a reliable source that Buckner’s Family Restaurant in Jackson has the best Southern fried chicken in the world. Not having been there — yet — I’ll have to stand by the restaurant I found to have the best fried chicken: the Smith House Restaurant and Hotel in Dahlonega.
This restaurant, which is built on top of an old gold mine, features family style meals. When it was time for dessert, I passed on the homemade cake, pies and cookies and asked for two more pieces of chicken. I’ve since given much thought to how they make their chicken so mouth-watering.
The following is my recipe for Southern fried chicken:
Begin with two whole chickens already cut apart, including breasts, legs, thighs and wings. Wash off each piece and remove that unwanted tips on the wings. Place the chicken in a large bowl and fill it with buttermilk, ensuring each piece is covered. Marinate the pieces overnight.
The next day, remove the chicken from the marinade and lay each piece on a large, flat pan or cutting board. Meanwhile, prepare your deep-fryer, setting it for 375 degrees. I recommend peanut oil, but you can use canola oil. Season both sides of each piece of chicken with salt and pepper or Cajun seasoning salt, which is my preference. Carefully coat each piece of chicken in all-purpose flour, ensuring the whole piece is covered — but not caked — in batter.
It’s wise to place breasts in the fryer first as they take longer to cook. Follow the breasts with thighs then legs then wings. When your chicken is golden brown, it’s Southern fried.