Tennessee Mountain Stories

Fried Chicken

I’ve kind of been on a food-thing lately, haven’t I?  I mentioned to you that I’ve been trying to be more disciplined with my food – and that just makes you crave all the good stuff.  But today’s thoughts are more about feeding a large group of people.

You’ll remember from a few weeks ago that I have a full house right now.  It’s a blessing and a challenge.  I’m unaccustomed to regularly cooking for a group of eleven.  Therefore when Fried Chicken rotated up on my menu list, it was a new cooking opportunity.  Something was said about cooking special foods and I thought that fried chicken was just regular country-cooking, albeit maybe Sunday-dinner kind of cooking.

I’m no expert at frying chicken, although I did learn at the feet of my grandmothers.  My finished product doesn’t come close to theirs and whether that’s my skill-level or years of practice I can’t say.  But you can’t buy the stuff.  Sure, deep fried, heavily battered chicken is a fast food treat occasionally but it’s just not the same as the homeade version.

I don’t have any secrets to my recipe, although one grandma always used garlic salt instead of regular salt and that does add an extra layer of flavor.

I fry in a big iron skillet, just like my grandma did – in fact, she had a special skillet that she callled the chicken fryer.  Whether it was originally produced and named that, I don’t know but it was very deep – you could really have deep fried in it if you’d wanted.  That depth allowed a neater cooking experience because the stuff will pop everywhere. 

Iron seems always to be the cooking medium of choice in these old recipes.   I guess it has long been available and more modern non-stick surfaces are really quite new.  Plus, cooking on wood or coal prohibitted many of the plastic-handled pots we enjoy today.  It provides an even heat and holds the heat well while your cooking.

In feeding nearly a dozen mouths, I did notice the cooking time was pretty long.  I was able to stick the finished product in the oven so everyone got warm chicken.  How would I have done that on a wood stove?  Did you use the oven the same way?  I guess there’s no reason not to, in fact it might be easier because the oven box of a wood stove is always a little warm owing to the proximity to the fire box.

Of course I have chicken in the freezer and I can’t help but think that a whole other layer of complexity would be added if I’d had to ring the neck of the beast, pluck it and clean it before I began frying.

One question I’d like to answer is breading.  Do any of you remember your grandmas frying chicken without flouring it?  We’ve talked many times about the scarcity of flour on the mountain in years gone by.  Were cooks willing to use a little of that precious resource to coat their chicken?  It is certainly a different food if you don’t bread it.

All in all, a meal of homeade fried chicken, gravy, green beans, potato salad and hot biscuits is a pretty nice treat and a welcome reminder of meals at my grandma’s table.