Mention fried chicken to many who grew up in the 1960s or later, and they think of heading to the drive-through at KFC or picking up the picnic favorite from the supermarket deli.
But learning to make simple, old-fashioned fried chicken in your own kitchen isn’t difficult – and I predict you’ll find it’s worth the effort.
A cast-iron skillet is a key part of the process. I don’t know what it is about using an old iron skillet, but somehow the chicken tastes more delicious.
Lard is another must. Growing up in Indiana, we raised hogs and Dad would make lard for my mom to use in her cooking. You can buy lard in a brick at the store, too.
(When I bake, I use lard for my pie crusts too, along with a couple tablespoons of vinegar. You won’t taste the vinegar at all and you’ll have a crust that’s wonderfully flaky.)
Fried chicken was a Sunday tradition when I was growing up. We had a large family and we always had guests on Sundays so the table was laden with food.
We raised our own chickens so Dad would have to kill one or two for my mom to cut up. Mom would usually make some type of potato and a vegetable plus fresh-baked bread or biscuits.
New potatoes always proved a favorite. We’d dig them up and wash them and Mom would cook them in the skins and then brown them in a skillet with a little seasoning.
In the spring, my brother and I would also gather fresh greens, dandelion leaves and wild asparagus. Later, whatever vegetable was in the garden was served as a side. My mother also canned a lot of vegetables to use during the winter.
If you want something light, serve a salad or peas or corn seasoned with a little butter. If you have time, make mashed potatoes with homemade milk gravy using the drippings in the skillet.
Since the meal is a little heavy, I would skip a rich dessert and instead use fresh fruit cut up in a cup.
If I am in a hurry, I buy potato rolls and or some other kind of roll.
As I sat down to consider how to encourage cooks who have never attempted fried chicken at home, I realized it is hard to pass on something that you are used to cooking and have your own little ways of doing things.
I have passed this and many other recipes onto family members, including my grandchildren. My two sons are great cooks.
I broke down my approach to fried chicken – just the way my mother cooked it when I was growing up – into 10 steps. Enjoy the process and the finished product, and please let me know how it turns out!
Simple, Old-fashioned Fried Chicken
1. You can buy frying chickens but regular chickens from the farm market or grocery store can be cut up and will work fine. Lay pieces on a paper towel and pat dry. Rub in salt and pepper on both sides of all the pieces.
2. Put two cups flour in a paper sack or other large bowl or container. Add more flour as needed.
3. Put two pieces at a time and coat with flour. Set aside.
4. Put one cup of lard (you can use Crisco or cooking oil) in a large cast-iron skillet heated to medium-high heat.
5. Place chicken pieces in skillet. At this point, you can sprinkle more salt and pepper to taste. If you can, do not let the pieces of chicken touch.
6. Fry chicken over medium high heat until all pieces have browned on both sides.
7. Turn heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 25 minutes.
8. Remove the lid and increase heat to medium-high. Continue frying until chicken pieces are a deep golden brown and the juices run clear.
9. Finally, take a knife or fork and puncture one piece to make sure the chicken is done.
10. Place chicken on a rack to cool and serve still-hot or cold, as you wish.
Share your favorite tips for great fried chicken or other feedback on this column with Patt Welsh at firstname.lastname@example.org