"It was a dish for old Caesar,
Also King Henry the Third,
But Columbus was smart, said "You can't fool me,
A chicken ain't nothin' but a bird!"
~Cab Calloway, 1940
Don't you just love enthusiastic people? Somebody at work, a neighbor or friend at church who carries that gift of a ready smile and a positive outlook are gems that we hold dear. They can brighten our days and elevate our occasional down moods.
We look forward to seeing them.
Passionate people aren't only a subset of this same group, but more specifically, form an elite corps of radically focused true believers that can zero-in on a topic, jump up on a soapbox and preach with the fervor and conviction of a Penticostal minister. All with a smile on their lips and love in their hearts.
My friend Janice is one of these gifted individuals, especially when it comes to her beloved Southern food and Carolina roots.
Last week, I found myself at our workplace information hub: the front desk. We were scanning invoices, checking mailboxes and engaging in idle banter with other staff, when our exercise coordinator rounds the corner in full stride; matching Addidas warm-ups flying.
Janice throws a quick high five at me, then, stops long enough to ask how the weekend went with 'momma' out of town. 'Shugh' and I talk food all the time, but, Mondays usually start with a weekend, culinary adventure.
She parked her wheely cart with fitness gear and licked her lips, ready to preach. Her eyes were wide, hands were out front with palms down, barely keeping a lid on the story about to erupt. She began her sermon on a fried chicken and waffle brunch at the Screen Door restaurant with a sacred enthusiasm usually reserved to iPad devotees at an Apple store opening.
"...the collards were tinder with a little bit uh bakin, the biskeets were perfect cat hayds," her breathing quickening to a pant, "an man, that graivee, ah tell ya wut, you could pore that on a dead cat an ahd tare it UP!"
When she got to the chicken, well, I thought a spirit was about to abandon her body. 'Shugh' wiped her mouth with one hand and paused,
"Nugget, this chicken was...," she raised her hands to either measure a bass or call upon the Lord,
"...thuh most a-mazin' frahd chickin' ahve had in this town. It was hot an crispy on thuh outsahd, an steamy-juicy on thuh insahd. An peppery, too...," her voiced trailed off into that delicious memory and her body seemed to go limp from the recollection.
Fifteen years in Portland have not diminished her North Carolina accent one little, bitty, syllable and given her passion for the topic, actually enhanced her drawl the way I imagine Bourbon would...
"B-dazzle, ya'll GOT-ta go if you like real fried chicken. Yore boys are gonna dig it," she concluded, pointing at my chest, then, snapping the handle up on her carry-on luggage kit.
My boys and I followed Janice's empassioned plea and found that she actually had not oversold the experience. That weekend we were seated outside at the Screen Door Restaurant after waiting 45 minutes for a table. We could smell the fried chicken about half a block away and the four of us became giddy; poking and prodding each other like kids going to the fair.
We ordered chicken all around and sipped drinks, craning our necks to see the heaping platters of Southern Goodness coming out of the kitchen.
Finally, it was our turn.
We examined our meals and just stared, slack-jawed, at the simple home-cooked beauty. The waitress was saying something and we just kind of mumbled a reply in unison. The aromas were etherial, yet, comforting. It was the longest 7 seconds of the night.
A blessing was said.
"Ow-ow-owww, hot-hot-hot," cried Liam tearing away a piece of crispy skin and meat.
"Bacon in the collards, Hell Yes!," exclaimed Patrick.
"Whoa, check this out, it's like an aquifer of juice," Brendan informed us, displaying a golden half-breast.
Our evening was an expression of the food: we ended up talking to tables next to us, they displayed and described their desserts. Not suprisingly, each person had a tally of their visits to this fine purveyor of Southern victuals.
"This is our 7th time. You HAVE to come back for the brunch," said the two-top next to us,
"The fried chicken is skewered and presented on a waffle!"
We talked, laughed, gawked, met folks and shared stories.
Ain't that what good cookin's supposed to do?!
Janice, JJ, Shugh, whatever you want to call her, is a distinguished ambassador of home cooking and an inspiring preacher of the gospel of Fried Chicken. It may be just a bird, Mr. Calloway, but, this flightless fowl can soar given the right breading.
Amen, Sistah Janice!
Crispy Southern Fried Chicken
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces (whatever pieces you like)
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 Tbl salt, kosher
1 tsp pepper, ground
1 qt. canola oil
Place chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with salt one at a time. Pour buttermilk in and mix by hand till all pieces are soaked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, pour oil into deep sided cast iron pot/skillet and heat to 300 degrees on the stove top. Buy a high temp thermometer if you don't have one. It takes out the guess work. Remove chicken pieces from the buttermilk, one at a time, and dredge in the flour giving them a good coat. Once four pieces are ready and the oil is hot, gently slide one piece at a time into the oil. I suggest using tongs for safety. When desired color is reached, turn each piece over gently. This should take 20-25 minutes for each batch. When done, remove to a cookie rack in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees) to keep warm. Internal temp of the meat should be 160 degrees or higher.
Don't poke the chicken as it is cooking, the breading will fall off. Keep an eye on the oil temp; cast iron retains heat very well and you will probably adjust your flame down as the process unfolds.
Make a salad with your garden greens, have plenty of paper towels on hand and always make more than you will eat that night. Left-over fried chicken is like dessert!
Take Care, God bless and Remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"