There’s no getting around it. Even in this health-conscious “grilled, broiled, baked or steamed anything is better than deep fried” world, a crispy, hot and juicy bucket of fried chicken still rules. It’s like chocolate cake for dinner. Though perhaps not better for the waistline or long-range health goals, fried chicken is surely better for the soul. And July 6, National Fried Chicken Day, is a reason to celebrate this long-sung song of the South.
If you grew up there, a plate of fried chicken on Sundays is considered second only to the air you breathe. Chicken and greens, chicken and sweet potatoes, chicken and waffles, chicken with creamed corn, chicken and biscuits—whatever sits next to it on the plate, the sight and smell of a mound of fried chicken makes it the cuisine of kings. But how did this crispy jewel of a dish get started? Interestingly, it wasn’t a regional delicacy–at least not from a region in the U.S.
Fried Chicken History
In the Middle Ages, the Scots typically deep-fried pieces of chicken, called fritters, a practice brought to the U.S. by Scottish immigrants. It’s also been noted that an array of West African dishes also featured battered chicken fried in palm oil, later sold on the streets of America as a means of independent income for enslaved African American women as early as the 1730s.
On plantations, slaves raised chickens, and the dish evolved as they added spices the Scottish predecessors and purveyors of the dish had not. As it traveled well in hot weather, later on during segregation when most restaurants were reserved for “whites only,” fried chicken became a reliable take-along meal for African American travelers. Over time the dish became synonymous with traditional Southern cooking, crossing any lines and barriers society might present.
In the 20th Century, prescient thinkers such as Kentucky-born Harland Sanders (aka Colonel Sanders) rose from abject poverty to international fame and fortune when he gave the world Kentucky Fried Chicken, becoming KFC in later years. Learning to cook for his family as a young child when his father died and his mother went to work in a factory, the Colonel saw a need (or desire, as it were) in his later years and filled it. Offering his “secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices” and chicken prepared in a pressure cooker instead of a frying pan to the public–including to those who might not otherwise know the joys of fried chicken–the dish was now readily hot and available without consumers taking the time to prepare it.
A popular Fourth of July staple at the beach, park, and backyard picnics, connoisseurs swear by it, hot or cold. For the ardently health-conscious, recipes exist were the results of “oven fried” can be just about as indistinguishable from the real thing, so why not try these offerings for a happy July 4th, and a festive and fragrant National Fried Chicken Day, July 6th!
Classic Fried Chicken
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons garlic salt
1 tablespoon paprika
3 teaspoons pepper, divided
2-1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1-1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 broiler/fryer chickens (3-1/2 to 4 pounds each), cut up
Oil for deep frying
In a large resealable plastic bag, combine 2-2/3 cups flour, garlic salt, paprika, 2-1/2 teaspoons pepper and poultry seasoning. In a shallow bowl, beat eggs and water; add salt, pepper and remaining flour. Dip chicken in egg mixture, then place in the bag, a few pieces at a time. Seal bag and shake to coat. In a deep-fat fryer, heat oil to 375°. Fry chicken, several pieces at a time, for 5-6 minutes on each side or until golden brown and juices run clear. Drain on paper towels. Yield: 8 servings.
Oven Fried Chicken
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3- to 3 1/2-lb cut-up whole chicken
Heat oven to 425°F. Melt butter in 13×9-inch pan in oven. In shallow dish, mix flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Coat chicken with flour mixture. Place chicken, skin sides down, in pan. Bake uncovered 30 minutes. Turn chicken; bake about 30 minutes longer or until juice is clear when thickest part is cut to bone.