2009 is about to slink away like fried chicken grease oozing into the newspaper in a trash can. If you've never made fried chicken at home, don't worry, it's only worth the effort if you have a seasoned cast iron skillet. And for the modern calorie conscious, it's madness to contemplate. The grease is brown, filled with small bits of crusty flour and seared strips of chicken that didn't make it off the skillet. This gruesome looking sludge smells like every good Sunday dinner or holiday feast you ever had. Sage, black pepper, the near-bacon crispiness -- all are there, hidden in the congealing corn oil and chicken fat.
Is it any wonder that gravy became as important as the meat? Not only was the smell the most seductive odor since night-blooming Jasmine, the fat and seasonings lingered on the tongue as reminder of a full belly in a cold climate when food between then and spring was sure to be dried jerky and boiled vegetables slowly shriveling in a cold room under the ground.
So since I am not frying chicken, but am planning a spicy rubbed turkey breast for the holiday, let me share something that the Hankerson-McCoy-Lacy families have kept on file, long after we stopped frying chicken. I take that back, Molly still fries and savors every bite.
Remember, even if you grill or bake, one thigh fried in a 6 inch skillet will afford you the opportunity to taste the Promised Land in small doses.
Seasoned flour for the chicken (washed and dried)
1 C flour, dash of salt, goodly amount of black pepper
dollop of sage - leaves or ground
smidgeon of thyme
dash of onion powder
whiff of chili powder (really, a whiff!)
put it all in a brown lunch bag and shake well
1/2 C milk
1/2 C water
1 egg beaten smooth
Chicken is to be rolled in the liquid and shaken in the bag, one piece at a time.
Grease (Crisco in a perfect world since lard is not to be considered, corn oil, whatever)
1/4 to 1/2 inch deep-must be hot enough that water skitters when dropped in, but NOT smoking!
Fry with a venting cover to protect you from popping grease and to add some pressure inside the skillet. No venting cover/bacon frying cover? Got one of those pizza bakers with hole in them? Got an old base plate from a pressure cooker with holes in it? Got aluminum foil? Poke it with a large tyned fork.
Turn the heat down to medium, gently turn the chicken in about 12-15 minutes. Cook about 10-15 minutes per side, depending on the size of your pieces and whether or not they have skins.
Chicken should be golden brown, crispy and if you're worried, cut open a thigh to see if it's still pink.
Remove the lid for the last 5 minutes.
NOW, the GRAVY!
Allow the mess to cool just a bit while you put the chicken into the oven to stay warm. Use a piece of bread to soak up a little oil, grease if you have dogs. Otherwise, spoon it off. While the skillet is warm, scrap the singeing bits off the pan so that the stirring can be smooth.
If you've fried chicken for one or two, there's not much goop there, so add about 1 heaping tablespoon of flour and a dash of salt and pepper and sage directly to the warm grease. Stir until it smooths together. (roux) Heat it a little until small bubbles are starting.
Pour in milk (1 C for two folks, more depending on your amount of sludge in the beginning) Basically 1 C of milk per spoon of flour. Stir while you're pouring. Heat until the mixture boils gently. It won't really "make gravy" without getting to the near-boil state. If it's too thin, let it cook a bit. If it's too thick, add milk and keep stirring. If you must add more flour, dissolve it in cold water in a cup and drizzle it slowly while stirring. I also use WondraFlour and that doesn't clump like regular flour, but not everybody has it on hand. It is okay to taste the gravy and season again. Unlike a corn starch gravy, flour based gravy thickens while it cools.
That's it. Southern Comfort. Serve with anything on the side you feel the need for and LOVE.
And after it's over and no one can speak for the sated pleasure of it all, sit right down and write a short story about the anticiaption, the memories of dinners past, loved ones near and far, and if none of these inspire, draw doodles on the paper (see, I meant write) until one speaks to you, and suddenly, the day is recorded for all time in faces and music and smells and tastes and words that share your life with the world. All the ups and downs of 2009 be memories in your heart, on your paper, in the forests of doodles, on your tongue as you sing in the New Year.
May a few forbidden pleasures surprise you from time to time.
Happy New Year 2010.