It was Christmas day in the early double aughts, and it was just Sonny, Brother, and me. We’d thought for a few weeks about all the good things we wanted to cook for Christmas dinner and finally settled on fried chicken. To us, holidays are not about having the fanciest dinner you can have, but about having the best dinner you can have, the food you really want more than anything else.
It was unseasonably warm that year, so Brother cooked the fried chicken in our outdoor kitchen. When we cook as a family, Brother tends to handle the meats and I lean toward sides and desserts. He’s just got a knack for cooking meat that I don’t have. Plus, frying scares me ever since I set a skillet of oysters on fire. But that’s another story for another day.
We decided to have our dinner outside on the patio. You can do that in December in the South. We didn’t have a table-scape or a bouquet or even cloth napkins. But in my recollection, that Christmas dinner was the best I’ve ever had. And to tell you the truth, I don’t remember what all we had to eat that day, but I remember that chicken.
Crispy on the outside, just the right amount of spice, juicy on the inside — that chicken was a close to perfect as you can get. We rolled up our sleeves and dug in. After a few bites, Brother licked his fingers and said, “I sure can put the scald on a bird!” Sonny and I just about fell out we were laughing so hard.
And that’s the other thing I remember about that day and our simple little outside Christmas dinner — we laughed and laughed and laughed some more. It wasn’t about the presents or the decorations or the china. This day was memorable because of all the the fun we had, just the three of us, as we dined on that scalded bird.
And here’s just how Brother did it.
- 1 2 ½ lb. fryer with giblets (whole or cut up)
- 1 ½ c. flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 ½ tsp. black pepper
- 2 tsp. creole seasoning (or to taste) for the chicken.
- 2 tbsp. creole seasoning for the flour
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- *Enough oil to fill a large, heavy, deep skillet at least 1 ½ inches deep.
- ½ onion thinly sliced
- First, wash chicken inside and out, removing any blood clots or other unwanted bits. Wash the giblets as well.
- If the chicken is whole, cut it in two length-wise from the breast side, cutting down through the ribs attached on each side of the backbone. Then, cut through the joint to remove the legs from the thigh, then remove the thigh from the joint at the backbone. Then remove the wing from the breast, and then the breast from the backbone. Cut the breast in two-pieces cross-wise taking care not to remove the skin from either piece.
- Then put your cut-up chicken in a large non-reactive pan or bowl and season with creole seasoning and lemon juice. Toss thoroughly and let sit for at least twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile, season flour in a wide, shallow pan, not a jellyroll pan, more like a Pyrex baking dish, and set aside.
- Then, add oil to the skillet. Here is a tip about the oil. The BEST oil to fry chicken in is a mixture of ½ hog lard and ½ peanut oil. This is because the hog lard has an excellent taste, but also has superior browning qualities. The peanut oil, having a high flashpoint and a neutral taste, keeps the hog lard from scorching the chicken, but allows all the flavor to come through. Alternatively, the best oil to use in a pinch is Mazola corn oil or Wesson vegetable oil. I prefer Mazola as it always seems to brown well without scorching. The skillet you use MUST have a heavy bottom or the chicken will surely scorch. Of course a black iron skillet is best, but I have gotten good results from heavy aluminum such as Case cookware and the like.
- Heat the oil to medium high or high at the start, and begin to flour your chicken. Remember that the objective is to get crispy skin on your chicken, not a bunch of greasy crust. Thus, when you first put your floured chicken in the grease, it needs to be hot, to make the flour cling to the skin and get crisp. So, as you toss your chicken pieces in the flour, set them aside for a minute or two and keep flouring the other pieces. Put the largest pieces such as the breast and the thigh in first, then the smaller pieces. As you put them in the hot grease, watch them carefully, and turn them over after about thirty seconds, as this will allow the flour to set, but not scorch on the bottom. Once you have all the pieces arranged in the skillet, but not crowded, then turn the heat down to medium and keep turning each piece for about twenty to twenty-five minutes, until when you pierce it at the thickest place, no pink liquid comes out.
- When it is done, the chicken should be brown and crisp. Take the pieces out, letting the grease drain off, and place them on paper toweling to rest. The chicken is best if it sits for a few minutes before it is served.
- Once all the chicken is fried, then pour off the grease in the skillet and reserve for future use — it’s really good! Be careful not to pour off all the little crusties that have accumulated in the bottom of the skillet along with about two tablespoons of the grease. Scatter a tablespoon of the seasoned flour from the chicken in the grease and make a good paste, adding a ½ of a thinly sliced onion. Let this cook for three minutes, and add 1 ½ cups of water to make an excellent gravy, stirring all the time. Season to taste and serve alongside your chicken.
Note: You can put all the fried chicken back into the gravy, rolling it all over so that it’s coated, put the lid on the skillet, and put it in the oven on 350 for a while. Add a jar of button mushrooms if you like. From time to time, peek in there and spoon the gravy over the chicken. What comes out is the most tender, succulent chicken in gravy that you’ve ever had. That’s what’s called Fricasseed Chicken.