Let's pretend for a moment it's 1960 — summertime in a southern town and the air is thick. Pale yellow cotton dresses hang on clothes lines in back yards. Record players send out sweet and slow melodies that provide the soundtrack of your evening walk as you pass by each home — windows open so wide you can see white cloth curtains dancing in the wind as the breeze makes its way through to graciously provide relief from the heat to those inside. Children play in their front yards as the sun fades from blinding white to shades of pink and orange until their mothers call them in for dinner.
I wasn't alive in the 60s, and I can really only conjure up imagery from the memories my grandparents have shared or from the scenes of my favorite old movies — but sometimes I paint days like this within my mind when I'm on the crowded bus home from work daydreaming. I imagine that time slows down and that my senses are more acute and in tune instead of working hard to dull themselves to screaming children on public transportation. I close my eyes for a second and imagine that my toes feel every blade of lush green grass as I walk outside to take down my yellow dress from the clothes line. I pretend that I can smell the warm breeze layered with citrus and summer herbs.
Fried chicken has got to be the meal I most associate with this daydream and the one I imagine 1960s me making. I think of the crackling sound the cast iron skillet makes as the first piece of chicken is dropped carefully into the oil, the buttermilk it's drenched in, and the smiles on the faces of those I've prepared the meal for.
My role in this scenario is interchangeable with the actual experiences of my Nana, Cora. She understands specifically the slowness of this time period. Quite often, this was indeed her exact evening — and I know she misses it. I've been told by my mother and others of the many meals she made for her family and guests, her famously simple yet incredible breakfasts being one, but the meal I always come back to while making my way home and looking to escape from the day to day for just a moment is her fried chicken.
- The night before you plan to cook, place all the chicken in an airtight container and cover with buttermilk. Seal the container and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
- Melt enough shortening over low heat to come to about 1/3 inch up the side of your cast iron skillet. Once the shortening liquefies turn up the heat to about 300 degrees — not going above 325 degrees. (this is important!)
- Drain buttermilk from the chicken. Mix the salt, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper together and pour into a shaker. Liberally sprinkle seasoning mixture over chicken — it is important to season the chicken (and not the flour) BEFORE you cover in flour as not to burn the seasoning off when frying. (Seasonings like paprika will easily burn otherwise.)
- Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
- Place chicken skin side down, the oil should come halfway up the pan. Cook until golden brown on each side — this will take about 10 to 12 minutes on each side. (The internal temp should be about 180 degrees. To help with this check the temperature of the oil off and on.)
- Drain chicken on a wire rack.
FRIED CHICKEN DONT'S!
- Don't season the flour or the seasoning could burn in tiny pieces and then your golden brown chicken will just be dark brown.
- Don't let your oil get too hot or you'll shock the moisture out of your chicken.
- Don't drain your chicken by setting directly on paper towels, this make the once crispy skin mushy.
- Don't place breasts or legs in the center of the pan, those cook faster and should be placed around the edges while the thighs take the center spot in the pan.