Monday, July 09, 2007

An anniversary served with fried chicken

Sixty years ago, my dear grandparents were married. A few days before the wedding, my grandfather’s mother wrote a letter to my grandmother’s mother. In her correspondence with her future in-law she said, “If there is anything in the old saying that a boy who is good to his mother will make a good husband, you have nothing to fear concerning your little girl’s future happiness for there has never been a kinder, more thoughtful appreciative son than Jack has been...We are looking forward to having Jean as our daughter.”

No truer words have ever been spoken. Witnessing my grandparents’ mutual respect, love and kindness to each other my whole life has always been a testament to what a good and healthy marriage should be. Not to mention, I’m very grateful they were married, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these words today!

I asked my grandmother how they celebrated their wedding and she said that it was a simple affair, with just cake (that came all the way from Plano) and punch served at the reception. And she had an exquisite white dress from Neiman Marcus. Likewise, my grandfather has written that there weren’t many photos taken, “but the scene is etched in my memory: My beautiful bride, dressed in white coming down the aisle of Melissa Baptist Church...Five-year-old David [my cousin] said, ‘She looks just like Jesus!’” Though I’ve also heard the story told where another cousin, David’s sister Susan, thought Grandpa looked like Jesus—I reckon this means it was holy matrimony indeed!

The rehearsal dinner was thrown the night before, which also happened to be the Fourth of July. My grandparents invited the wedding party of 16 people over to my grandmother’s family farm, and my great-grandmother cooked up a feast of fried chicken, potato salad and homemade ice cream. My grandmother is the baby of her family, and that day as her older sisters were in the smokehouse preparing for the big meal by polishing the tables and flatware, my grandmother recalled that she was banished to the yard to pick plums. She didn’t mention, however, if the plums were used in the meal.

My great-grandmother was renown for her cooking and her fried chicken was no exception. I asked how she made it and my grandmother said, “First she'd go into the yard and pick the chickens. Then she'd wring their necks.” After plucking and cutting each chicken into eight pieces, she then soaked the chickens overnight in salty ice-cold water. Her crust was a simple flour dredge spiced with just salt and pepper. And, of course, she fried the pieces up in lard.

In honor of my grandparents’ anniversary, I decided to make fried chicken my great-grandmother’s way. While I don't have access to any live chickens, I bought a chicken from the farmer’s market, which is about as fresh as it gets for me. As many have noted, this is the key to fabulous fried chicken: happy, free-roaming chickens will always taste better than unhappy, stuffed-in-a-cage chickens. I also decided to get some freshly rendered, non-hydrogenated lard from my local pork butcher since prepackaged, hydrogenated lard is not only tasteless but is unhealthy as well. (Though some would argue freshly rendered lard is equally unhealthy, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

After brining my chicken overnight, I shook the pieces in a paper bag with flour, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne, and then fried them in my cast-iron skillet filled with melted lard heated to 350 degrees. I don’t know if it was the fresh chicken or the brine or the lard, but mercy, this was the most succulent, flavorful and crispy fried chicken I’d ever had the pleasure of making. Each bite was filled with crunch, flavor and juice. I’m a dark-meat girl, but even the breast was moist and delicious.

And while I realize most people won’t fry their chicken in lard, (even Great-Grandma Gibson started using Crisco later in life because of lard’s bad reputation), I do think everyone should try it at least once. Lard provides an unparalleled texture to the fried chicken. But even more important is soaking your chicken. Some people prefer buttermilk, while some people do both a salt-water soak and a buttermilk soak, but no matter which type of soak you choose, know that it’s crucial to achieving a crisp skin with a tender, toothsome center.

I love listening to and reading stories about my ancestors. And I’m very grateful that my grandparents are still here to remind me of the way things used to be—I wouldn’t be the person I am without these two amazing people in my life. So I raise my drumstick to you, Grandma and Grandpa—happy 60th anniversary! Thank you such much for all your wisdom, love, care, kindness, discipline, fun times and respect. But most importantly, thank you for showing me (and the rest of the world) what it means to be a true partnership and how to have a long and happy marriage—you two are role models! I love you!

Great-Grandma Gibson’s Fried Chicken
Ingredients:
One fresh whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
8 cups of water
1/2 cup of salt
1 1/2-2 cups of lard (can use shortening or oil) depending on size of your skillet. Fat should rise up the sides about 1 inch.
1 cup of flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Heat up 8 cups of water, and then add 1/2 cup of salt. Either add ice cubes or chill water until cool.
When water is cool, add chicken pieces and submerge. Keep covered in the refrigerator overnight or at least 8 hours.
Mix flour, salt and pepper and place in a paper bag.
Place each piece of chicken in paper bag and shake until evenly coated with flour. Lay coated piece of chicken on a plate. Repeat until all pieces are coated.
Heat lard on high heat in a large cast-iron skillet (though if you don’t have one you can use any other kind of skillet as well) until temperature is 350 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, it should take about five minutes to reach that temperature. You can test the heat by throwing in a dollop of flour—if it floats and starts frying, the temperature is perfect; if the flour sinks to the bottom, the lard needs to heat up a few more minutes.
Place chicken pieces in skillet skin-side down (they can be near each other, but shouldn’t overlap) and turn heat down to medium. Fry on one side until golden brown (10-15 minutes), then turn with tongs and fry other side until golden brown.
Remove fried chicken from skillet with tongs, and drain for 10 minutes on a rack over a sheet pan or on paper towels or a paper bag. Serve immediately.

Note: This method produces a very thin but crispy crust. If you want a super-thick crust, you can do a flour dredge, then dip it into buttermilk and then dredge in flour again. And go easy on the salt since the chicken will already be salty from the brine. If you desire, you can add herbs to your brine. If you want to do a buttermilk soak, place the pieces in a bowl and then submerge in buttermilk for at least eight hours. If you have the time and want to do both the salt-water and the buttermilk soak, do the salt-water first and then the buttermilk soak. If you need to fry in batches, you can keep the fried chicken warm in an oven set at 150 degrees. Just don't leave it in the oven longer than 30 minutes or it will get too dry.

Related Stories Widget by LinkWithin

51 comments:

BEAR said...

The recipe works great. Our house keeper when I was a boy in Corpus Christi, and later in Houston was Grady-Mae Solomon. She could cook. We would go to church and when we got home she would have fried chicken like this, (also called pan-fried chicken), mashed potaotes with cream gravy, sweet peas, and banana pudding waitng for us. What a deal, go to church for a few hours and then get this! Reminds me that "Chicken Fried Steak" is called that because you substitute meat or "steak" for the chicken and cook it the same way. I love your blog. BEAR (bearslighthouse@frii.com)

radish said...

The post and recipe are both lovely, but what made me love this post, is the fact that you actually know the date of your grandparents' wedding anniversary - that is a wonderful thing!

Elise said...

What a wonderful story and recipe. Thank you for sharing, Lisa.

Frank said...

Brining works wonders on chicken and pork(especially the kind without much fat).
Yes, this is very much like my grandmother's method, who also had access to live chickens from the barnyard. My grandfather did the neck-ringing and plunging into hot water to make the plucking easier, then I carried the dead birds into the kitchen for cooking.
I believe my grandmother used lard or bacon grease(or both!). Good stuff!
(Followed by fried Lipitor!)

Tim said...

Coming from parents who are now divorced it always makes me happy to hear about marriages that not only last but are happy. It's rare in todays world.

I love fried chicken but have never heard of anyone using a salt water soak before. Doesn't that make it.. well.. salty? :P

Lydia said...

What a lovely ode to your grandparents -- and that chicken looks amazing! I can't remember the last time I've had (or made) real fried chicken, but if it kept your grandparents happy for all these years, it is definitely worth having!

Kalyn said...

Thanks for sharing the inspiring story about your grandparents and the recipe. What a great post. I can imagine how wonderful the chicken must taste. (Personally I never got over it when my favorite Mexican restaurant stopped using lard in the refried beans.)

Tatsu said...

The brine is what makes the meat moist - we won't cook a Thanksgiving turkey without brining it first. Buttermilk does something completely different to the meat, so I'm wondering if there isn't a one step way to get both.

matt said...

How absolutely wonderful this story is, and the fried chicken looks divine! I'm a HUGE HUGE fan of fried chicken and you've inspired me to fry some up. I shall be using this recipe!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO YOUR GRANDPARENTS!!!!!

teachergirl said...

This post brought tears to my eyes - when I tried to read it outloud to my girls, I got a lump in my throat. This is the kind of letter I want to get from their future mothers in law.

This is the kind of fried chicken I want their future grandmothers in law to make, too.

I love your blog. I've made your Texas sheet cake and biscuits. Thanks for this wonderful memory.

Zora said...

Not that I have a personal fried chicken tradition (I wish I did), but my friends and I have been eating it quite a lot in recent years.

Tamara recorded a nice thing on WNYC for the 4th of July--here (http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/81631).

As for the whole lard/Crisco issue: People. Lard is fine. Read Rick Bayless on the subject. Better for you than butter, certainly. Crisco will kill you in a heartbeat--although now it is made trans-fat free by being _wholly_ hydrogenated rather than _partially_. Weird. Not sure I trust that. It's still unnatural.

Rev. Biggles said...

MmMmmmMm, lard. It was the lard that made it so great. I use regularly and without it? I get this from the boys, "Papa, what's wrong with the pancakes? They aren't as good as last time."

Goose fat is fun.

Biggles

Yvo said...

mmm, this sounds wonderful. it sort of reminds me of Alton Brown's recipe for fried chicken, and you KNOW that's good ;)

ALL THE BEST said...

What a truly wonderful and meaningful post. Thank you so much for sharing this story and the recipe, it sounds yummy. I'm a buttermilk girl myself.

Carolyn T said...

I have some fond memories of my childhood when my grandmother would make fried chicken for Sunday dinner. Yummy. And then my memory bank delivers up an excursion to a restaurant, a kind of old log cabin, in the mountains west of Denver (in the Rockies) that was only open on weekends, as I recall. They had two sittings, like 5:30 and 7:30. No reservations. Once inside everybody sat down and waited. We had the usual relish tray - the ubiquitous bowl of carrots, radishes, pickle, olives - then we got a salad and biscuits to which we slathered butter to all edges. Then another wait, and to each table was delivered a large platter of just-out-of-the-pan deep fried chicken (with sides like corn and mashed potatoes and gravy). Oh my gosh was that ever good. My mouth waters just remembering it. Thanks for dredging those fond memories.

Vanessa said...

Lisa, that chicken looks absolutely succulent. But this story is even better...thanks for sharing.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

What a lovely story, and what a great heritage for you. And what yummy looking chicken!

Tea said...

What a beautiful story, it left me teary-eyed as well. I love how much you cherish your family history, it's wonderful--as is this fried chicken, of that I have no doubt!

lobstersquad said...

loved this.

SteamyKitchen said...

What a lovely post - Great Grandma must be proud!

Homesick Texan said...

BEAR--What a delicious memory! And yep, that's how chicken-fried steak gets it name.

Radish--Thank you, though I have to admit it's hard to forget the day since it's July 5, the day after Fourth of July!

Elise--You're welcome!

Frank--Isn't brining amazing? And I've heard of some people using both bacon grease and lard--Oh my!

Tim--The brine doesn't make it salty, it keeps the juices intact so the bird doesn't dry out when cooking.

Lydia--It's a bit of a mess to make, but it tastes unlike anything else. Try it!

Kalyn--Thanks! And I also can't stand it when Mexican restaurants don't use lard in their beans--the beans just don't have any flavor.

Tatsu--I wonder what a salty buttermilk soak would do?

Matt--Thanks! Enjoy!

Teachergirl--I bet that's the kind of letter all mothers would like to receive. And I'm glad you're enjoying the blog! Many thanks!

Zora--Thanks for sharing Tamara's radio segment--Edna Lewis is the queen of fried chicken! What a terrific 4th of July tradition y'all have! And I'm with you, trans-fat free Crisco is still sort of suspect.

Rev. Biggles--Is there anything lard doesn't make better? Your boys have great palates!

Yvo--Thanks! Haven't tried Alton Brown's recipe, but I'm sure he advocates brining.

Allthebest--You're welcome. Looks like I need to try the buttermilk soak soon.

Carolyn T--I love the sound of that log cabin restaurant--what an excellent meal!

Vanessa--You're welcome!

Christine--Thanks! I agree, family recipes are a wonderful heritage.

Tea--I think it's hard not to cherish my family history when everyone's always compiling old letters into books and such--it's fascinating reading.

Lobstersquad--Thanks!

SteamyKitchen--I reckon she would be! Thanks!

Julie said...

This was sweet and lovely.

The letter your great-grandmother wrote to the other great-grandmother is touching, and I love the simplicity of the wedding party. I'm sorry wedding parties like this seem to have gone out of fashion -- they seem so much more genuine than the princess-for-a-day over-the-top extravaganzas we seem to go in for these days.

The chicken looks spectacular. Wow! And if you're going to fry chicken then I think going all the way and using lard is the thing to do. Genuine fried chicken is a treat and if you're going to go to that much trouble it ought to be the genuine article.

Anonymous said...

I think lard is over rated. Not to start a war here, but I'm always amazed at th amount of people who congratulate others for using lard. "wow its a taboo! good for you!". I think most food is better with other fats. its a flavor thing, though, i guess its sacrilege for me to say that...

persis said...

I love your food stories, especially this one. Another yummylicious recipe of yours to try. persis xx

Homesick Houstonian said...

For tatsu and HT; America's Test Kitchen has a wonderful recipe for fried chicken that combines brining and buttermilk in one step. I can vouch that it comes out beautifully. I'm still trying to find out my mother's recipe though!

Cynthia said...

You are indeed fortunate to still have your grandparents, it must be a joy to have them share the memories and traditions with you.

I will definitely try your Grandma's fried chicken.

christine said...

What a beautiful beautiful story. And the picture, they are one handsome couple! And I especially loved this: Five-year-old David [my cousin] said, ‘She looks just like Jesus!’” :D

Mike said...

re: "...with just cake (that came all the way from Plano)"

20 years ago we thought Lake Lewisville was an 1.5 hour drive from far N. Dallas...seemed that way.

I'm not even close to imagining what Plano was like 60 years ago !!

Terry B said...

What a wonderful story! You are indeed blessed to have had these people in your life--and their romance as an example.

I also loved their simple wedding and reception, so perfect and memorable. So much better than the insane circuses so many people have bought into these days.

Anita said...

Oh, I'm drooling. We're finally getting whole chickens at our farmers market again, so this one is going on the short list.

Congrats to your grandparents! 60 years is quite a milestone. :D

Homesick Texan said...

Julie--I agree, there's so much mess it might as well taste as good as it can. And most weddings are indeed so overblown these days. I understand why so many of my friends just elope.

Anon--It's not a sacrilege to say what you think, it's good to hear a difference of opinion! If you don't like it, you don't like it!

Persis--Thanks!

Homesick Houstonian--I'll have to check out that ATK recipe. And please share when you find your mom's recipe!

Cynthia--I know, I count my blessings every day! They are very precious to me.

Christine--Yes, that story has made us laugh for years!

Mike--My grandmother was impressed enough with the fact so I reckon it was regarded as very, very far from Melissa.

TerryB--Thanks! I agree, I feel fortunate I've had the chance to share so many years with them.

Anita--A fresh, farmer's market chicken is a must--they just taste so much better!

Mike said...

Wowwww....Melissa has swelled to about 4,000 these days !

ann said...

wowee... how did you know I've been suffering from a major bout of fried chicken cravings? I've never made my own, the closest I've come is mastering panfried catfish... now I'm thinking I might have to give it a go. This sounds awesome. Happy, happy to your grandparents as well!

Homesick Texan said...

Mike--It's practically a metropolis!

Ann--Didn't you know I'm psychic? If you can do fried catfish, you can definitely make excellent fried chicken. Enjoy!

Tommy said...

I was thinking. Your posts are so thoughtful and have some great background information, all centered around some awesome recipes. You could do some kind of cookbook/adventure guide that would surely be well received by not only foodies that follow you here, but by regular folks that like an easy read with food thrown in to thicken the plot.

I have no idea what your aspirations are, but I see huge potential. Shall I call Oprah ?

Tatsu said...

Homesick Houstonian - thanks! Time to dig through the old CI and see if I can find it.

s'kat said...

What a sweet story about your grandparents! I'm sure they're honoured to hear about this lovely, memory-laden fry-up.

ps- my maiden name is Gibson! Most of them live in California, but there are a few in Texas.

wheresmymind said...

Where are the waffles???

Homesick Texan said...

Tommy--Why thank you! What a great idea! Sure, get Oprah on the
phone!

S'Kat--Gibson isn't the most unusual name, but I wouldn't be surprised if we're distantly related!

Wheresmymind--Be patient...they're coming!

Lisa said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you!

Terry said...

The process done by your grandmother was also done by mine. It was done to draw the blood out of the meat and remove the wild taste of the bird.

As years went by (and we grew up) people forgot about this process, but it returned as brining the bird because all the barbecue folks had to figure out how to keep chicken from drying out on long cooks at low temps.

Thus, someone remembered what their grandmother did years ago with fresh chickens and tried it for a different reason. And it worked. Who knew...

I have a cast iron skillet that has never had anyting in it but fried chicken and it's over 35 yrs. old.

B.D.

The Cooking Ninja said...

Thank you for sharing with us beautiful story of your grandparents.

Homesick Texan said...

Lisa--You're welcome!


Terry--That's interesting, I never realized it was also done to make the bird less gamey.

The cooking ninja--You're welcome!

Tartelette said...

Reading this was like reading a novel. I love grandparents stories, they are always so "educational" and at the same time comforting. Great recipe!

Anonymous said...

My Great Grandmother, rest her soul,was from the south, & when she grew up, every family had a pot of bacon fat next to the stove to flavour everything. I am a chef & know that bacon fat is not very good for you, but she brined her chickens, swore by shaking them in a paper bag & fried them in bacon fat, and as little kids, nothing beat the moiture & flavour. Same ith her greasy beans & cornbread.

From Libby

Culinarily Curious said...

I'm a bit behind on my blog reading, but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the story of the beginning of your grandparents' life and legacy together. Your rendition of a family heirloom recipe in their honor is a perfect tribute to two lives well lived. Thank you for sharing a piece of them and of you with us!

O'Dub said...

For an extra crispy version add some cornstarch to the flour.

Instead of brining one can also buy kosher chicken which is brined to remove the blood. Empire Kosher has a line of kosher chicken that is wonderful. The chicken is a little salty, so add little salt to the flour.

Empire Kosher products (including whole chickens and turkeys) can be found in many grocery stores throught the US. If your store doesn't carry their fresh poultry products, look in the frozen food section, or on-line at http://www.empirekosher.com/

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing you memories;my favorit son in law one an only love fried chicken , and a very good cook but no luck with fried chicken he is not southren born, sending on your fried chicken from Grams

masdevallia said...

Thank you for sharing your grandparents story. Three out of my grandparents were gone before I was born. I have so much respect and admiration for our elders. I only wish I'd had some grands of my own to learn from.

I love good fried chicken. I rarely make it for a few reasons, but when I do it makes me happy. I've never brined my chicken before frying. I do brine my Thanksgiving bird with great results. You're inspiring me to give the oven a night off and step up to the stove!

Paige said...

Oh my goodness. My boyfriend and I, after FINALLY purchasing a cast iron skillet, have been meaning to tackle fried chicken. I was a bit intimidated, as his grandmother is the master of fried chicken (as most of our Texas grandmothers are). Well, we looked up your recipe, because you haven't led us astray yet, and goodness did it turn out well. We used the brine method, and it made for such tender juicy meat and such a thin crispy wonderful skin. I also wanted to thank you for sharing your story behind your great-grandmother's recipe and your grandparents marriage. I got all teary-eyed as I read it, and I think it added something very special to our experience making our own. Thank you again for the recipe!

Lisa said...

I love the stories that you tell...this one choked me up a bit because my 6 yr old son is so wonderful to me, and I feel lucky as I do believe that this is the path he and I will always be on together, and yes I did look to my husband and see what a wonderful relationship he and his mother have. You really warmed my heart as well as my belly!

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated to avoid spam. And if you don't have a blog, please leave your name as it makes it friendlier that way!