Southern Fried Chicken

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    6

Appears in

The Cook’s Canon: 101 Recipes Everyone Should Know

The Cook’s Canon

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2003

  • About

Millions have been made on chicken pieces fried in deep fat. And millions of Americans care deeply about their notion of where it came from and how it should be cooked. We can probably all agree about a few basic things in this otherwise contentious area. It comes from the South. It is always dredged in some kind of flour or other starch. It is chicken.

Of course, there are many other foods that are “southern-fried.” I have eaten southern-fried quail and southern-fried eggplant. I have even tried to eat southern-fried bacon in a downtown Atlanta cafeteria. I love southern-fried catfish and hush puppies, which are balls of southern-fried cornmeal. The trouble is that I think while I eat. I know that the southern part of “southern-fried” is a polite way of claiming for Dixie what came to the prebellum South in the minds of slaves from West Africa. Saying this is almost as inflammatory as telling Mexicans that their national saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, takes her name from a shrine devoted to the Virgin Mary in Spain, in a place called Guadalupe.

How do I know for sure that southern frying is really African frying? Because I have seen and tasted “southern-fried” food all over the Caribbean and in parts of South America with significant black populations descended from slaves. The hush puppy is only the northern extension of a Yoruba fritter made in the United States with cornmeal instead of with the black-eyed pea flour black women street vendors use to make what they call acaraje in Brazil’s Bahia province. Black-eyed peas are imports to the West Atlantic rim from Africa, and Bahian acaraje are identical to fritters of the same name that are still a popular food in Nigeria. And they are first cousins of the acrats eaten in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Someday, an ambitious person will gather all these post-African recipes and assemble them in a book of West Atlantic Creole food, the food of the Americas-born children of slaves. Then we will really understand the full splendor of the tradition that southern-fried chicken belongs in.

This is not to attack Colonel Sanders or Sarah Rutledge, the Charlestonian daughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who included a recipe for southern-fried chicken in The Carolina Housewife (1847). Her recipe does not differ from a dozen others published since by cooks both white and black. If the method is undoubtedly African, there is much in it that evolved here and that affects the taste of the dish. In particular, lard is the “authentic” local substitution for the African palm oil (which was successfully transplanted to South America and is what those street cooks in Bahia use). The spice is another important indicator. Black cooks, or commercial purveyors who want to attract a black clientele, put in red pepper, lots of it.

But in the United States of America every group can enjoy the style of living it prefers, even if that means buying Colonel Sander’s, uncrisp, blandly seasoned “original” Kentucky-fried chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 small chickens (3 pounds or less) cut into 8 pieces each, or 16 precut chicken pieces, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 cup lard, at room temperature, or 1 cup vegetable oil, approximately

Method

  1. Put the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a large paper bag. Shake the bag to mix the ingredients.
  2. Put a few of the chicken pieces in the bag, Shake well to coat the chicken with the flour mixture. Remove from the bag to a sheet of wax paper with tongs. Shake the excess flour back into the bag. Continue until all the chicken pieces are coated with the flour. Cover with a second sheet of wax paper and let stand at room temperature for an hour, so that the flour will adhere to the chicken.
  3. Heat a skillet large enough to hold all the chicken pieces and put in the lard. When the lard melts, slide in the chicken pieces. Cover and cook over medium-high heat. The lard should come halfway up the chicken. Turn at least once with tongs, so that the chicken pieces are golden brown on all sides. About 10 minutes per side.
  4. Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.