Independence Day. The 4th of July. The jewel in the crown of summer holidays.
When you hear these words, you probably think of fireworks, parades, or the Founding Fathers.
Mention this event to my family, however, and I assure you, their first thoughts will conjure up this patriotic image: a heaping platter of fried chicken.
This particular association began with my mother, who offered to fix it for the 4th of July about 20 years ago, and taught me the process at that time. It was so well received that we made it a holiday tradition. As a rule, we don’t fry food often at our house (all that nasty cholesterol business, ya know), but on the 4th, we make an exception.
Mom handled frying duty for many years, and I would assist when called upon, but when the torch got passed a few years ago, my husband took over for her. For this reason, I’d never taken on the role of lead fry cook. But this year, as the holiday neared, I told him I needed to fly solo on chicken duty. Here’s why:
A few months ago, I read an AMA (ask me anything) with Dave Grohl on some social media outlet – Reddit, maybe – and someone asked him what his favorite food is. His response? “Fried fucking chicken.”
Until that moment, I had no idea what any of the five Foos liked to eat, save for the general guidelines I’d been able to glean from the tour rider. Yet, here was my first nugget of valuable food information. It wasn’t much, but it was a start to my Foo Fighters culinary education.
“Fried fucking chicken.” I read that and became nearly giddy with joy! It had been a while, but I could fry chicken! I just needed to practice.
Now, just so there is no confusion about me and my skills in the kitchen, let me state unequivocally that I am NOT now, nor have I ever been, a chef. I’m just a cook. A highly competent cook, but a cook, nonetheless.
I’ve had no formal cooking instruction. I don’t create 4-star restaurant-quality meals with reduction sauces and chiffonades, and then serve them on a domed plate with a sprig of parsley or a rosemary leaf as garnish. Not that I couldn’t, if I had to, but it’s just not how I roll.
I don’t wear chef’s whites and scream obscenities at people in my kitchen. I will admit to having a nearly uncontrollable urge to scream obscenities at the people who hover uselessly in my kitchen during a family gathering, but that’s just because they’re impeding progress.
I don’t liken myself to Julia Child or Wolfgang Puck or Gordon Ramsay. I’m just a Jewish mother who knows how to feed people. And feeding people fulfills some deep need in me. It could just be part and parcel of motherhood, but in my case, I suspect it was just ingrained in me by the women who raised me.
I’m a good technician in the kitchen. I’m not big on fixing complex dishes. What I fix is not fancy, but it tastes good and it’s filling and you’ll never leave my table hungry. That’s a promise.
Now, back to the fried fucking chicken…
At the start of the process, my husband showed me the optimal level and temperature for the oil in the skillet, handed me a couple of brown paper grocery sacks for the dredging process, and graciously retreated to his office. This was to be my first solo attempt, after all. He would direct from afar if necessary, but this was my show. If fried chicken was important to Dave Grohl, I needed to be able to deliver it.
Good fried chicken starts with diligent prep work, which is critical. I’m not going to explain my whole process here (c’mon! I have to keep some things close to the vest), but I’ll tell you that the first step is skinning the chicken. Some people balk at this step. Skin the chicken first?? But that’s sacrilege!! How can you have good, crispy chicken, they ask, if you take off the skin?
The trick is in the battering process, which is the heart of careful prep work. I decided to double batter my chicken, deviating slightly from the original method my mom taught me. It was a good move, and resulted in a thick, crunchy, delicious crust. Get the crust right and you’ll never miss that nasty, fatty skin.
Frying chicken is not a quickie endeavor. If you’re going to cook for a crowd, you need to plan on spending the day in the kitchen. Wear comfortable shoes or you’ll be feeling it later. Expect the kitchen to get messy, because it will. This is not just a main dish, it’s a labor of love. But it’s worth it.
So, how did I do on my first solo attempt? I’m happy to report that I prepared a magnificent batch of fried chicken. It was delicious – browned to perfection, crispy and subtly seasoned. I couldn’t have been more pleased with my work.
And in light of this landmark culinary victory, I have a message for Dave and the rest of the band:
Dave, if fried chicken is what you desire, I will be delighted and honored to provide it. And as soon as I know what the rest of the band wants to eat, I’ll fire up the oven and make it happen.
After all, I live to serve.