Show-stopping Southern fried chicken

Photo by Keri White.

My husband is Southern. People are always shocked when they hear about a Jewish guy from Arkansas, but his family was part of an active community. He also makes a mean fried chicken.

My editor, who cut some of his journalistic chops in Little Rock of all places and knows his way around Southern cuisine, suggested that I feature “chicken fried chicken” when I pitched this column.

Chicken fried chicken, an Arkansas favorite, differs from fried chicken, as near as I can tell, in that it does not contain bones. Essentially, it is a deep-fried chicken cutlet: What’s not to love? Maybe we’ll try that next time, but for now, we’ll stick with tradition.

That said, this recipe would work just fine with boneless breasts, so choose your preferred bird. There is one slight snag for kosher diners vis-a-vis traditional Southern fried chicken — it is often marinated overnight in buttermilk. However, kosher style cooks can work around this by creating their own nondairy buttermilk, as described below.

Because the chicken is a bit of a show-stopper, and heavy besides, I’d recommend lighter, complementary sides. We went for stewed collard greens, but a fresh, citrusy slaw, a cucumber salad, sliced tomatoes or some roasted veggies work nicely with this. But if you want to go wild and make onion rings, mashed potatoes and biscuits, who am I to judge?

For dessert, keep it simple. Fresh fruit, sorbet, brownies or cookies punctuate this meal nicely.

Southern Fried Chicken

Serves 4 generously
A word on the chicken: My family is picky and only eats breast meat, so we buy (double) breasts and cut them into four pieces. Yes, cutting through bone is a drag, but trying to cook those huge pieces and time them correctly is even more of a drag. Accommodate your crowd; if they are drumstick eaters or lovers of wings, portion accordingly.

8 pieces chicken
1 cup nondairy milk (cook’s choice)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons salt

Place the milk and vinegar in a glass. Let it sit for a few minutes until the milk curdles. Mix it well and pour it into a large zip-close bag or Tupperware.

Add the onion, Tabasco and salt; mix well.

Add the chicken, coat it and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

Coat and fry
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each salt, pepper and paprika
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper, if desired
3 cups Crisco shortening or vegetable oil (not olive oil)
Paper bag, wax or parchment paper, deep-fry thermometer

Drain the chicken in a colander; discard the marinade and onions (or coat these with excess flour and fry into onion rings.

In a large paper bag, mix the flour and seasonings. One piece at a time, place the chicken in the bag and shake to coat it; knock off any excess. Remove the chicken from the bag and place it on parchment or wax paper. Allow it to sit for about 45 minutes.

Heat your oven to 250 degrees to keep the chicken warm.

In a large cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil or shortening to 350 degrees.

Using tongs, place the chicken pieces, 4 at a time, into the skillet, turning occasionally until uniformly brown and crisp, approximately 12 minutes per batch.

When done, place the chicken on racks in the warm oven while the remaining batch cooks.

Stewed Collard Greens

Serves 4
These traditional Southern greens go well with the chicken without being overly heavy. If you can’t find collards, use kale or turnip greens.

1 large bunch collard greens, rinsed thoroughly and coarsely chopped
1 smoked turkey hock, or a few slices of turkey bacon
A few sprinkles red pepper flakes
Generous pinch of salt
2 cups water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

In a large pot with a cover, place the turkey hock, the red pepper flakes and the salt. Add 2 cups of water and vinegar and bring it to a boil. Allow it to cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes to release the smoked flavor.

Add the collard greens to the pot, stir, bring it to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the greens are wilted and cooked through.

Discard the turkey and serve the greens.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-area food writer.

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