Big Mama’s Fried Chicken

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This is a recipe that I found via Pinterest.  It initially comes from Grandbaby Cakes’ founder Jocelyn Delk Adams, and this is her grandmothers recipe, but I found it through Food52’s article featuring Adams, her family, and this recipe for fried chicken.  I’m linking to the article because it’s nice to read a bit about the recipes’ beginnings, plus the recipe can be found in the article.

I wanted to try this recipe for several reasons.  It’s a heritage recipe, going back a few generations and I love those.  It’s fried chicken and I’m always looking for ways to do up fried chicken.  Her grandmother was from Mississippi (awww!  <3).  And lastly, this is a recipe from a black family.  I’ll agree that normally colour shouldn’t matter when discussing things, but certain foods are just better from different people because of their own spins on how they prepare it.  I’ve had white people fried chicken and black people fried chicken (and Choctaw fried chicken) – all southern fried – and I’ll pick the recipes from black people every time, if I can.

Now, I’m new (relatively speaking) to the ways of frying.  I’m still trying to master it (Knowing the techniques versus actually implementing them are two different things).  My dad’s fried chicken recipe is really, really good (and the chicken fried up by our Choctaw friends is pretty similar), however it’s a completely different type of fried chicken to what is prepared by black people, so to me that is highly important and these are the types of recipes that I am seeking out in regards to frying chicken.

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Ingredients (though I forgot the eggs in the photo & to move the flour jar forward)
  • 8 – 10 Chicken pieces
  • 3 lg Eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp Hot Sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 1/2 C AP Flour
  • 3 Tbs Seasoned Salt
  • 3 Tbs Cornstarch
  • 2 tsp Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbs Onion Powder
  • Oil for frying

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, hot sauce, and worcestershire.  In a paper bag, add the dry ingredients: flour, starch, salt, paprika, cayenne, pepper, garlic, & onion.  Shake to mix well.

Dip each piece of chicken into the egg wash coating both sides and then dip into the seasoned flour.  Add the chicken to a baking sheet to rest.  Let sit 10 – 15 minutes.  Add 1 1/2″ oil to a cast iron skillet and heat over medium heat.  Turn oven to 275 degrees.

Fry four pieces at a time (but don’t crowd the pan), cooking the dark meat first (because it takes longer).  After each side is slightly golden, cover the skillet with a lid to let the insides of the meat steam.  After a few minutes, remove the lid and continue to cook the chicken until the crust has re-crisped and is completely golden brown.

Place chicken on paper towels to drain and then place on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep in the warmed oven until all of the frying is finished.

 

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Dry ingredients in the bag, pre-shaking.

We always keep paper bags around our house for the purposes of frying various foods.  I like to get my food placed into it instead of plastic at any of our local stores that keep these in stock.  My dad, however, just gets everything in plastic and then asks for paper bags.

They do come in quite handy for coating foods to be fried.  We use them for coating catfish, chicken, and pork.  We also have a great family recipe for floured french fries (omg they’re so delicious!).  We also use these instead of paper towels for draining purposes.  Dad will generally take something out of the fryer, put it in a mesh strainer on a plate, to drain, then to continue draining her puts it on a cooking tray that has a paper bag laid flat on top.  However, for this recipe, I followed the instructions and used paper towels.  But if you do any frying, you don’t need a fancy contraption for coating an item in a batter (they do sell them), as a paper bag will do you just fine.

 

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The spicy egg wash

I admit that I was slightly hesitant to try this recipe and almost decided to nix some ingredients, but I stuck it out and forged ahead and there were no deviations.  See, I’m iffy about spicy foods.  I like a little kick, but tend to avoid things like cayenne and tabasco when seasoning foods, and I think it’s because I’ve been burned (oh, I’m so punny!) in the past because there wasn’t a harmonious co-mingling of ingredients, but merely a strong taste of just hot sauce or an overpowering burning sensation and it was all just so disappointing.

 

My grandpa and dad used to be really into spicy things.  Some spicy vinegar thing that has green beans in it, that they’ll have on the table of a not very fancy eating establishment.  Also hot sauces.  They liked Panola because that’s where my grandparent’s brother-in-law worked, and so dad liked that too.  After my grandpa died and my dad grew older, all of that pretty much stopped.

But, luckily we do keep a lot of things around, things that don’t go bad; so we have this tee-niny bottle of tabasco sauce from probably 1983 that someone gave us, which I could use for the recipe.  Also, southerners tend to call things by a brand name like all cotton swabs are q-tips and all nasal tissue is kleenex.  They’re not even proper noun brand names in this fashion, but merely a regular noun like box.  Tabasco is no exception.  Most people, including my family, refer to all hot sauces as tobasco, lower cased.

 

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Egg washin some chicken

Traditionally for fried chicken you’re going to just cut up a whole chicken.  We hardly have whole fryer chickens in our freezer as my dad, who is in charge of meats and the purchasing and storing, will just buy a flat of fresh chicken legs or a flat of wings (to either cook immediately or freeze in freezer bags) or a bag of frozen chicken breasts, wings etc.  He wasn’t eating chicken, so I just thawed out some chicken breasts in various sizes.

 

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I wrestled with that bag… and won

It’s not easy preparing something to fry, having only two hands, and as you can see.  It’s quite messy and the bag put up a good fight, but I won.  I’m being funny, but honestly it is messy.  That’s spiced flour from one hand coating the left side of the bag and then that’s spicy egg wash and chicken juice from my other hand coating the right of the bag.  This is pretty much what to expect unless you have helpers so one does the washing, one does the coating and one does the pulling the items out of the bag bit.

She didn’t note in her recipe, and it should go without saying, but I’ll go ahead and state that you should close the top of the bag and roll it towards the bottom to close it.  You should leave about a 2 – 3″ gap between the layer of stuff in there (meat included) and the rolled closure that you’ve made.  That’s a good distance so that the items can tossle about while you gently to moderately shake the bag (don’t be too violent or you’ll rip the bag) to evenly coat the item.  Too much space and they won’t get coated very well and you run the risk of tearing the bag.  Always keep one hand on the closed-roll top and one on the bottom; it helps with keeping the bag closed, keeping it from ripping or tearing, and helps to better get things coated.

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Resting the chicken

So, this is the part where you lay the coated chicken pieces on a baking tray to rest.  Mine actually rested a lot longer than the suggested 10 – 15 minutes (which is probably not good) because of our janky range burners, which I’ll discuss more in a minute.

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My ceiling reflected in oil.

I used our 9″ cast iron skillet, but I probably should have used the 11″ which is our largest size.  An inch and a half of oil pretty much filled this skillet halfway.  While I did like this recipe, I also had trouble with the frying bit.  I know all the safeties of frying with oil and that’s never a problem, but actually getting that perfect fry is something that’s still not up to par for me.

For one, our range burners keep being on the fritz.  Their registers aren’t, well… registering properly.  So, for one burner if you should be cooking on four, you’ll be there all day because it’s registering as off or 2.  With most foods that I cook I make them often enough (eggs, grilled cheese, heating up soup, etc) that I know exactly how to raise and lower the temperatures to get it to register heat and not burn.  When we get enough money saved I’m going to INSIST that we purchase a new range and oven.  The time of continually replacing and rigging and fixing the burners and registers is long past over.

But I digress.  The point is that I fry so infrequently, that I don’t want to start it at 9 or 8 and adjust lower at the appropriate time.  Cast iron heats up quickly and retains heat far longer than aluminum or other metals and super hot oil is extremely dangerous.  So, I erred on the side of caution with this recipe and it took 45 minutes for the oil to reach 350 degrees (which is the temperature that you want for frying).

But if you’re new to frying follow the directions.  For this recipe she wants you to fry at medium high heat, which is between 5-6 and 7-8.  If you’re unsure about 1 1/2″ of oil, a good thing to remember is in a skillet, never fill the oil over the halfway mark.  In a heavy pot, never fill over 3/4 (generally between half and three-fourths is OK, but not so close to the latter).

She wants skillet frying and suggests cast iron or another skillet that has a heavy bottom.  This is a good suggestion.  You never want to fry in anything that is flimsy.  Ever.

Oil has to be the right temperature to fry.  Too hot and you run the risk of smoking, burning, and grease fires; too low and your food will just soak up oil like it’s nobodies business, which results in heavily greasy food and sour faces.  She and her family test the oil by sprinkling a bit of flour in.  Our Choctaw friends use this method when frying as well.  This is a good method.

My family always sprinkled in a little water.  I don’t know why.  Water and oil don’t mix, and I’m not talking about that old adage, but literally hot oil and cold water do not mix.  It pops and sputters violently if you add frozen items to hot oil (because of the ice) and it does the same if water is sprinkled over the surface to test if it’s ready.  Do not utilize this method.

I, personally, have better luck with a thermometer.  Once it reaches 350, I gently slide some of my items in (because you don’t want to just throw them in or make splashes in the oil).  However, what I forget is that after a batch you must let the oil return to the proper temperature.  So, my second batch of this chicken wasn’t as good as the first because the oil hadn’t returned to 350 again.

Also, new oil won’t brown your items like used oil.  People in the south who fry a lot buy oil by the gallons (like my large jug in the ingredients photo).  Once you fry something you strain the oil back into the container once it’s cooled down.  You can reuse this oil 2-5 times depending on what you’ve been frying with it or if you burnt the oil.  You don’t want to burn the oil, that’s bad.

Little pieces of food (depending on the food) and your batter will end up at the bottom of the pot or skillet that you fried it in.  So you’ll use a funnel and a wire mesh strainer to return your cooled used oil back into the container and keep these bits from ending up in there with it.  I personally prefer to make roux’s for gravies from butter, but a lot of southerners will make gravy from the bobbity bits left over from frying.  If you didn’t burn those items, then they along with the little bit of oil that’s left with them after straining do make a good gravy.  But, that’s enough of that, we’re not too gravies yet, so we’ll get on to the actual frying of this chicken.

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We’re fryin chicken!

So, this is the initial step of frying for a small amount of time just until the batter is slightly golden.  The bubbling looks good, it’s not too sporadic and crazy, nor too slow.  But, I probably should have only had two pieces in, as I think my other problem was that I did over crowd the pan.

 

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Steaming the chicken.

I really liked this step.  It sounded scary like the oil was going to blow the lid off, but really all was well.  It did make the chicken all nice and juicy and actually cooked through.  As you can see, anything that works can be used as a lid.  This is actually the lid from the heavy pot that I deep fry in.  But, it’s a perfect lid for this size skillet and for working with oil, so yay!  Also, if you’re using cast iron, always use a pot holder (or fold one for double insulation like I do – as shown in the photo), because those things get HOT!

The pot belonged to my maternal grandmother and sadly the lid handle was too gnarly from age and broke one day.  She, hailing from the north originally, never used anything for deep-frying and apparently her Northern Fried Chicken was abysmal.  I never had it, but it’s probably because she didn’t season her chicken, because there’s nothing wrong with skillet frying chicken.

 

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The chicken after its steam bath.

This is the third step of frying, after steaming you remove the lid and continue to cook the chicken until it’s golden brown.  Adams says that this will make the batter crispy again.  I found that my batter was barely crispy, which I was sad about.  But, it probably has more to do with me overcrowding the pan, not having the oil at the correct temperature, using new oil, and our range burners, than with her actual recipe.

The flavour of this chicken was amazing!  I’m not a fan of spicy, but it wasn’t super spicy and was just really tasty and flavourful with a nice slight kick, while the inside was juicy and not dry.  I would definitely make this again, and this time check my points so I can see what went wrong and hopefully get a better crust on the chicken.  First though, I really want to try her other fried chicken recipe which is Sweet Tea Fried Chicken.  I don’t know what that’s like and I don’t even like sweet tea, but I really want to see what it’s like, because I’m thinking it will be amazing.

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Draining and warming

 

 

 

Measurements:

* lg = large
* tsp = teaspoon
* C = cup
* Tbs = tablespoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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