Monday, April 26, 2010

Country Fried Chicken

I recall childhood days when the family would go on vacation to Florida the hard way, driving through the scenic hills of Kentucky and Tennessee the hard way (before the Interstate network). Once, we stopped in Kentucky overnight at a motel that had a pool (remember this was in the 1950s) and was lined with knotty pine paneling. In the morning, a piped-in wake-up call included chirping birds and crowing roosters. But the real treat was supper the night before. It was the original Colonel Harlan Sanders Kentucky fried chicken (before being spoiled by takeovers and franchising). I never forgot the taste of that fried chicken, although I have had many other kinds of fried chicken just as good in their way, and I keep trying to get my recipe closer to what I remember that 1940s version tasted like.
There were two things about the Colonel's cooking method that made it special. One was the pressure-frying technique, followed by baking to drain the excess oil and enhance the crispiness. The other was the blend of herbs and spices. I want to say it involved 15 different herbs and spices, but I'm honestly not sure.
I use the "mom's old-fashioned" technique of double-coating and shaking the chicken pieces in a paper bag to evenly coat the flour mixture. I also use a "tempura-like" technique of adding corn starch to the flour mixture to help enhance the crispiness.
One chicken, cut up, skin on. Or a dozen legs, four breasts, or similar combination of your favorite chicken parts.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1/1 tsp cardamon
1/2 tsp powdered clove
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup canola oil with two Tbsp. butter (no substitutes, sorry.)
Beat the egg and milk in a glass pie pan or other flat dish
combine all the dry ingredients into a paper grocery bag. I use double-bagging for safety.
Dredge the chicken pieces one by one on all sides and drop into the bag with the flour mixture. Shake the bag (hold the bottom).
Remove the chicken pieces, dredge in the egg-milk again and drop back into the bag, shake again.
Heat the oil-butter mixture in pressure cooker. Carefully drop in the coated chicken pieces. Cover and seal (5 pounds pressure is enough. If you don't have a pressure cooker, a good skillet will do, but reduce heat and cover with aluminum foil to prevent spattering). Cook about 10 minutes to brown, turn the pieces and repeat.
Remove the pieces from the oil and place on a baking pan with a rack to allow the excess oil to drip away. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for a half-hour, turn the pieces and bake another half-hour.

The accent for the fried chicken is twice-baked potatoes.
I use Idaho bakers. Wash and pat-dry the potato. Cut the skin on top of the potato to create a vent. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for one hour.
Remove the potato and carefully cut a large opening in the top (hold the potato for this, because it's not easy. Use a baking mitt, of course!) Scrape out the potato into a bowl, add 1 Tbsp. of butter (or sour cream) and mash the potato with a fork. Add a little cream or milk to get the desired consistency. Whip the mixture, then spoon it back into the potato skin. At this point, you could add a piece of cheddar or some cream cheese to the top of the mashed potato. Place on a piece of foil to prevent dribbling the cheese on the bottom of the oven and return the potato for another 35 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly brown.