Okay, I will admit I’m not really the “kitchen type.” I can cook; don’t get me wrong. I just don’t enjoy it. Cooking, for me, is a means to an end. I cook only because we need to eat. My husband, on the other hand, can be described as an amateur chef. He loves to cook. He loves to be given an ingredient (preferably something that can be turned into a main course) and see what kind of meal he can create. That sort of Iron Chef challenge might literally reduce me to tears.
You need to know that to understand why, on a recent Thursday night, my husband crossed off an item from his kitchen bucket list. He fried his first chicken. Ah, if it were only that simple.
A few weeks ago, my husband mentioned in passing that he wanted to fry a whole chicken. Not "whole turkey" style (which he's done with ease several times for holidays) but rather buying a chicken, cutting it to spec, and then frying it up for dinner. I didn't think much of it at the time.
Then, on a recent trip visiting his family, he mentioned this pursuit to his mom, a true Southern cook. She immediately shot back "it's a lot easier just to buy fried chicken." When further informed he wanted to cut it up too, she just gave him that look that mothers in-the-know save for special times.
It seems a recent TV show featuring Chef Scott Peacock, formerly of Watershed, demonstrating the restaurant's famous Tuesday chicken dinner recipe and cooking method brought on this culinary obsession. (If they only offered in-house demonstrations too.) Thus, we began our 72-hour journey to fried chicken. That's right, it is only fitting that our meal-to-be begin with three days of rest in brine and buttermilk.
On Monday, we purchased the chicken. After scouring YouTube for the best butchering demonstration, the chicken dismantling goes with relative ease. He divides the bird up into eight pieces, just as directed, and the two breasts pair up perfectly. He is so proud. Next stop: a 48-hour dip in salty brine.
Two nights later, the brine is replaced with buttermilk. We are within a day of his mission. Our meals each night this week have specifically avoided anything similar to Southern fare. It's important to show proper anticipation for the fried chicken to be served.
Thursday evening starts with the prepping of the lard. That's right, I am informed that to fry a chicken authentically, you must use lard. And per this recipe, the lard is to be flavored by melting down the lard with a stick of butter and country ham. Soon, the lard is ready and temped for frying in our cast-iron pan. In goes batch one.
Watching the timer and examining his bird, the frustration begins. Skin from the chicken sticks to the bottom of the pan. The temperature is not holding. I watch, somewhat supportive and somewhat amused. After 20 minutes or so, batch one comes out. It looks like perfectly fried chicken, but it does not meet his standards.
With batch two, he starts with fewer pieces - "don't crowd the pan," he offers, talking to no one in particular. Once the side items of homegrown peas and creamed corn are ready, my daughter and I are happy to eat. Still, he fries.
Eventually, he admits the skin pieces he was able to salvage are quite tasty. And my piece of chicken tasted quite good. Batch two was completed and looked near perfect. Alas, it also failed to live up to the standard of perfection that every home cook should hold the first time trying out a new recipe.
My husband declares the meal a failure as I help myself to more vegetables and a chicken leg. After two hours of fussing with fried chicken, he can only declare, "That Jennifer LeRoy was crazy. Who could stand around all day and only fry chicken?"
And with that, he declares himself done with frying chicken. "Ever?,” I ask. Done, he assures me. The last recipe to get 86'd that quickly in our house was the popovers from BLT Steak.
And the lesson learned, though he won't admit it, is as usual: Mom knows best.