Following last week’s column on chicken and dumplings and other old-school dishes and kitchen skills, I was surprised to hear from so many who had never tried most of the kitchen skills everyone should “learn or at least attempt.” Many that responded were quick to tell me they “can” make dumplings, just not old-school ones made with flour, buttermilk and Crisco.
Popular substitutions included sliced tortillas, canned biscuits and the frozen variety from the supermarket. These do count and can be quite good, but I hope skeptics will at least attempt to make the old-fashioned variety using what I consider to be an easy, tried-and-true recipe.
Believe me when I say I’m not attempting to portray myself as a fearless cook, game for any kitchen challenge. During the height of the pandemic, a scaled-down Thanksgiving celebration created the need to cook the first turkey I’d even attempted. Using Ina Garten’s recipe, I produced a golden-brown turkey that was actually edible. Admittedly, I experienced a few anxious hours, primarily when trying to get the large bird defrosted and oven-ready while worrying about salmonella. I have a funny story about giving the turkey a water bath in a dish pan placed in my bathtub, but I’ll save that for a later date.
The point is, even when you’ve never tried something, the result can be confidence-inducing and yes, edible.
One often-intimidating item I left off last week’s list is fried chicken. For some reason, the thought of producing perfectly fried chicken in a skillet of bubbling oil is oft putting for many. It wasn’t until the hit movie, “The Help,” produced a cooking class in 2012 utilizing the recipes used by the food stylist that I attempted to learn to fry chicken.
I adopted an attitude of complete confidence as I stood next to other class members as we dipped coated chicken pieces into cast-iron skillets filled with hot oil. Keeping a close eye on the instructor, I dipped, turned and ultimately removed crispy chicken pieces from my skillet and onto dinner plates bearing homemade mac and cheese, greens and the best biscuits I’d ever made (or tasted) in my life.
The biscuit recipe is a bit lengthy to print, but if you’d like it, just drop me an email and I’ll send it to you along with any of the other recipes.
In the meantime, get out your cast iron skillet (or purchase one) and fry some chicken. As one of my cooking class members joked the night we all mastered the skill: “Unless you know how to fry chicken, are you really even a Mississippian?”
MINNY’S FRIED CHICKEN*
1 (3- to 4-pound) whole chicken, cut into pieces (or use your favorite chicken parts, i.e., equal pounds of breasts, legs, thighs, etc.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup self-rising flour
■ Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, then place pieces in a zip-top plastic bag and add buttermilk. Seal bag and chill for at least two hours.
■ Remove chicken from buttermilk (do not reuse buttermilk; discard) and dredge chicken in flour to coat. Pour oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches in a deep skillet or Dutch oven and using a cooking thermometer, make sure oil is heated to at least 350 degrees.
■ Turning with tongs every couple of minutes, fry chicken on both sides. Adjust heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300-325 degrees, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165 degrees. (Cooking takes about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for legs, thighs and breasts.)
■ Place a cooling rack inside a rimmed sheet pan and transfer chicken pieces to rack to drain. Serve hot.
*Recipe varies a little from the book and from the movie “The Help.” Crisco was used instead of oil, so feel free to use that if you prefer. Also, Minny placed chicken and spices in a paper bag to coat.