The dinner bell’s ringing and Mama’s got a hot skillet piled high with golden fried chicken on the stove. The children come a running to the table with hungry eyes and Papa sits at the head and cracks open a beer. Tonight, there’s grits and collards and if we’re lucky, that sweet smell comin’ from the oven is Mama’s apple pie. You’d never know by lookin at it, but earlier that morning, Mama rung that poor chicken’s neck, plucked its feathers and dressed it just for us. Daddy always gets the big piece of chicken cause if it wasn’t for him, we’d surely starve to death.
Sometimes, I stand in the kitchen and watch Mama take that poor thing apart. With a long, thin knife, she takes off the legs, one at a time. She claims that’s the good part cause the dark meat’s more tender. Then she slides that knife right down the chicken’s back and against its ribcage to remove the big piece of white meat. I like that white meat, but so does everybody else. That’s why Mama cuts each breast into two, so that we can all share. Then she sticks all the meat in what she calls “a brine.” Gives it more flavor, she says. We wait ‘bout an hour. Afterward, Mama hands me paper towels and we pat the chicken parts dry and dip them in a big bowl of flour. You gotta shake ‘em afterwards or the flour doesn’t fry right. Then Mama heats up the skillet till it starts smoking and puts the chicken parts in with the skin on the underside. It sizzles and pops and sometimes the oil gets on the floor. I keep my distance so I don’t get burned but Mama don’t seem to mind the hot oil one bit. She must be used to it. Once the chicken’s nice and golden, we turn down the heat and cover the skillet. Bout a half hour later, dinner’s ready and I get to ring the bell.
Mama’s Fried Chicken
Serves one imaginary Southern family
1 fryer chicken, cut up in 10 pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup salt
5 cups water
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the raw chicken on a dry cutting board. With a very sharp knife, separate the legs from the body. (You shouldn’t have to cut through any bones, there is a small gap between the joints.) Then separate the legs from the thighs. To remove the breasts, drag the knife along the backbone. The blade will favor one side. Remove that side first by sliding your knife under the breast, along the ribcage. Do the same to the other breast. Cut each breast in half, on a diagonal. Then separate the wings from the carcass. Discard the carcass.
Place the chicken pieces in a brine (made up of the sugar, salt and water) for two hours. Combine the flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Coat it in flour and shake off the excess. Fill a pan with two inches of vegetable oil. Heat it to 375 degrees. Place the chicken in, skin side down and sear it to a nice golden brown. Reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, occasionally turning the chicken. Serve with grits and collard greens.