It's good!

Served hot or cold, fried chicken scores big with the Super Bowl crowd watching at home, whether they’re Patriots or Eagles fans. (Béatrice de Géa / LAT)

There are three great feast days in winter: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday. Of these, only the Super Bowl involves food that is actually popular. Out goes cranberry sauce and in come chicken wings, chips, guacamole, pizza and beer. On this day of days, we not only eat our favorite things, but we also come to it with high feeling and great sense of occasion. It is the Last Snack. There won't be another license to graze like it until March Madness strikes.

As the day approaches, all we need is a game plan. Not so much what to eat, but in what order? The way food goes down, or, indeed, whether we should attempt to eat at all, will depend entirely on how our guys are doing.

The commander in chief's nemesis, pretzels, along with tortilla chips and black bean salsa, should be served first, while the choking risk is lowest and everyone's sitting up straight, before sacks, fumbles, interceptions and blown field goals assume cataclysmically throat-tightening proportions.

As Tom Brady shoots a bullet past Jevon Kearse, it's time to move on to tension-relieving foods, stuff that can be gnawed, ripped and torn: pizza, chicken legs, more pizza. Come to think of it, maybe fried chicken would be the idea this year, since the game's in Jacksonville, Fla. Fry up a lot of it; it's almost as good cold.

The mangos in the black bean salsa extend the Florida metaphor; the queso fresco will please guests who only pretend to like the sport.

The menu's the same for losers and winners, with the note that losers may wish to skulk to the kitchen to run down the clock building elaborate sandwiches to supplement the fried chicken; either can be chewed in a sulky reclining position, while inspiring envy in fans of the wrong team. And coleslaw goes with both.

Anything that can be spilled, stain the sofa or end up on the drapes should not come out until halftime, during which there's no chance that an Akers kick might bounce off the goal post.

We thoughtfully left out the gravy because if Donovan McNabb is sacked for a 20-yard loss, the only righteous reaction for an Eagles fan would be to thwack the drumstick against the sofa.

Armed with menu plans for an exciting game, we do have to face the possibility of a rout. The average margin of Super Bowl victories is 16 points, and only eight games of the 38 have been decided by fewer than seven points.

This can't be fixed with pizza. You either have to switch sports, or go to the video store, rent "Friday Night Lights" and go back to the snacking strategies A or B.

Then, real game or fictional, all you need is a prize. Key lime pie is as good for winners as losers, at once sour and sweet.


American fried chicken

Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from a recipe by Michael Field in "Michael Field's Cooking School" (1965).

1 (3 1/2 to 4 pound) frying chicken, separated into thighs, drumsticks, wings and breasts

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons salt, divided