Serve It Fourth : Southern Fried: The Glory That Is Grease


Cooking doesn’t come more basic than frying chicken--at its most elemental, it’s nothing more than dredging assorted poultry parts in flour and then dumping them in hot oil until they’re brown.

But at the same time, simply smelling chicken frying has been known to stir the most atavistic impulses in otherwise placid, modern personalities. Chicken plus hot fat equals feeding frenzy. It’s the Southern equivalent of our Western meat-plus-charcoal equation.

There’s no disputing the fact that--though chickens are fried (sauteed, stir-fried . . . ) in roughly the same fashion all over the world--this thing called Fried Chicken is a creature of the American South, the area one wag refers to as the “Lard Belt.”


Atlanta is a city that prides itself as the capital of the “New South,” but just beneath the surface you can still find plenty of “Old South” vestiges. For every upscale grill serving light, modern, creative dishes, there are a dozen places like Deacon Burton’s, where a typical lunch hour finds six massive cast-iron pans filled with bubbling fat and fried chicken.

“Fried chicken is a good meat,” says Lyndell (Deacon) Burton, the 83-year-old who has run Deacon Burton’s for the last 66 years. “And by frying it with the right kind of grease, it don’t hurt you. Five o’clock in the morning and you’ll be waiting on your fried chicken and biscuits.”

The only secret to great fried chicken, Burton says, is using good fresh chicken, not frozen. “Wash it real good and season it with just a little salt and pepper, but not too much,” he says. “Use any good shortening as a cooking oil. Lard tastes better, but some people can’t use it. When the oil is hot enough, pick up a piece at a time and put it in the pan. That’s how I learned it from an old country boy when I was still on the farm.”

Thank God for tradition. Pass the cream gravy.

This recipe comes out particularly crisp on the outside and moist and flavorful inside. The late Michael Field emphasized three points: The bird should not weigh more 2 1/2 pounds, you should have everything totally organized before you begin because the process is a continuous one once you start, and the ideal pan for it measures 10 inches in diameter. The pan should be heavy metal and must have a lid.


1 (2- to 2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into joints

Juice of 1 lemon


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 cup shortening, about

1/2 cup lard, about

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup whipping cream


Wash chicken pieces in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle each piece with lemon juice, then lightly with salt. Reserve 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice.

Sift 1 cup flour into paper bag with 1 teaspoon salt, dry mustard and white pepper. Place 1/2 chicken pieces in bag and shake to dredge, remove and then dredge remaining 1/2 pieces. Shake excess flour off chicken pieces and line up on long strip of wax paper.


In large heavy skillet, melt shortening and lard to make layer about 1/4 inch deep. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and place large shallow baking dish on middle shelf. When fat is hot but not smoking, place legs and thighs in pan and cover. Fry over medium heat, lifting cover occasionally to check progress. When brown on 1 side, turn pieces over with tongs and cover pan again. As each piece is done, transfer chicken to baking dish in oven and place raw piece in pan in its place. Repeat until all pieces are browned.

Pour off all fat in skillet and replace with butter. Melt over low heat, scraping up brown crust from bottom and sides of pan. Remove pan from heat, add 1 tablespoon flour and mix to smooth paste. Cook over very low heat 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in chicken stock and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer gravy several minutes before adding cream and reserved 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice. If gravy seems too thick, thin with more cream or stock. Season gravy to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

709 calories; 917 mg sodium; 171 mg cholesterol; 52 grams fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 32 grams protein; 0.10 gram fiber.

This is how Judy Rodgers fixed fried chicken when she was at the Union Hotel in San Francisco. She now follows much the same preliminary procedure preparing her roast chicken at Zuni Cafe.


1 (2- to 2 1/2-pound) chicken, cut up

2 cups rock salt

1 tablespoon crushed thyme

2 cups cold milk

1 cup flour

Peanut oil for frying

Rinse chicken well and pat dry. Combine rock salt and thyme. Roll chicken in rock salt mixture and arrange in single layer on tray. Let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours, loosely covered.

Rinse pieces very thoroughly with running water. Soak in cold milk 1 3/4 to 2 hours. Remove from milk and dump directly into flour. Dredge in flour to coat well and remove to rack. Let stand, refrigerated, 8 to 24 hours to set crust.


Place as much chicken as will fit easily in pan without crowding and shallow-fry in 1 inch peanut oil over medium heat until golden brown. Remove to warmed platter lined with paper towels. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

453 calories; 1,880 mg sodium; 110 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 25 grams carbohydrates; 31 grams protein; 0.27 gram fiber.

This salad is just as good made with leftover fried chicken; besides the Boiled Dill Dressing, any salad dressing with herbs would be good. If you want, the chicken can be browned in the hot oil until it has a nice crust (about 10 minutes), then placed in an oven-proof dish and baked in a 425-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The skin will be as crisp, but the chicken will have absorbed less oil. From Michael James’ “Slow Food.”



Freshly ground pepper

1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut up

1/2 cup flour

Shortening or oil for frying

10 to 12 romaine lettuce leaves and curly mustard greens, washed and dried, larger leaves torn into 2 or 3 pieces

1 1/4 cups warm Boiled Dill Dressing

2 or 3 radishes, washed, trimmed and cut into slivers

Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of chicken pieces. Mix together flour, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Toss chicken in flour mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.

Heat 1/8 inch deep shortening in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and fry 20 to 25 minutes, depending on size of pieces and actual temperature of oil. Turn chicken several times as it cooks. For very juicy white meat, remove breasts 3 or 4 minutes before dark meat. Chicken should be medium golden brown when done (if cooked too quickly it will be too dark).


Remove chicken from pan to cool, pressing each piece with pair of tongs and shaking briefly over skillet to remove any remaining oil. Pour off fat from pan, reserving 1/4 cup of browned pan drippings at bottom to use in boiled dressing.

When chicken has cooled, pull skin and meat off bones and shred into more or less bite-size morsels. Place in large bowl with lettuce leaves and mustard greens, add 1/2 cup warm dressing and toss to coat ingredients evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange salad on platter or on individual plates, and sprinkle with slivered radishes. Serve with remaining dressing passed on side. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

617 calories; 340 mg sodium; 159 mg cholesterol; 39 grams fat; 21 grams carbohydrates; 43 grams protein; 0.27 gram fiber.

Boiled Dill Dressing

1 tablespoon corn oil

1 tablespoon flour

1/4 cup pan drippings, from frying chicken

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon wine vinegar


Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried dill

1 tablespoon sour cream

1/4 cup buttermilk, about

Heat oil over medium heat in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in flour and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add reserved pan drippings, stir in milk and bring to boil, whisking until slightly thickened.

Stir in mustard, honey and vinegar. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add lemon juice. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add dill, sour cream and buttermilk as needed to obtain good consistency. Dressing should not be too thick.

If made in advance, set aside or refrigerate, then reheat gently just before using. Dressing is best served warm with fried chicken salad, but is also delicious cold--with leftover roast pork, for instance. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.


Freshly picked garlic is moister and has a more intense garlic flavor than what you can buy, but it is not as harsh. The volunteers we find growing at old homesites often produce just 2 cloves, the entire bulb about the size of a shallot. From John Martin Taylor’s “Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking.”


About 16 chicken gizzards, trimmed of all membrane and sinew and chopped

About 10 ounces chicken livers, trimmed of all fat and any green spots

1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup fine dry bread crumbs (about 2 stale or dried rolls, ground)

1/2 teaspoon salt

16 grinds of black pepper

1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled

Lard for frying

Lettuce leaves

Lemon wedges

Combine gizzards, livers, tomato, 2/3 cup bread crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic in food processor and pulse lightly until finely chopped.

Make croquettes about size of 2 fingers, roll in remaining bread crumbs. Heat about 1/2 inch deep lard in heavy skillet. Fry croquettes, batch at time, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain and serve immediately on bed of lettuce with lemon wedges. Makes about 20 (2-bite) fritters.

Each fritter contains about:

42 calories; 88 mg sodium; 61 mg cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.05 gram fiber.

“I could wax poetic about the fried chicken served at the Ranch, but i’ll just say that this is happy food. Just the thought of Nanny’s Fried Chicken makes me smile.” From Larry Ross’ “Nanny’s Texas Table.”


1 (2 1/2- to 3-pound) chicken

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 egg

Oil for frying

1/2 cup chicken broth

Rinse chicken and cut into 10 pieces: drumsticks, thighs, wings and breasts (cut into 2 pieces). Mix milk and whipping cream together in bowl and soak chicken pieces in mixture at least 2 hours at room temperature. Remove chicken pieces from milk mixture and pat dry. Reserve milk mixture.


Mix salt and pepper together and sprinkle half of mixture evenly over chicken. In bowl mix remaining salt and pepper mixture with 1 1/4 cups of flour and paprika. In another bowl, beat egg with 1/2 cup of milk and cream mixture.

Dredge chicken in seasoned flour, shake off excess and dip each piece in egg mixture, coating thoroughly. Dredge again in flour mixture, and shake off excess.

Pour oil 1 inch deep into Dutch oven or deep heavy skillet with lid. Heat oil to hot, but not smoking (375 degrees). Place chicken pieces in single layer, skin side down, in hot oil, cover pan and fry, allowing 12 to 13 minutes for dark meat pieces, 8 minutes for white meat, turning once halfway through cooking time. Juices should run clear when meat is pierced, and chicken should be dark butterscotch color. Drain chicken on paper towels and keep warm in barely warm oven.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from pan. Add remaining 2 tablespoons flour, stir to mix thoroughly and to loosen any bits in pan, and brown lightly. Stir in remaining milk and cream mixture and chicken broth. Bring to simmer, stirring often. Simmer 3 to 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot with chicken. Makes 1 1/2 cups gravy. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

753 calories; 1,742 mg sodium; 249 mg cholesterol; 50 grams fat; 38 grams carbohydrates; 37 grams protein; 0.17 gram fiber.

Here the whole chicken undergoes pre-blanching or steaming and drying overnight before it is fried in deep hot oil. The drier the chicken, the crisper the skin gets. In Chinese restaurants where they have giant woks, the chicken is fried whole. At home, it can be cut up in large segments for ease in frying.



1 (2 3/4-pound) whole chicken

3/4 teaspoon 5-spice powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 chicken bouillon cube, crushed or 1 teaspoon chicken seasoned base

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Peanut oil for deep-frying

Fried dried prawn crackers and lemon wedges for optional garnish

Bring salted water (enough to cover whole chicken) in large kettle to hard boil. Add whole chicken and boil 10 minutes. Drain well and pat-dry with paper towels.

Combine 1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder, 1 teaspoon salt, bouillon cube and sugar. Rub over and inside chicken. Let chicken “sit” over vertical roaster or sturdy bottle and let stand in refrigerator overnight.

Cut in halves or quarters to facilitate frying. Pat dry with paper towels to make sure skin is dry. Heat oil to 360 degrees in wok or deep fryer and fry chicken until golden brown all over. Drain. Serve with mixture of 1/4 teaspoon 5-spice and 1/2 teaspoon salt for dipping if desired. Garnish with fried prawn crackers and lemon wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

363 calories; 926 mg sodium; 119 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 30 grams protein; 0.03 gram fiber.