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Newsletter: L.A. as a fried chicken town

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Food writer Jenn Harris with fried chicken in hand.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Jan. 28, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

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Is Los Angeles a fried chicken town? It might not be the first descriptor that comes to mind, but that’s what Times food writer Jenn Harris firmly believes. Jenn’s new series “The Bucket List,” which launched Tuesday, is devoted to the best fried chicken in Los Angeles and the people who make it.

Jenn isn’t just a fried chicken tourist. She calls herself the #LAFriedChickenQueen. She’s at a new fried chicken joint the week it opens and on a first-name basis with the places that have been good forever. I spoke with her about what makes a great plate of fried chicken, how her love of fried chicken spans cuisines and, of course, the L.A. fried chicken scene. Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How did this show come about?

I’d always been thinking about doing something centered around fried chicken, because it’s my favorite thing to eat. I have a more than mild obsession with it. It’s rare that I don’t eat at least one form of fried poultry every single day. Sometimes, like yesterday, I had it for breakfast and also for dinner.

Impressive.

Impressive, gross, I don’t know. I definitely eat a lot of it. I’m constantly trying different types of fried chicken, going to different restaurants to try fried chicken, traveling around the world to try fried chicken. I think that L.A. is actually a fried chicken town, even though it’s probably not the first thing you think of when you think of eating in L.A.

What places are typically thought of as “fried chicken towns,” and why isn’t L.A. usually on that list?

I think anywhere in the South. Nashville, obviously, for hot chicken.

L.A. is a melting pot. When you think of L.A., you think of great tacos or maybe great avocado toast, or Chinese food, because our San Gabriel Valley is amazing. Or Korean food. But other than tacos or maybe avocado toast, I don’t know that there’s any specific dish you would associate with L.A.

For me, I actually think of fried chicken, because almost every culture in the world has some form of fried chicken dish, or some form of fried poultry — whether it’s Korean chicken wings or Taiwanese popcorn chicken or Italian chicken parm. And we have all of that in Los Angeles, and people are doing it really, really well.

[See also: “Four great L.A. fried chicken restaurants to try now” in the Los Angeles Times]

Speaking as a casual observer, it seems like fried chicken in L.A. has been getting a lot more attention over the last couple of years. Is that accurate? What spurred that?

I personally started seeing more fried chicken specials show up on menus during the recession. I don’t know if it was a cheaper dish to make or what the economics were behind that. But I started seeing fried chicken nights at nicer restaurants back then.

In terms of the recent blowout, I feel like it’s due to hot chicken. Johnny Ray Zone opened Howlin’ Ray’s in Chinatown, and people saw the lines and they saw the obsession and then they saw dollar signs. Then all these different hot chicken pop-ups started to literally pop up all over the city, whether it was a pop-up at a gas station or a car wash. And you actually saw [brick-and-mortar] hot chicken restaurants come up as well. But I do think that stemmed from the hot chicken craze here that started with Howlin’ Ray’s.

[See also: “Where to get hot chicken in Los Angeles” and “Nashville hot chicken is taking over Los Angeles” in the Los Angeles Times]

What makes great fried chicken? Are there certain things readers should look for when they’re assessing a plate?

Unless you’re eating hot chicken or there’s some sort of crazy marinade, it shouldn’t be too dark. Like it shouldn’t be burnt. It should look and be crispy. It shouldn’t be wet or soggy.

When you cut into the chicken, is the actual chicken moist? Are the chicken and the skin and the coating all connected still, or is there a big gap in between them? You don’t want that, because then it kind of just falls apart. You definitely want the coating to stay on when you’re biting it.

And then just the flavor. It can’t be dry. It shouldn’t be too salty, but there should be some sort of salt there. And I do think you should be able to taste the chicken.

[Watch the first episode of The Bucket List: “Making Nashville hot chicken with Howlin’ Ray’s and Hotville”]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Just before crashing into a Calabasas hillside, the pilot of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter rapidly ascended to avoid a cloud layer, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB member, said the pilot flying from Orange County to Ventura County requested special visual flight rules, which allow pilots to fly under 1,000 feet. A marine layer had settled over the region Sunday morning, and some areas were shrouded in fog. Homendy said it remained unclear why the helicopter slammed into the hillside. Los Angeles Times

More coverage of Bryant and the crash:

  • Kobe Bryant had a special kinship with Latino fans and culture. “Many saw themselves and their culture in him: The work ethic. The marriage to a Mexican American woman. The devotion to his daughters. His better-than-not, if Italian-inflected, Spanish.” Los Angeles Times
  • The fatal crash has deeply affected Newport Beach. Seven residents, including the Bryants, were victims. Los Angeles Times
  • The Lakers-Clippers game set for Tuesday has been postponed. Discussions about whether or not the game should go on as scheduled began Sunday, with the league opting to defer to the Lakers. Los Angeles Times
  • “Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle weren’t perfect angels. That’s why L.A. loved them.” Los Angeles Times

With the California primary just five weeks away, Sen. Bernie Sanders has taken a clear lead in the race for the state’s huge trove of Democratic convention delegates. With strong support from younger voters, Latinos and liberals, a new poll puts Sanders in the lead. Vice President Joe Biden remains the front-runner nationally, but the latest polling shows him in third place in California, trailing Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Los Angeles Times

A divided Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration’s immigration rule on public benefits to take effect. The new policy can be used to deny green cards to immigrants over their use of public benefits including Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers, as well as other factors. Los Angeles Times

L.A. STORIES

L.A. has hired more female firefighters. Why is the department still dominated by men? Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28, 2016 - Firefighters Chelsey Grigsby, Brenda Greenbank and Kathryn Hersma
Chelsey Grigsby, left, Brenda Greenbank and Kathryn Hersman are three of the five female firefighters who joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 2016.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An “American Dirt” book signing in Pasadena was canceled as the backlash kept raging. An event in La Jolla was also canceled. Los Angeles Times

Where to buy the most beautiful cookware in Los Angeles. Four shops to find Japanese donabe, a type of ceramic cooking vessel handcrafted from clay following a centuries-old technique. Los Angeles Times

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IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER

Immigration judges are quitting or retiring early because of President Trump: “Judges are going to other federal agencies and retiring as soon as possible. They just don’t want to deal with it. It’s become unbearable.” Los Angeles Times

POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Trump’s legal team ignored explosive claims by former national security advisor John Bolton at the Senate impeachment trial Monday despite growing indications that several Republican senators were considering backing Democratic demands that he be called to testify. Los Angeles Times

Could California really make its own insulin? Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to try. Sacramento Bee

CRIME AND COURTS

At Harvey Weinstein’s trial, Mimi Haley’s testimony turned into a daylong battle over consent. Haley, a former production assistant at Weinstein Co. who worked on shows such as “Project Runway,” testified for nearly six hours in a Manhattan courtroom Monday, becoming the second of six women expected to testify against the fallen Hollywood titan at his sexual assault trial. Los Angeles Times

A group of suspected recycling fraudsters allegedly hauled tons of bottles and cans into California from neighboring states in a scheme that cost a California recycling fund millions. Sacramento Bee

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

What’s tangling up the humpback whales? A food chain snarled by climate change. Los Angeles Times

Transportation officials are gearing up for a major bluff stabilization effort in Del Mar, which has been plagued by a series of collapses. The collapses have left residents and officials increasingly concerned about the stability of the busy railroad perched atop the cliffs. San Diego Union-Tribune

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A San Luis Obispo elementary school was about to lose art classes. Then a self-published book of cat drawings saved the day. San Luis Obispo Tribune

Seamless and Grubhub deliver confusion with mistaken restaurant listings. Restaurants that don’t offer delivery have found themselves listed on the platforms. San Francisco Chronicle

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: sunny, 75. San Diego: sunny, 70. San Francisco: rain, 56. San Jose: partly sunny, 62. Sacramento: partly sunny, 62. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Desiree Cheshire:

As a young girl living in Long Beach in the early 1950s in a newly built post-war house, it was a big event on Wednesdays, the one day of the week when my mother could have the car so she could do grocery shopping and run errands. She would roust me out of bed (perhaps I was four or five years old) and we would get into the car to take my dad to meet his ride to work. I was mortified because my mom still had curlers in her hair and wore a pink robe while she drove! What if we got in an accident? After we dropped off my dad, I climbed into the front seat of the 1952 Chrysler. There were no seat belts and I remember that if you slammed on the brake, the back of the seat tilted forward. Oh, those were the years of living dangerously! We kids, besides driving around unrestrained in cars, actually walked ourselves to school and played outside! Our moms didn’t have jobs outside the home and made home a warm and welcoming place for all the other neighborhood kids. The Helms bakery truck came around one day a week, and so did the Good Humor ice cream truck. Our milk was delivered in glass bottles and we even had a man who gave pony cart rides come around during the summer months. There was a diving bell at the end of the Pier at the Long Beach Pike where you could go in and they would dunk you under the water.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


Newsletter
The stories shaping California

Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
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