Monday, October 6, 2008

So Much Does Depend on Chicken (if it's Fried)

Even as a kid, I wasn't a big fan of burgers. When I was in second grade, we lived in a flat in San Francisco above a closed-down “doll hospital.” The sign above the shop still advertised its former use, but butcher paper covered the windows. The space had been rented by the hamburger joint down the street, “Bill’s Place,” and late at night, you could hear restaurant workers chopping onions and grinding meat. Perhaps it was the amalgamation, in my seven year old mind, of broken dolls parts and sides of beef that led to my eventual choice to avoid cow. (Certainly it explains those nightmares involving cleavers and pouty ceramic faces.)

My meal of choice at that age was Kentucky Fried Chicken, well before it became “KFC.” San Francisco had very few fast food restaurants at the time (in fact, my only knowledge of McDonalds came from an avid devotion to Mad Magazine). If we ate out, we’d get Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Bill’s hamburgers. So Kentucky Fried Chicken was birthday food. Left to my own devices once a year, I chose fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and chocolate cake. The perfect meal.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but fried chicken probably conjured up the extended family I barely knew. My mother rarely made fried chicken. Instead, it was the meal I ate when visiting my father’s relatives in East Texas. My grandmother and great aunt cooked. Surrounded by aunts, and uncles, and cousins who knew my name, I ate fried chicken and drank sweetened iced tea in their tiny kitchen. My appetite made them happy; it was a sign that I belonged.

For DH, fried chicken also meant family. As a child, his nickname for his grandmother was “Maw Maw Chicken Bone,” in honor of the favorite drumsticks she made him. In the early years of our marriage, we spent every Sunday at his grandparents’ house in Durham. Once we finished eating lunch—almost always fried chicken, butter beans and corn, and biscuits—his Maw Maw would say, with a wink, “Let’s leave the dishes. If the preacher comes, we’ll run back to the table.” After supper, DH would do the laundry and watch NASCAR with his grandfather, drinking Pepsi and talking about the drivers. I, meanwhile, learned the Zen of Sunday rest (not an easy lesson for me, but the whirring sound of stock cars had a meditative effect). We named our son after DH’s grandfather. A tender-hearted man who lost his leg in WWII. Thinking about his smile brings tears to my eyes today.

So that I can eat fried chicken once a week, I make a healthy version, adapted from The Eating Well Magazine. You’d never know it wasn’t fried.

Oven Fried Chicken

2 Cups of Flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons oregano
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon of salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup milk
1 Egg
A couple dashes of Tabasco sauce
Spray oil (canola)
8 Chicken wings (or your favorite parts)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with oil. Mix dry ingredients in a shallow bowl. Mix milk, egg, and Tabasco in another bowl. Working piece by piece, put the chicken first in the egg mixture, and then dredge in the flour. Place the pieces of chicken on the baking sheet. Spray the chicken well with canola oil. Cook for 50 minutes, turning all the pieces over half-way through the cooking time.

Some chicken love quotations from the family:

DH: “Fried chicken is the only food that will get me to dress like a cow” (in reference to the Chik-Fil-a dress-like-a-cow day).

DS: “According to Dee Snyder, man cannot live without chicken nuggets."

DD: "Do chicken nuggets come from chickens?"


 lisa said...

Chicken wings were always my favorite! Can't wait to try this version.

chou said...

I love the way food and memory go together. It's constantly amazing to find something that just speaks to us on so many levels--symbolically, emotionally, etc.

Dragon of Gum said...

Fried Chicken rules!!! Fire up the Fryer!