When I was a kid growing up…back in the dark ages….it was pretty much Fried Chicken every Sunday for “dinner”. In the midwest, dinner was in the middle of the day, and what you had in the evening was called “supper”. Sunday Dinner was always considered special. Something to have after church that took less than an hour to cook, and was filling enough, and with enough left overs so that Mom didn’t have to cook again at suppertime. It wasn’t always fried chicken, but that’s what I seem to remember most.
It was when my “I don’t really like to cook” mama tried harder to put on a bigger spread. We lived in the same town as my dad’s mom and dad, and my Grandma Ruby, who shamed all her daughters-in-law when it came to cooking….taught me to make it. Being the only granddaughter (my dad only had brothers, and they only had sons!), spending time learning to cook with my Grandma Ruby was a real treat! Now lest I get in big trouble with my 92 year old mother, who still cooks her own meals, and still loves fried chicken, let me stipulate (as my lawyer daughter would say) that Mom is a pretty darn good cook. But Grandma Ruby was hands down the best meat/poultry/fish cook around! Grandma Ruby’s Fried Chicken has won prizes in the Leavenworth County Kansas Fair! Her method was to find as fresh a chicken as you could (in those days she just traded for one pecking in our neighbor’s farmyard, wrung it’s neck, plucked it, and washed it and took out it’s “innards”)…now that’s fresh.
Now, my mom has done her fair share of plucking as well, but after seeing it done numerous times….I…uh…well, I’m not sure I have the stomach for it personally.
After the chicken was clean and plucked, Grandma Ruby always gave it a milk bath….in the frig…for about an hour before cooking. Then, she would put flour, salt, pepper, and her secret ingredients…a little chili powder and a whole lotta paprika…in a paper bag. Dip the chicken in a little beaten egg, throw it in the bag and shake up the chicken pieces in the flour mixture. Then it got fried in about 1 inch deep Crisco or Lard as hot as she could get it in her black wrought iron skillet. As soon as it browned and got really crispy, about 20 minutes, she’d pour off the grease, put it in the oven to finish off, and make the mashed potatoes (a must with fried chicken), the green beans or carrots or both, and when the chicken was cooked through, she’d take it out of the pan and make creamy chicken gravy with the scrapings, a little flour, and whole milk. Mmmmmm!
When I lived in Italy, I was reminded of my chicken heritage. Over the years and now being single, I had succmbed to buying the ubiquitous chicken “parts”, sometimes boneless and skinless, found everywhere in the US markets. However, if I wanted chicken breast or thigh in Italy, I faced having to buy a whole chicken from the mercato centrale where they only came with the feet and head still attached. Sort of off-putting for a woman with a squeamish stomach in a one bedroom walk up with no real kitchen equipment…..let alone a sharp knife! So I often opted for the pre-roasted kind I could get in the local gastronomia. Fresh roasted Tuscan chicken with lemon and rosemary is to die for! But as time passed, I bought one sharp knife, put on my big girl panties, and hacked up the whole chicken once again. I got beyond the trauma of hacking chicken heads and feet off finally, and I was rewarded with FLAVOR! Fresh, organic, bone-in, skin-on chicken parts are getting hard to find in our US supermarkets these days. But fortunately for me, we have a great market…Chuck’s Produce and Street Market….that can provide me with fresh, organic free range, local, pre-dressed chicken! It’s The Great Food Adventure! But believe me, it’s worth it! That flavor…that brought me back to the taste I remembered from my youth. Nothing beats the flavor you get from cooking fresh organic chicken on the bone!.
So when Cooper, the chicken man, came over to cook with me this week…I wanted to recapture that flavor…with a bit of the Sunday Dinner comfort vibe (even if it was only Thursday!) Olivia was spending the night with a friend, their dad was out of town, and my daughter Lori had a long day at work, it has been raining for weeks…. so we needed some lifitng of the spirits around here! Some real chickeny goodness.
I call Cooper my chicken man because whenever you ask him what he wants for dinner…he always says “chicken”. (Plus he does a mean chicken dance!) Nananana! Clap Clap Clap Clap!
In Italy my Italian Pan Fried Chicken was made with beautiful local Olive Oil and herbs. I pan fried it in just about 2 T of Extra Virgin Olive Oil with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper, chopped fresh rosemary, garlic, and sometimes a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Once done, a squeeze of fresh lemon and mmmmm delicioso!
But since coming back home, (although I LOVE REAL olive oil!) I have rediscovered coconut oil. Read here for the wonders of this good stuff! So that is what Cooper and I used for our Pan Fried Chicken. Kids love sprinkling things…so he had fun sprinkling on the herbs (salt and pepper, paprika, thyme, and hot and spicy Mrs. Dash) and I even helped him to turn the chicken pieces in the skillet. He is getting quite adept!
Once the chicken was seasoned and browned in the skillet. We put it in a 400 oven with the potatoes for about 30 minutes. Even though Cooper LOVES mashed potatoes we opted for roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes with the promise that he could mash them up on his plate.
To brighten up all the white food…we opted for a jewel toned salad. Arugula, sliced beets and blood oranges we found during our market trip. I had originally planned for the addition of jicima, but Cooper vetoed that idea! We made salad dressing out of orange juice, a little balsamic vinegar, a hint of mustard, and olive oil, salt and pepper…Cooper likes to shake it all together in a jar.
Now for the COMFORT! Instead of “gravy” we made a pan sauce that is easy and really great with chicken. My favorite is Cherry Mustard Sauce (Sugo Mostarda con Ciliegia), or another favorite: Mushroom Mascarpone Sauce (Besciamella di Funghi). Recipes here. But, we opted for a simpler more kid friendly version. Just pan drippings with a bit of mascarpone! I can happily teach my grandkids to make “gravy” without feeling guilty for upsetting their healthy eating habits because although these sauces are rich and creamy…a tablespoon or two of mascarpone is all you need…not a cup of cream gravy dumped over mashed potatoes!
Mangiare a sazietà! (eat your fill!)