Fried Chicken and Potato Salad
Learning how to cook
Some of my biggest regrets in life surround never learning how to cook with my mom before she passed (see here for that story.). I spent many years thinking that I was never going to have an opportunity to share my mamas recipes with my future husband, children, or even friends. I expressed the memories to whomever wanted to listen but found myself at a loss at the end of the day, as no one seemed to be able to point me to a recipe in a book that was what I was looking for.
It was a day like any other day but I was hit suddenly with a need that could not be quenched: Fried Chicken. Not just any fried chicken would do for my craving. No, I wanted that fried chicken and I wanted that potato salad and there was nothing that could stop it this time.
In a moment of desperation I put a post up on Facebook: "Does anyone have the recipe for my mom's fried chicken and potato salad?"
About ten minutes later I had three responses. Two were cousins pointing to a third cousin who just so happened to have collected the family recipes in her head.
Oh social networking you are my hero!
Although my family is so large Ross refers to it as a "brush pile" instead of a "tree", I rarely get a chance to see any of them anymore. There is too much work to do all the time, isn't there? This sounded like a good excuse to bridge the gap.
I got in the car and Ross (who is Ross?) and I drove to cousin Loris house to cook up some down home nostalgia.
Disclaimers: All Photos on this page are property of Gina Blanchard, All Rights Reserved. Always be careful in the kitchen - especially when dealing with grease and hot temperatures! These are not intended to be healthy recipes. These are what my mama cooked and learning them is part of my healing over her and my aunt Teri's death. These recipes are for batches intended to feed the whole family (with delicious leftovers).
That's my family
When we arrived at her house Lori was madly running around trying to get herself together; mind that we were an hour behind ourselves and she'd set her alarm for three hours hence.
There were white footprints leading from the entryway to the kitchen.
"You wouldn't believe what happened this morning." She said after hugging us, the exasperation clear in her voice. Yes, yes I would I thought to myself and cleverly kept my mouth shut. If you knew them, you were never surprised by what our family members were able to accomplish, for better or worse.
"Oh yeah?" It was a curious tone in my voice, forced but well-practiced by this point. I'd spent three decades knowing my family.
"Yeah, so, the other night I cooked some fried chicken because I wasn't really thinking about you coming here and wanting to learn and, well, anyway, when I went to put potatoes on this morning suddenly whoooosh!" With the kind of enthusiastic hand-waving you'd expect of these sorts of things. "The whole darn oven was on fire, wouldn't you know it?" Of course I would, "And all I keep thinking is 'Save the microwave!'" because that's what we'd all be thinking, right? "...So I threw the whole bag of flour on it and then used the tortilla pan to smother what was still going." (Note: Do NOT use flour)
"That explains the footprints. Should have used baking soda." Ross offered.
"Oh? Oh. Anyway..."
"Jesus." I don't know what else to say. It's always something.
So this is the woman who teaches me how to cook. I should have told you several paragraphs ago that this was going to be one of those recipes that your own mom told you:
"Just a little bit of..."
"A splash... a pinch... a dash.... "
"... To Taste...."
Once upon a time there weren't exacts and food wasn't a science - it was whatever tasted good or looked pretty.
This is why I didn't have any recipes left over from my mother. It wasn't something you could write down. It was something you learned in your heart and knew in your soul.
That's how cousin Lori taught me to cook.
We had fun!
I had so much fun learning new things from my cousin. Lori explained everything in the way only she knew how (which never involved actual measurements).
My other cousins dropped by to visit while we were in town so we snapped a quick photograph.
Ross was extremely patient while we girls goofed off in the kitchen. He spent most of the time teaching the children how to draw!!
My family does Fried Chicken
My aunt Teri swore by Wagner brand and collected them every time she ran into them but now there are alternatives to the brand!
About Five Poundsof Chicken. Preferably breasts but if you don't have that you can do drumsticks or wings or what-not.
Some Milk - enough to dip all of the chicken in for a base for the flour to hang on to. It doesn't matter what kind (I hear buttermilk is great but we used 'D' here);like I said before, this isn't a healthy recipe so don't try to cut calories here just because.
Flour. All Purpose. Enough of it to cover all of the chicken. Just put some in a dish. Add stuff to it. Whatever. Smoked Paprika. Pepper. Garlic Salt. It doesn't matter. Follow your gut. Do what you gotta do to make it taste in the flavors that you know you like. Cousin Lori says: "Don't be afraid of your spices."
Eggs About three of them or so if you're doing five pounds of chicken. You want to be able to evenly coat each piece so you can always add if need be.
Panko Breading Just dump some in a dish that's enough to cover the chicken. Again, you can add. You can't screw this up. It's best with the mentioned Panko style but other options are bread crumbs, crackers, cheez-its, etc. Remember that this is your outer coating.
Vegetable Oil. Put some in a cast-iron skillet. You're not really supposed to (ever) go past halfway in your skillet because of grease fires. You want to be able to dip the whole chicken in there though, so don't get nothin' tiny.
Pour oil into skillet (again, no more than halfway). Let heat. You're going to want it very hot. Put milk, flour, eggs and panko breading each in their own container. We put the milk in one container and the other three ingredients into a serving dish with three slots (see picture on this lens). Some people like to combine for a batter - that is not the way I was taught.
Wash surface of chicken with water. Dab dry with paper towel. Dip chicken into milk. Get it nice and wet before tossing it into flour. Dredge around in flour, making sure every inch is covered. Set chicken down on baking sheet lined with foil. Leave chicken alone for a couple of minutes to let it settle.
Put flour-dipped chicken into egg then immediately follow with bread-crumb coating so that the entire piece is covered and coated well. Repeat with each piece.
See if your oil is hot enough by flicking a drop of water in and seeing if it sizzles. If it does, place pieces of chicken into the oil using a set of tongs. You want the pieces submerged completely. If they don't all fit, wait and work in batches.
Some people say it's done when the chicken is golden brown. My family insists on then transferring to an oven safe dish and baking for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees just to be sure. It's important that chicken is cooked through and through!
Did you know... ?
July 6th is National Fried Chicken Day !
Realistically this is something you're going to be keeping around and using for awhile so you don't want something that's going to break easily. You can get something really nice or for a much cheaper alternative this one is available in 'Cherry' and 'Arugula' (pictured).
Mama's Potato Salad
About 10-12 medium potatoes
A jar of pickles (Lori says Classen is best)- you don't have to use the whole jar but we're all dill fanatics.
Pickle Juice - you'll use about 1/4 cup of it
About five green onions
About two teaspoons of mustard (optional)
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise (Best Foods/Hellmans preferred in our family). Lori just squeezes the entire container until she has a giant gob.
Put eggs whole into pot. Fill with enough water to cover all eggs by about an inch. Boil the eggs for about 8-10 minutes. Turn off heat. Submerge eggs in cold water (this can be done by running cold water over them in the pan until the water in the pan is cold).
Steam potatoes (you do not need to put any cuts or slits into them unless you're putting them into the microwave.). When they are "fork tender" (the fork just slides right in) you can take them off and submerge in water. Put eggs and potatoes in fridge to cool for about ten minutes.
Have a beer (wine, water or juice).
Dice pickles and green onions. Peel and dice eggs and potatoes. Salt the potatoes.
Mix all ingredients. The goal is to form a mash with it all. Add salt and then mayonnaise. Mix thoroughly. Add mustard - you can increase or decrease to taste.
Put smoked paprika over the top if you'd like (Lori puts it in everything).
It is recommended you refrigerate for 4-6 hours if you've got the time.
"Mama always told me if you salt the potatoes first you use less Mayo." Lori told me, pausing for my reaction. We both laughed because we knew it wasn't true.
We just like salt.