With the Academy Awards getting all the hype last Sunday, I decided to make a blog post with a theme from one of the Best Picture-nominated movies. I had only seen a handful but the one that I really enjoyed was The Help. My wife had read the book on our honeymoon and that’s all she talked about all week, so there was no getting out of seeing the movie with her once it was released.
I actually loved everything about the movie, especially the scenes that involved traditional Southern food, entertaining, and cooking.
When considering an Oscar-themed blog, Minny’s fried chicken immediately came to mind. Minny was one of the maids whose talents in the kitchen were considered exceptional by everyone in town. My favorite scene in the film is when Minny is teaching Celia Foote how to make her signature fried chicken to impress her working husband.
Minny discloses her secret ingredient: Crisco!
She says, “Ain’t just for frying. You ever get a sticky something stuck in your hair, like gum? That’s right. Crisco. Spread this on a baby’s bottom and you won’t even know what diaper rash is. Shoot, I seen ladies rub it under their eyes and on their husband’s scaly feet. And after all that, I will still fry your chicken”.
Now I rarely ever make fried chicken at home, just because it can be such a hassle, messy, and most of all unhealthy but it was a slow Sunday afternoon and I was craving something bad for me.
I couldn’t bring myself to go out and buy a tub of Crisco, so I used the next best thing… pork fat. Against my wife’s rationale, I do store tubs of pork fat in the fridge at all times. I collect the fat when I render out bacon or other delicious pork products and save it in tubs for times like this
. I just made sure that she was in the other room when I scooped it out and melted it in the cast iron pot. I really wanted to perfect my fried chicken making so I tried to follow a collaborative series of traditional Southern recipes.
I started off by marinating my chicken parts in creamy buttermilk. The buttermilk imparts some flavor but this method is mostly used to help tenderize the chicken and keep it moist. Buttermilk is actually quite acidic, which helps with this process.
To the milk, I added salt, pepper, eggs and a few heavy glugs of hot sauce.
After the mixture was combined, I threw it in the fridge for a solid four hours to let it do its thing. During the downtime, I got started on my take on cole slaw, a traditional Southern side dish.
Instead of using real cabbage, I decided to use brussel sprouts in my slaw. They look like little heads of cabbage, and this time of year I always have them in the house.
I sliced them up and tossed them in a bowl with sliced scallions, and parsley. I love the combination of the bitter sprouts and sweet, crispy bacon, so I did a play on that classic marriage.
I had a knob of guanciale in the fridge from American Provisions. Guanciale is very similar to Pancetta, except it is a cured pig’s jowl as opposed to the belly. It is one of my all-time favorite pork products because of its unique flavor. There’s just something about the fat that comes from the jowl area that tends to be sweeter, grassier, and earthier.
You cook it the same way you would bacon. I sliced it into matchsticks and when crispy, tossed it into the brussel sprout slaw.
A little homemade mayonnaise, heavy on the lemon juice and the slaw was complete. The little crispy nuggets of pork were delicious, weaved throughout the strands of bitter greens, all tied together from the creamy mayo.
On my countertop, I set up my dredging station for the chicken, which first hit some extra egg wash, and then my very heavily seasoned, all-purpose flour. Into the bubbling lard the pieces went causing a frothy foam of scalding fat surrounding the drumsticks, wings, and thighs.
It seemed that almost instantly a beautiful
crust started to form and my kitchen soon developed a KFC-like aroma. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve eaten fast food, but this smell that was taking over my kitchen was deadly.
You know the smell. It’s the odor that you get when you walk within ten feet of a McDonalds, or Burger King let alone walk through the door. It seems to grab you and forces you to eat like a fat kid but then after you do, you want to kill yourself. The smell of bubbling lard is like fat kid heroin.
When I pulled each cooked piece out one by one, they glistened on the drying rack and while the excess fat dripped below. Once the extreme crispiness is visible and the smell is strengthening, it’s hard to resist.
As unembellished as I possibly could, I served the fried chicken parts on a plate with a scoop of the homemade slaw and a bowl of hot sauce. The first bite was nothing short of magical.
A huge dunk in the vinegary, hot sauce, a crunchy layer followed by moist, steaming chicken that fell right off of the bone. I was surprised at how tender the meat actually was thanks to the buttermilk bath.
We sat in front of the television, watching the red carpet with greasy grins on our faces and drinking beer. I kind of felt like I was a part of the 2011 Boston Red Sox clubhouse. We were pouring bottles of Hop Notch I.P.A from Uintas Brewing Co. in Utah. It is a beautiful gold color in the glass and extremely aromatic with notes of mango, grapefruit, and a touch of pine.
It is a drier style I.P.A than some of my other favorites and extremely hoppy, with sticky, caramel notes in the finish. It was a great contrast to all of the flavors in the dish and it certainly was refreshing after wolfing down about a whole bird.
After we had cleaned our plates and made moves into pants with elastic waistbands, Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for playing Minny. It was a perfect ending to a Southern fried chicken feast. Thankfully, (for those of you who have seen the film) we didn’t have any pie for dessert.