I was always very fond of my grandmother, Irene. Her maiden name was Holland. She was born in 1903, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the middle child of seven children rasied by fundamentalist Southern Baptist parents. She married my grandfather at nineteen and had my father at twenty-three. Grandmother was a slim red-haired woman with an infectious laugh who lived to cook - her specialty was fried chicken.
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As a teenager I took on the job of maintaining my grandparent's yard for a couple of dollars a week. Every Friday after school I would tend to the chores around their house; and every Friday evening I would have dinner with them in their shiny white kitchen. Dinner was always the same - grandmother's fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. It was ambrosia.
We would sit and talk for hours. Those evenings spent around my grandparent's little kitchen table are some of the most pleasant memories I have. Perhaps that's why I've spent the last few years trying to perfect my own fried chicken recipe. I've never been able to duplicate grandmother's, of course, but I believe I've come up with a satisfactory substitute.
I begin by opening a bottle of wine - preferably a nice Pinot Noir. I then drink several glasses. I find the wine fortifies my soul and opens my mind to the creative possibilities of my endeavourers. Sometimes, if I'm feeling especially adventurous, I obtain some marijuana from the middle-aged lesbian couple who live next door. They're the cartakers of a beautiful hydroponic garden which is continually pregant with the bounty of nature. I live in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco, and my neighbors have become known affectionately as "The Sisters of the Eternal Giggle."
Once the proper mindset has been achieved, I begin preparing the chicken. First I wash it in lukewarm water, and then rinse it in ice water. Next, I submerge the chicken in buttermilk and stab each piece several times with an old three-pronged fork (I find this technique adds not only to the flavor, but reduces the cooking time by allowing the oil to penetrate inside the meat). I then prepare the skillet.
I fry the chicken in a cast iron skillet I've taken meticulous care of for over twenty years. I fill it to just above half way with a precise mixture of oils: 35% roasted walnut oil, 35% extra virgin olive iol, and 30% pure corn oil. I subject the mixture to intense heat on a gas stove. While the oils are heating, I toss the chicken in one of three commercially available coating mixes. The most critical aspect is not the coating, but the frying itself.
Before I begin to fry the chicken, I open a bottle of German beer and drink it slowly. I was stationed in Germany while serving in the Army and was away from grandmother's cooking for almost three years. I believe the beer tends to bond me to my past. Eventually, when the oils begin to "swim," I submerge the chicken in the skillet, no more than four pieces at a time.
I equate frying chicken to playing jazz on the alto saxophone - I never do it the same way twice. I immediately begin to vary the temperature of the oil, moving and turning the chicken, flipping it one way or another, sipping my beer and wine as if in a trace. In summer, when the kitchen swelters, my mind spins like a draydel. In winter, when rain is falling, a warm fragrance radiates, Zen like, throughout the house.
I can only guess what my grandmother would say about my fried chicken recipe. But knowing her as I did, I believe she would probably laugh and say something like, "Let's sit down and eat."