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Cooking With Charlie

Perfect Fried Chicken

fried chickenI am going to take you back a long, long, time ago, right after World War II, and just after Lloyd Brand had returned from Iwo Jima, with his sea bag slung over his shoulder filled with Japanese war relics, pistols, swords, etc. 

My dad had just received a huge raise (he was now making $50 a week and still able to save), and we were in the pink as we bought a "new" 9-inch television. Times were good, Dad was even able to buy a new Nash Rambler. 

The entire country was back to work and President Roosevelt had made all these promises about something called Social Security that would last and take care of us for a life time; a chicken in every pot; it was the best of times and the worst of times …

As a result of our good fortune and to display his love for the family, Dad would pile us all into that new Nash Rambler – my brother David, sister Celine, Aunt Mae, and her brother, Uncle Johnny, Mother and, if he was good, our Irish setter, Barney – and cart us off to a little town called Cicero, just northwest of Syracuse, and west of Rome, New York. After 45 or 50 miles, as I recall, we went through several small upstate New York towns, past Verona Beach up at Lake Sylvan, through Bridgeport, well, you get the idea. It took us 1-1/2 hours to get there and the Rambler felt like a water bed on wheels. Small towns, farms and country roads made for a nice Sunday drive. 

However, our destination was a little restaurant called "Chicken in the Ruff." They had the best fried chicken anywhere, and I do mean anywhere. The recipe was discovered quite by accident during the Depression years, when a skillet of fried chicken had been cooking for about 10 minutes and, for whatever reason, got dumped out on the grass. The husband told his wife to just heat up more lard and continue cooking it. They cooked with cornstarch a lot back then as it was readily available and flour was more of a luxury item. At any rate, he shook the chicken off and dredged it again in cornstarch, salt and pepper, brought the temperature of the lard up (took about 10 minutes) and finished frying the chicken.

After tasting it, he declared to his wife, "This is the best fried chicken we ever 'et." It was never "ate" back then, and I don't know the origin of "'et."

People visiting Chicken in the Ruff had to wait more than 30 minutes to get their chicken dinners, which consisted of three pieces of chicken, coleslaw and something new called french fries. However, if you wanted mashed potatoes with gravy, they had that too. I looked for this recipe for a long time and now I will pass it on to you.

fried chicken
Fotolia/Igor Dutina

Honey Fried Chicken in the Ruff

2 or 3 chickens cut into 8 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts cut in half)*
Lard or oil for frying
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 12 ounces honey
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Your favorite hot sauce
* Breasts cut in half will cook more evenly with smaller pieces.

For the brine:

4 quarts water
1 cup salt
1 cup sugar

Combine all and let set for 30 minutes. (You can cut this in half if you are cooking less chicken. Letting it set up for 30 minutes allows the salt and sugar dissolve.)

Put in large pot with chicken pieces and leave in refrigerator overnight or for 24 hours.

Batter:

1 or 2 cups cornstarch, divided
3/4 to 1/2 cup water
4 teaspoons pepper
4 teaspoons salt

In large bowl, whisk together. Batter will be loose, almost like milk. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, along with brined chicken in separate pot.

Honey Glaze:

8 ounces honey
4 to 5 tablespoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

To fry chicken:

Take chicken out of brine and pat dry with paper towels. Be sure pieces are very dry; if wet, batter will slide off.

Put 1 cup dry cornstarch in pie plate and dredge chicken through it. Shake off, Sift cornstarch as needed; you do not want any lumps in it. Place chicken on wire screen or platter.

Fill another pie plate with batter.

In large skillet, heat oil to smoking point, about 370 degrees F. Put butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, in skillet. This counteracts any oily taste and leaves a more buttery taste to whatever you are frying.

Batter each piece of chicken; place in skillet making sure chicken is not crowded. As you place pieces in skillet, place each piece down going away from you (helps prevent being splashed with hot oil).

Fry for 7 to 8 minutes, remove to wire rack to drain and cool down; the pieces will look pale at this stage. NOTE: Place cookie sheet under wire racks to catch any drips; this will help in cleanup.

Continue until all chicken pieces have been fried (will take maybe 25 minutes or so, but you will have chicken for the rest of the week).

While chicken is frying, prepare Honey Glaze. Whisk together all ingredients. Heat honey mixture in microwave for 1-1/2 minutes; whisk again. If more heat is desired, add more red pepper flakes. Pour into bowl large enough for dredging.

Starting with first batch of chicken pieces, return pieces to skillet. Fry for additional 7 to 8 minutes. When each piece is done, dip or drag through honey mixture (it will be the consistency of water) and place each piece on wire rack to drain (keep cookie sheet under wire rack). Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Chicken will stay nice and crispy on the outside and nice and juicy on the inside.

I hope you enjoyed my little trip rolling over the memories of my mind and I hope you enjoy the chicken twice as much.

– Charlie