This weekend is Labor Day Weekend, the unofficial end of summer. Like the other bookend holiday which unofficially kicks off summer--Memorial Day-- this holiday has become associated with gathering friends and family for an outdoor-friendly meal.
Before I talk about food, let me take a moment to praise those laborers whom this weekend's holiday honors. We are all indebted to Fire Fighters, First Responders, Police Officers, Farmers, Teachers, Construction Workers, Truck Drivers, Factory Workers, Health Care workers, and more. They work long hours to keep us all safe, fed, rescued, educated, housed, healed, and cared for in our old age. Come Monday, many of these ordinary heroes will be hard at work while I am sleeping in and preparing dinner for my loved ones. Thank you for all you do!
Now, back to that Labor Day dinner. Grilling out burgers, hot dogs, and brats is pretty traditional for both Memorial Day and Labor Day, weather permitting. But I think serving a good ole' American favorite like Fried Chicken is another excellent choice. Fried Chicken is pretty universally beloved (except for vegetarians and vegans, but I suspect that Fried Chicken and bacon represent the two biggest temptations for the meat-free diet).
I grew up on a farm, and when I was young my grandparents, who lived on the next farm, raised chickens. When we went to Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner, we had amazingly fresh chicken. And I do mean fresh. I still remember standing in the kitchen, plucking feathers off the soon-to-be-chicken-entree. These days I live in the south, where Fried Chicken is virtually an institution. Early Scottish immigrants originally brought to America their recipes for fried fritters made of chicken. But the Fried Chicken we know and love was developed by slaves on southern plantations, who raised chickens and prepared chicken dinners for rare special occasions. These cooks added their blends of spices to the chicken, and made it something special. I am deeply impressed how cooks in such horrid and inexcusable circumstances, with so little in the way of food products at their disposal, managed to take what they had and produce delicious dishes. Fried Chicken has got to be one of the most popular dishes in the country to this day.
What’s not to like about crunchy fried chicken? It’s great piping hot, fresh from the skillet. It’s equally wonderful served cold for a picnic. Heck, it’s good when you sneak it as a midnight snack straight from the fridge! The cinnamon in the coating in my recipe might sound different, but it gives an intriguing aroma to the chicken. The addition of baking powder makes the coating light and crispy. Recently I brined this chicken overnight to serve for dinner, but we had a last minute change of plans and the chicken had to remain in the brine for the next night’s dinner. The resulting chicken was sublime—unbelievably moist and deeply flavored. Okay, I know it’s a stretch to plan and marinate dinner two days ahead of time, but give it a try. The prep work only takes minutes, and you’ll love the results.
1 fryer chicken cut into 8 parts (cut breasts in half if they are large)
4 tablespoons seasoning salt (I use Lawry's)
1 onion, cut up
2 quarts cold water
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour (or subs. 1 cup Matzo meal for 1 cup of the flour)
½ tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons seasoning salt (l like Lawry’s)
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 quarts oil for frying
2 quarts oil for frying
Marinate chicken in water, seasoning salt and onion for at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours. I like to use gallon sized zip lock baggies for marinating. Drain chicken and dry it with paper toweling. Mix flour with remaining ingredients. Dredge chicken in beaten egg, then in the seasoned flour. Let rest for 30 minutes. Fry chicken pieces in oil (peanut oil is best) over medium heat for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces) or until juices run clear. Be sure to use a skillet wide enough to accommodate all the chicken pieces without crowding them. You can always split the chicken into 2 skillets. When the chicken is done frying, drain it on paper toweling or on a cooling rack, which I prefer because it keeps the chicken from getting soggy. A good, old fashioned cast iron skillet is perfect for frying chicken because it heats evenly and holds heat well for consistent cooking.