By Paul Suplee
Superstition is an amazingly powerful thing, whether it’s wearing the same jock strap – unwashed – for every game as a defensive lineman for the Saints, or practicing that bizarre batter’s ritual every time that you come up to plate. Or, maybe it’s never taking a banana on a boat, or always taking fried chicken (as long as no one eats the last piece); regardless, it just never seems to end. What is it about superstitions that can take such a grip on people?
I for one do not subscribe to superstition too terribly much, but I can assure you that I will never take a banana on a boat. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been caught in my fair share of squalls on the Chesapeake, and I know better than to tempt water. I paddled out in Ventura in 1991 or 1992 in double overhead conditions and had no idea how I was getting back in, or if I ever would. Mayhap that is why I was the only soul in the water; the waves were frightening and all closeouts, but I was young and foolish, so it seemed like a good thing as I drove south from my brother’s house to mine in San Diego. I didn’t have much respect for the water that day, but I learned a valuable lesson. Rather, I was fortunate enough to be given another chance to respect the water.
Fried chicken on a boat, though? That’s another story. Of course, some people believe that you cannot eat the last piece; almost a sacrifice to the fried chicken gods. Who knows? But do I make my own, or do I go to my local convenience store (you know which one I’m talking about, don’t try to kid me) and just buy it? I for one am buying it, but I do make a mean fried chicken.
I have written before about the elusive nature of a good fried chicken, that ubiquitous foodstuff that finds its way into many a picnic basket, church luncheon, fire hall dinner or fishing boat. And for as many people there are who cook fried chicken, there are even more recipes, techniques and tricks as to making it “perfectly,” always subjective as we well know.
It has been a frustrating road, to be sure. With that being said, years ago I spearheaded an annual community dinner at the high school where we would feed about 250 people and the menu would have fried chicken on it. It was good and people would come up and tell me that they loved it, so I had figured it out. But, it still wasn’t as good as that gas station that peppers the Eastern Shore every few miles along Route 50, was it? It was close, but humility teaches us that sometimes we simply cannot better some things. Of course, it helps that our aforementioned gas station/convenience store uses pressure fryers, yielding a product that simply cannot be recreated in a normal fryer.
Catering the Pittsville Fire Department annual awards banquet this past weekend, I found myself with the typical pre-Eastern-Shore-banquet jitters as we had, you guessed it, fried chicken on the menu. People on the Eastern Shore know their fried chicken. It is an institution.
Few things are holier than a good fried chicken around here, so it has to be right. As we have had some visiting chefs this winter come in randomly to help out in their offseason, I picked up another technique for making this local specialty and I was pleased with how many of our guests came up to me to tell me that the chicken was off the hook.
Chef Glenn from Mickey Fins has been checking in on occasion and this tip came from him. I had never seen it before and the ingredients were standard, but once again, it came down to technique. By simply letting the chicken sit in the breader overnight, it became its own batter, and the skin, incredibly crispy, helped to keep the meat itself moist and delicious.
Enjoy this recipe, as it is a good one, simple and consistent. For me, I will still buy mine, but that is just me. I mean, I’m not saying that I’m superstitious or anything, but why change a good routine?
makes 10 pieces per bird
1 quart Buttermilk
2 Tbsp. Old Bay
1 3-pound chicken, broken into 10 pieces (breasts split in half)
3 cups House-Autry chicken breader
- Combine the buttermilk and Old Bay and pour over the chicken
- Marinate for three hours and then drain well, but do not pat dry
- Toss the chicken in the breader
- Wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight or for at least four hours
- The chicken breader, soaking in the buttermilk and juices, will then become a batter
- Set your fryer up with the oil at 360F and fry the chicken to an internal temperature of 165F for 15 seconds. Make sure that you do this in small enough batches that the cool temperature of the chicken doesn’t drop the temperature of the oil too much
- When the chicken has hit the proper temperature, remove to a drain rack (cookie racks work well) or paper towels
- Eat and make sure that you have plenty of hot sauce at the ready!