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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Southern Fried Old Birds


You know what they mean when they say an “old bird”. Some days I feel like one. Too much trouble to do a lot of cooking. After the kitchen and floors are clean you don’t feel like messing things up again. And besides, we are enjoying a lot of vegetables from our garden. So why heat and mess up the kitchen when you can eat a healthful meal without cooking. Nevertheless, on occasion I go to the trouble and make a time-consuming cooked dinner.
A recent night was one such occasion. A few days earlier we had stopped at the farmers’ market and supplemented our homegrown vegetable stash with some turnips, bell peppers and potatoes. And we bought a package of chicken quarters from a vendor we had not seen before: $22 worth of organic, free-range chicken pieces. The chicken pieces were frozen solid so we let them gently defrost in the fridge a couple of days.
Then I embarked on making that favorite from an old family recipe—fried chicken. My mother, although she never would have claimed to be a gourmet cook, could give old Colonel Sanders a run for his money. Her recipe was fairly simple, dip the chicken pieces in an egg batter and then in seasoned cracker-crumb and flour mixture.  To make the crust extra thick she usually double-dipped the pieces. And if you wanted to have the chicken tender as well as crispy, after frying the chicken crust to a golden brown you placed the pieces in an oven-proof pan and baked them for a bit.
I had to make a few modifications to the recipe to make it gluten free since I have celiac disease. But that was not an issue as I've adapted many recipes. This time I used a mixture of almonds and rice chex, seasoned with some fresh rosemary to boot, all ground into a nice crumb in the food processor. The egg wash was thinned with fresh buttermilk.
The chicken pieces were so numerous and the smell of chicken frying in the heavy cast-iron skillet so delectable I was tempted to make a few phone calls to see if I could round up some hungry friends who wouldn't mind the last minute invitation and mess of crumbs covering every surface. But some angel must have been on my shoulder as I resisted the urge.
When we sat down to eat our dinner of fried chicken, accompanied only by salads from the garden and baked potatoes, I couldn't wait to hear my husband’s reaction since it had been a long while since I’d made this favorite. Instead of “yum’s”, when I asked how he liked the chicken, he said “I haven’t been able to get a bite. We’re going to need steak knives.”
So we got out steak knives and tried to cut into the chicken. The little meat or tissue on the chicken, once you sawed through the chicken skin was so tough and fibrous it defied chewing. I tried to get a taste of one of the thighs. My husband tried three pieces and never found an edible bite.
I thought cock fighting was illegal in Kentucky. But these roosters must have given their lives in some combat. Or else they had died of old age and starvation. Their carcasses should have been buried, not sold. As Barnum reportedly said to Bailey, I guess I was one of those suckers.

We enjoyed my homegrown salad and baked potatoes. But we still had a crust-splattered stove, counters and floor, a large skillet and two baking pans to clean and a whole platter of inedible chicken to dispose of.  Next time I go to the farmers’ market I’m buying only from those farmers I know. 

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