Ever since my birthday dinner, chicken has been on my mind. These are some random thoughts about the various ways we fix chicken. Shhh! I’m not telling the hens who live just behind my cottage.
Fried chicken was not served in the home of my childhood. My Canadian father, always proper in a British way and a stickler for table manners, did not like food you picked up with your hands, except for a sandwich at lunch. Consequently, fried chicken was never on the table, and to this day I have never cooked it in my long cooking life.
Several years ago, good friend Carol Roark and I were going to lunch one day. She suggested Buttons Restaurant because she had a craving for good fried chicken. I followed her lead and ordered chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes. I was hooked, and fried-chicken lunches became a tradition for the two of us. The only difference was that I like dark meat, while Carol orders a half breast—too much dry meat for me. I confess I want more crust, less chicken. But the restaurant changed hands and good, old-fashioned fried chicken disappeared from the menu.
Carol and I looked for a new place to get a chicken fix and decided on Drew’s Place, a soul food restaurant. Most restaurants, from upscale to fast food, serve boneless chicken, what for some reason is called chicken-fried chicken. It isn’t the same. Trust me.
We made a date to go to Drew’s Place on March 19 this year. Of course, by March 19 none of us were going anywhere if we didn’t have to, and we surely weren’t eating in restaurants. Drew’s Place got put off until one day a neighbor’s husband bought chicken for lunch. I was hooked again, and for my birthday I requested—and got—fried chicken from Drew’s Place with green beans and mashed potatoes. It was every bit as good as Buttons.
To me, the distinction between bone-in and chicken-fried chicken is major. So is the spice level in the coating. These days, spicy chicken—perhaps from a Cajun influence—is all the rage. We have a chicken restaurant near us, but several people have warned me it’s too spicy for my northern-raised palate. I like a bit of spice, enough to give flavor, but I don’t think chicken should set your mouth on fire.
Another option comes to mind—rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. It in no way compared to bone-in fried chicken, but I use it in salads and casseroles. Poaching chicken is tricky—I find I often get it too tough. I think it’s a problem of overcooking, boiling the chicken too long or too hard, Suggestions online for poaching vary wildly but most recommend bring water to a boil and then simmering. Most say put chicken in the pot along with seasonings—celery, onion, peppercorns, whatever—bringing the water to a boil and then simmering. Some directions say as long as fifteen minutes, but Martha Stewart calls for simmering three minutes and removing from stove. I’ll keep experimenting, but meantime I buy rotisserie chicken—and fuss about having to bone it.
Rotisserie chicken is tender, its texture right for everything from Cobb salad to chicken enchiladas, its flavor pure chicken. Several flavors are sometimes available. Central Market offers traditional and classic (I have no idea how they differ) but also lemon pepper, Tuscan, jerk spiced, tamale chicken, and Nashville hot. The flavor of all these spices is mostly on the skin, and its there that rotisserie chicken fails. It can’t compare with fried chicken.
Another random thought about chicken—salad, this time. Do you like chunky chicken salad or one with flaked meat? I first had “smooth” chicken salad in a now-gone restaurant and decided it was wonderful! I like a pure flavor and mix flaked chicken (use a food processor) only with chopped green onion and sauce it with a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream with a healthy dash of lemon juice. No grapes and pecans for me!
Got a wonderful chicken recipe? Send it to me at email@example.com, and I’ll share it, with credit given.