« No apologies | Main | The glamour of grammar »

The One True Fried Chicken

As I walked past the deli counter at the grocery the other day, a platter of fried chicken tempted me briefly, but I walked on. With my grandmother and mother both gone, the chances of my ever tasting the One True Fried Chicken again in this life are negligible.

Nevertheless, hope flickers in this vale of sorrow and disappointment, and so I offer to those of you who cook what little I know of the technic* of my mother’s cookery. (I would even be willing to evaluate experimental productions, without fee.)

First, get hold of small pieces of chicken. Large pieces take longer to cook and therefore soak up more grease.

Soak the chicken in milk for a time. (I don’t know, overnight, a couple of hours? I wasn’t a damn spy in the kitchen.)

It’s OK to take the skin off if you have dietary concerns, but it’s better with the skin on. Similarly, you can use vegetable oil rather than lard. Save the lard for the pie crust.

Dredge the pieces of chicken in cracker crumbs rather than flour. Crispier that way. Any seasonings you mix in are your business, but salt and pepper are enough.

Put enough oil to cover the pieces of chicken in your grandmother’s iron skillet. All right then, your mother’s iron skillet. If you don’t have an iron skillet that has been seasoned for a least a generation, we might as well abandon this project right now.

Turn the heat on — gas or electric, it doesn’t matter — and throw three or four grains of popcorn into the skillet. When the corn pops, the oil will be hot enough.

Ease the pieces of chicken in, turning them to cook evenly. When they are the right shade of golden brown, take them out and let them rest for a few minutes on paper towels. They should taste just as good eaten warm or cold.

If you can master this, you will have revived a remnant of civilization in a world given over to inferior fried chicken, opening the minds of those you feed to the prospect of more graceful living.

Sometime, too, we need to talk about country ham. The real dry-cured stuff, not that stuff you find in the grocery that has been injected with saltwater for curing.

And after that how to replicate my grandmother’s homemade biscuits, which is what the ham should be eaten with.


*Technic is, sadly, a seldom-used word to identify skill. It derives, like technical and technique, from the Greek techne, or practical and applied knowledge; it is distinguished from episteme, which can be understood to mean abstract or theoretical knowledge.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:22 PM | | Comments (11)


If one's iron skillet isn't sufficiently seasoned, frying chicken in it is a great start towards remedying the situation (as long as one doesn't do anything foolish like washing the skillet with soap afterwards).

Oh, and buttermilk is even better for soaking the chicken pieces (please don't send your grandmother's ghost after me...)

Are we salivating over biscuits or beaten biscuits? I haven't had beaten biscuits since we lived in Maysville.

Beaten biscuits? Those rock-hard pale things? I think I nearly chipped a molar on one once. No, the biscuits my grandmother, Clara Rhodes Early, made were small raised biscuits. She saved the stale ones and ran them through the meat grinder to become the basis for dressing balls. (I'm not sure that anyone outside that part of Eastern Kentucky will understand what I'm talking about. I haven't had dressing balls with turkey for thirty years.)

But if you know Maysville, then your probably patronized Magee's Bakery. Maybe for the salt-rising bread. (My grandmother made that, but she cheated and used yeast.) Or the transparent tarts. (In the Bluegrass they talk about chess pie, and there may be some minor variation on transparent pie that I never understood.)

Anyhow, keep your voice down. Elizabeth Large is looking over my shoulder whenever I talk about food.

Okay (ops best make that Alright), you foodies, back to BA's blog. Loyalty has to count for something (although a source for country ham would not be amiss.)

"And after that how to replicate my grandmother’s homemade biscuits, which is what the ham should be eaten with."

Damn, let's get with the biscuits first.

I have similar memories of my grandmother's chicken & dumplings, certainly an Eastern Shore staple.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the rib-eye gravy to accompany the beaten biscuits. What kind of Southerners are you? My mother's Chess Pies are tarts with a filling similar to that of her Pecan Pie: dark and sweet.And what, pray, is a dressing ball? I'm happy to learn that John still clings to the hot but potent toddy for comfort.

One set of our neighbors welcomed us to Kentucky with transparent tarts from Magee's. My kids have fond memories of transparent tarts.

My biscuits improved immeasurably in Kentucky because I was using local flour instead of the northern flours I was used to in New York, which are made from harder wheat. I didn't know (before I moved) that the national brand of flour I used varied because it was milled regionally from wheat grown in the area.

And what are transparent tarts? Is there an opaque tart as well?

Dear John.. I am 72 years old and I have yet to master my Mom's and/or Dad's fried chicken. They both cooked and haled from Boonville, KY. as did my grandparents. Please, I beg you. I must learn how to replicate this wonderful chicken before I go to my grave. Also the biscuits. It is a matter of pride and I owe this to my four children and seventeen grandchildren and one great grandchild. Anything you can do to help will be so appreciated.
Most sincerely, Nancy PS. I am accomplished with green beans and "shuck" beans. Also apple and pecan pies. And.. wonderful corn bread. Oh..I must confess.. My childhood was wonderful and seems like yesterday. I still work everyday and love life, my husband, children/grand children, my country and God. Not necessarily in that order. Thanks again.

As I remember my grandmother also baked her biscuits in a cast iron skillet. Thanks for the memories.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected