Incase it isn’t already abundantly obvious, which I believe it is to most people, the South is largely defined by its cuisine, just like many regions of the world. Whenever I am home, or think about home I always think of the food: the bbq, the oysters, the greens, strawberry picking, shortcake, sweet tea, fried pickles, the shrimp and grits, fresh fish, corn bread, hush puppies, biscuits and gravy, the list goes on. Nothing though can compare to my Aunt Phyllis’ homemade buttermilk fried chicken. I have been meaning to get the secret recipe for years, and also buy a large enough frying pan. There’s no fooling around. You have to have the right equipment.
I still haven’t found a frying a pan, but I finally know the secret! When my parents I stopped in Richmond, VA to visit Uncle Bill, my mother’s brother, and Aunt Phyllis, who is from western North Carolina, they treated us to the legendary BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN and SPOON BREAD. It was the best surprise ever. I can’t tell you the whole recipe, but I will describe the feast.
The chicken was perfectly fried to a lovely crisp in varying shades of golden brown, and for this degree of experienced perfection it is important to have a digital thermometer because the chicken should be at least 160 degrees internally; a little advice without giving away too much. Using this standard the chicken becomes tender and juicy, and the batter light, crispy, and un-burnt. Many cooks, including myself like to think they have developed a certain intuition, an internal clock that tells them when, in what order, and how long it takes to prepare a dish/meal. This, however, is not infallible while a digital thermometer is, and after the chicken turned out so beautifully I will use one from now on.
To accompany the chicken we also had a traditional dish called spoon bread, which is related to corn bread but is really more of a soufflé. It is an adapted Native American dish that involves whipping air into the eggs to achieve that light, pudding consistency; an unusual method in Southern dishes. It is difficult to execute, as a soufflés usually are, but Aunt Phyllis remembers learning how to make spoon bread growing up in western NC and so has many years of experience coaxing bread to rise and hold. Light and golden, this creamy and savory side complimented the crispy chicken that has just a bit of spice to keep the taste buds interested. With a spoonful of mayo-based coleslaw to top it off, it was a meal to die for.
It is hard being surrounded by so much good food, but I won’t complain. I am lucky to know so many wonderful, adventurous cooks and foodies. And now that I know the secret of buttermilk fried chicken, I’ll have to start serving it up to unsuspecting Californians and watch the magic happen! Spoon bread is a whole other beast to be conquered, but one dish at a time.
I am also reminded that whom you share your food and time with is equally as important as the meal itself. Surround yourself with delicious food and beautiful people.