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Jun 9, 2012 08:47 PM

Help! Someone's Last Wish For Downhome Southern Fried Chicken...

Dearest Friends,

You do not know me, but I've been a "Chow" lurker for years, always learning and becoming inspired by everyone in the community. I've tried my hand at recipes, helpful suggestions and plenty of tips and hints on where the best places to grab some grub should arguably be. The site is practically like family in terms of always having been a reliable source of advice I could come to at any time and gain valuable insights and ideas. Today is no different, but under rather unique circumstances I finally decided to join so that I could actually post and contribute... and I'll begin to explain why; as it is with a very heavy heart that I write this.

In some summary, back in January of this year, my husband and I relocated to a new area and met a neighbor across the way who is a firecracker of an individual brimming with personality, zeal and both a love and passion for life. Through neighborly conversations across our back alleyway and garage, we've been privileged to come to know this gentleman over the past 6 months. He has always been a unique and charismatic individual, one whose personality is the refreshing type of "in your face" "tell it like it is" attitude; a person who has learned a lot in life and through his own trials and tribulations. And ever since we met him... he has attempted in such good faith to offer back to everyone he knows the best parts of him that he can possibly offer as a result of his wisdom, experience and life lessons.

We knew early on of his significant medical issues and he has always been a trooper - come also to find out a survivor of lung cancer. But he was long in remission when we first met him - doing very well and continued to beam his personality over to us each and every time we saw him. Then one day a few months back, he had kept telling me that his dog was extremely and unusually clingy and he just didn't know why. I had suggested to him that he should go to the doctor, because given his history of cancer it was possible that his dog knew something he didn't and it would be wise just to make sure. I then asked him if he had been to the doctors recently and if everything was okay with him. He told me that a month ago everything had been just fine, so there must be some other reason the dog was acting weird. I shared with him my own personal experiences I've had and continue to have with my own two highly insightful Cocker Spaniels and my own medical issues that they both have known of before I did - as well as their knowledge of when I was pregnant before I even knew and urged him to please see the doctor. A few weeks later he did as his dog did not let up on his attachment... to eventually be given startling results: his lung cancer had returned rather furiously and he needed surgery, and at the time they gave him 6-12 months to live. Fast forward shortly thereafter... given a later unfortunate accident requiring x-rays, later then comes to find out that he now also has cancer of the spine. A few days ago he had been told by several doctors after multiple opinions that the cancers have metastasized and he is now stage 3 nearing 4 lung and stage 4 spinal cancer. They gave him less than 3 months to live if that after three separate opinions.

Given recent complications, he hasn't been able to eat and had been rather rapidly losing weight. He is now at a point however when the inflammation in his trachea and throat has gone down significantly and he can eat normally for a time, no more exclusively surviving off of Water, Ensure and Popsicles. In the meantime during the present window of time where he can eat normally, he made a request for homemade southern crispy fried chicken which he holds as the dearest of his all time favorite comfort food.

Now I like many of you have made homemade fried chicken before by both family recipe and cookbook style... and both myself and family has always been pleased. But as we all know, there are all sorts of "fried chicken" recipes from either source in terms of flavoring, seasoning, preparation etc. Ordinarily when searching for the perfect sure to please recipe, trial and error prevails... and you win some and lose some... a tweak here, a tweak there. But this is no ordinary situation and no time to not get it right when you have someone asking for it as their dying wish. If you can imagine for a moment, that you'd want to give someone a hell of a last meal and a forever lasting memory of a good time had by all while breaking bread eating down home southern comfort food... this is what I hope to accomplish, as I really need to make one helluva meal for this special human being. As I can't save his life, and know of no other way to help him except through prayer, I need to find some way to give of our family onto his with the blessings that we have and our shared love of food and cooking is the best possible and memorable vehicle to achieve this.

As I know he's been through much hardship and suffering in life and doesn't have very many people to rely on, I just want to give him a strong memory that people do care for him in this world and that much love, laughter and light can come from a shared passion of the love of food through a labor of love meant to both fill the belly and warm the heart. So you all can imagine why I am in active search for one of the truly best artery clogging fried chicken recipes possible... as sometimes many, many days can go by when he can hardly keep down water let alone liquid food and then the days when he can eat just like you and I as if nothing were wrong are growing far and few between, so I need to strike while the irons hot. As a result of the same, I am hoping that the faithful and teeming millions here on Chow can help me in this quest, to help me make one of the very best last meals possible for a wonderful and deserving human being who could use the smallest bit of happiness and levity to his coming days, however long those may actually be. With many thanks to all who may help me decide and cook this very special meal.

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  1. So, you want a recipe for southern fried chicken. Is that correct?

    3 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Yes, that is correct.... however as I do see you've referenced Google, I might respectfully add that I am very familiar with Google. My goal in consulting the good people on Chow was to find as "cream of the crop" recipie as I possibly could given the circumstances; whereas a full understanding of why I was asking for the same may inspire some suggestions and/or cooking tips to make it the very best possible beyond what has already been discussed and/or easily locatable on Google and/or previous threads. Given the circumstances and the fact that I simply don't have the time to test enumerated recipes to find the best one, I felt that a friendly discussion could inspire a "narrowing down" of what truly works and tastes awesome versus just a simply decent and average recipe that takes the edge off of an urge for fried chicken since this is such a special request. Just wanted to clarify for you...

      1. re: Resplendent

        I can't be much help on a recipe as I'm not a great chicken fryer myself, but I completely agree with mamachef that whatever you decide will be incredibly meaningful to your friend--and it sounds like you know your way around the kitchen so it will be a lovely feast. Do let us know what recipe you settle on.
        But no matter how good the food, the highlight will be the spirit of friendship and generosity.

      2. re: todao

        So, you want a recipe for southern fried chicken. Is that correct?

        I don't think the OP would have poured out her heart to us just to get a google page full of recipes. I think she wants a special recipe to make her friend feel comforted in his little time left on earth. One that is tried and true and a favorite. At least that is what I got from the post.

        To Resplendent: I'm no fried chicken expert by far so I do not have a recipe for you but I commend you on what you are doing and hope it all turns out for the best.

      3. The original comment has been removed
        1. If it's a fried chicken recipe you seek, here are several threads wherein the poster requests the best or real southern fried chicken recipes:

          1. I know you'll get plenty of recipes and links here, so I just wanted to tell you, I think it's a lovely thing you're doing, and it's important.
            I also think that whatever recipe you do end up using, he will appreciate the thought and the time and your wish to comfort him more than he may actually enjoy the food itself. Taste-memories can be hard to capture, but I'm betting that if you make great fried chicken in a black iron skillet, and take as much care and concern as you did with your post, it will be just fine, and he will be very happy. Make a little extra mash and gravy - it might go down a little easier, if he's having trouble digesting stuff.
            Very kind of you.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              I appreciate your kind encouragement. I see we think alike... I was thinking the same thing about the mashed/gravy. I think I'm also going to do Collards... as when done the right way and cooked for hours and hours - they get very soft and flavorful. I also plan on doing some iron skillet buttermilk biscuits and skillet cornbread so both of those should also be soft and fluffy and easy to palate. I think I'll finish it off with some sweet potato pie and I don't think I could get anymore "downhome southern" than that!

              1. re: Resplendent

                I think it's just fantastic. I do speak from personal experience, having battled cancer w/ my son until last year. Food was a difficult one to dance around, and I got amazing support and encouragement and suggestions here. I appreciated your post and how it clarified your situation and your wish to bring comfort and let your friend know that he is indeed thought of and loved greatly. Your menu is authentic and heartwarming and he'll love it.

            2. This is a personal favorite. Sssh don't tell anyone. It's good.

              The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
              Published on: 10/18/07

              Watershed Pan-Fried Chicken
              4 servings
              Hands on: 1-1 1/2 hours
              Total time: 24 hours or more
              This recipe, from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis' "The Gift of Southern Cooking," is the one the restaurant uses for its renowned Tuesday fried chicken nights. It blends the authors' best chicken-frying tips from Virginia and Alabama. The chicken gets two long soaks, Alabama-style, first in brine and then in buttermilk. The saltwater brine helps the flesh retain moisture and season it all the way through; the buttermilk adds a tangy flavor and helps tenderize it. The Virginia-style frying fat combines lard and sweet butter, flavored with a slice of country ham, making the chicken extra-crispy and rich-tasting. The cornstarch in the dredge adds to the crispness as well. Other tips from the book: "Be sure to pat off all excess dredge; fry evenly at the proper temperature; and drain the chicken well on crumpled-up —- not flat —- paper towels or a wire rack." If making the Tomato Gravy (see recipe), be sure to keep the skillet drippings.

              1/2 cup kosher salt (do not use table salt for brining)
              2 quarts cold water
              1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
              1 quart buttermilk
              1 pound lard
              1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
              1/2 cup country ham pieces, or 1 thick slice country ham cut into 1/2-inch strips
              1 cup all-purpose flour
              2 tablespoons cornstarch
              1 teaspoon salt
              1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

              To make the brine: Stir kosher salt into cold water until dissolved. Place chicken parts in a nonreactive bowl or pot; add enough brine to cover completely. Refrigerate 8 to 12 hours.
              Drain the brined chicken and rinse out the bowl it was brined in. Return chicken to the bowl, and pour the buttermilk over. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. Drain the chicken on a wire rack, discarding the buttermilk.
              Meanwhile, prepare the fat for frying by putting the lard, butter and country ham into a heavy skillet or frying pan. Cook over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, skimming as needed, until the butter ceases to throw off foam and the country ham is browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the ham carefully from the fat.
              Just before frying, increase the temperature to medium-high and heat the fat to 335 degrees. Prepare the dredge by blending together the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or on wax paper. Dredge the drained chicken pieces thoroughly in the flour mixture, then pat well to remove all excess flour.
              Using tongs, slip some of the chicken pieces, skin side down, into the heated fat. (Do not overcrowd the pan or the cooking fat will cool. Fry in batches, if necessary.) Regulate the fat so it just bubbles, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes on each side, until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Drain thoroughly on a wire rack or on crumpled paper towels, and serve.
              Fried chicken is delicious eaten hot, warm, at room temperature or cold.
              Per serving: 494 calories (percent of calories from fat, 59), 38 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 32 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 138 milligrams cholesterol, 466 milligrams sodium.

              Tomato Gravy
              2 cups (4-6 servings)
              Hands on: 25 minutes
              Total time: 25 minutes
              There are many who think a gravy or sauce of any kind would be gilding the lily —- and at Watershed the bird comes naked. However, in his cookbook Scott Peacock provides this offering for gravy lovers.
              2 tablespoons bacon fat or pan drippings from fried chicken
              1 cup finely diced onion
              2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
              1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
              1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
              1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
              1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
              1 pound tomatoes, fresh or canned, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces ( 3/4 cup)
              1/2 cup milk
              1/2 cup heavy cream
              Heat the bacon fat or pan drippings in a heavy nonreactive skillet and add the diced onion. Saute over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon of the salt, pepper and thyme, and cook for another 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring well, for another 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook 5 minutes longer.
              Slowly stir in the milk and heavy cream and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed. Serve hot.

              —- Adapted from "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

              3 Replies
              1. re: AAQjr

                I know how you feel. I've been through this with a few family members before. Even if he finds that he can only take a bite, I'm sure the effort you make will be worth it.

                I was on a 'perfect' fried chicken quest for two years. I tried all sorts of techniques. I'm the type of cook who thinks that the more complicated a recipe is the better it will be. This thinking was reversed with chicken.

                My favorite way, after all the testing, is this... Lightly salt the chicken the night before or morning of. Put flour and some cajun seasoning in a container with a tight fitting lid. 30 or 45 minutes before frying, dump the chicken into the flour container and shake every which way. Shake again right before frying. Oh, and leave the chicken on the counter top for the 30-45 minutes so it loses a little of the chill.

                For frying.... I like refined coconut oil the best. Peanut oil second best. Heat about one inch of oil in a cast iron pan, when hot enough (sprinkle a little flour in the pan to test. if it sizzles immediately it's ready) Place the chicken in the pan carefully and put on the lid. When browned nicely on the bottom, flip the chicken and replace the lid. I usually flip two more times after this without the lid.

                I resisted this technique forever because I thought the lid would make it soggy, but it doesn't. Also, only coating in flour (no egg dip) results with super crispy skin. Flabby skin is a pet peeve of mine.

                Also, I prefer to just fry the little drumsticks. They are my favorite and you a guaranteed that they will be done in the center. No guesswork, for me anyway, on the battle between greasy and undercooked, etc.

                As long as your chicken is not underdone - no worries. I mean, really, even bad fried chicken is still good. It's just that some is way better than others - but they're all pretty darn good.

                That said, I may have to try AAQjr's recipe above... :-) Although I'm not sure what to do with the tomato gravy?

                1. re: thymetobake

                  Serve that gravy in a bowl, with biscuits. And by the way, the above is one TERIFFIC recipe.

                  1. re: thymetobake

                    My maternal grandmother always served her tomato gravy with rice and often biscuits were available too. (There was so much else I can't remember everything that was in one meal.) Off the top of my head, this tomato gravy recipe sounds a lot like hers though I think she used milk instead of cream.