By Contributor Rebecca Lang
Passing down a love of cooking and a sense of place is pretty much a right-of-passage for Southern grandparents. I learned what it is to have a love affair with food and an appreciation of the fare of the South from two incredible women, my grandmothers. We called them by untraditional names as long as they lived. Claudia Thomas was “Tom,” and Sarah Dopson was “Sa.”
When Tom and Sa were cooking, everyone gathered round and waited to be fed. Friday night fish fries at Sa’s house were filled with hot creamy grits, sweet tea in her favorite milk glass pitcher, and snacks of crispy tails of the fried fish as they were piled high on the serving platter. She cooked those grits for hours on the stove while we could hear the occasional air bubble break through the thick, glorious, white delicacy.
Tom cooked such a big lunch every Sunday after church that we all napped for much of the afternoon. She served Coke in bottles and kept fried fatback on the back of the stove for treats. She made pimento cheese on the front porch and could whip up a batch of divinity without a recipe. With cooks like that only a few blocks away, I was destined to have a passion for home and the food that makes it mine.
I have always felt that Tom and I were connected on an even deeper level than that of a grandchild and grandparent. Our pure love of the kitchen bound us like nothing else could. It was her cast iron skillet filled with fried chicken that first taught me how comfort and love could be tasted and shared without saying a word.
For years, we cooked together, ate together, and talked for countless hours about all things food. I have no doubt that without my grandmothers to teach me the joys of the kitchen, I would be a different woman today. I am eternally grateful to both of them for years of biscuits, sweet tea, pimento cheese, crispy catfish, and pecan pies. There is no love like that of a grandmother in an apron with a stove full of tradition.
Tom’s Fried Chicken
1 (3.5 pound) cut-up whole chicken
1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening (more for larger skillet)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt and cover with cold water. Soak the chicken for 45 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the salt water and drain on paper towels.
Heat the shortening in an 8-inch cast iron skillet or a large deep skillet to about 360 degrees. The melted shortening should be about 1-inch deep.
Sprinkle the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Coat each piece completely with flour, shake off the excess and gently place the chicken in the hot shortening. Fry 10 to 12 minutes per side or until golden brown, about 25 minutes total. Fry chicken in batches to prevent the skillet from becoming crowded.
Check the temperature of the oil occasionally. If the oil is too hot, the chicken will be too brown on the outside but not fully cooked through.
Drain fried chicken on a cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet. Serves 4 to 6.
Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved.
Editor's Note: Rebecca Lang is the author of the Quick-Fix Southern cookbook, 2011, Andrews-McMeel. For more southern recipes and stories, see rebeccalangcooks.com