There was a time when almost every family celebration was an excuse to serve fried chicken. Today, everybody seems to get it at the takeout stands. It has not been completely forgotten by the home cook, however. In a recent survey by the National Broiler Council, frying is listed as the favorite method of cooking chicken in all regions of the United States.
And it is usually called ``Southern Fried Chicken,'' no matter where it is cooked.
Every Southern state has its cherished recipe for fried chicken, but it is so popular throughout the country that it could rightly be called an all-American dish.
There are many variations. The chicken may be deep-fried, shallow-fried, cooked in oil, lard, or other shortening. It may be soaked in milk or buttermilk, rolled in flour or batter-dipped. Sometimes seasoned flour is used, sometimes plain flour.
Southern Fried Chicken should be golden and crisp outside, and so tender on the inside that the juices spurt with each bite. In Kentucky, gravy is sometimes served, but on the side. In Maryland, the chicken is drizzled with a pale cream gravy. Old-time cooks still brown the chicken in lard, but not before they have fried a few handfuls of parsley in it to sweeten the flavor.
For those who do not wish to deep-fry or shallow-fry their chicken in lard, shortening, or oil, there is the ever-present oven-fried chicken, which, while tasty enough, will never quite replace ``perfect'' fried chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken 2 broiler-fryers (about 2 1/2 pounds each), cut up for frying 2 cups milk mixed with 3 teaspoons liquid hot pepper sauce 4 pounds vegetable shortening or 3 pounds vegetable shortening and 1 pound lard (for deep-fat frying) 3 cups unsifted flour 3 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 2 cups heavy cream
Place chicken in large, shallow pan. Pour in mixture of milk and hot pepper sauce. Turn chicken pieces in mixture. Cover and chill several hours.
Heat shortening, or shortening and lard, in 14-inch skillet over moderate heat to 350 degrees F. on deep-fat thermometer. Turn chicken once again in milk mixture, then roll, a piece at a time, in mixture of flour, salt, and black pepper. Dip dredged chicken in cream, then roll once more in seasoned flour.
Fry chicken in three to four batches in deep fat about 15 minutes, turning once, until richly browned. Drain on paper towels, then set on large tray covered with heavy brown paper and keep warm by setting uncovered in 250 degree F. oven. Serve hot or cold. Serves 6 to 8. Maryland Fried Chicken 2 broiler-fryers (3 pounds each), cut up for frying 1 1/2 cups unsifted flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1 quart vegetable oil 1 bunch parsley, stemmed, washed, and dried on paper towels 1/2 cup water Cream Gravy 3 tablespoons drippings (from frying chicken) 1 tablespoon butter 4 tablespoons flour for dredging 3 cups milk 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid hot red pepper sauce
Dredge chicken in mixture of flour, salt, and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch iron skillet until almost smoking. Add parsley and fry 5 to 8 seconds. Drain on paper towels.
Brown chicken in two batches, 8 minutes per side, then drain on paper towels. Discard drippings, but reserve 3 tablespoons for gravy.
Return all chicken to skillet. Add water. Cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes. Arrange chicken on large platter and keep warm.
For gravy: Mix drippings, butter, and flour in skillet over moderate heat. Add milk. Heat and stir 3 minutes till thickened. Add red pepper sauce. Let set 5 minutes over low heat. To serve, top with parsley and some of the gravy. Pass the rest. Serves 6 to 8. Exotic Fried Chicken 4 chicken breasts, skinned 2 cloves garlic, crushed 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon turmeric 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1 egg, beaten 3/4 cup bread crumbs 3 tablespoons oil
Cut each chicken breast in half lengthwise and flatten. Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a deep dish.
Rub mixture into chicken and chill for 3 hours. Dip in egg and roll in bread crumbs.
Heat oil in skillet and fry chicken breasts about 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels. Serves 4. Orange Fried Chicken 1 2-pound chicken, cut up Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon orange juice 1 teaspoon powdered orange peel 2 cups buttermilk pancake mix 2 cups butter-flavored shortening or oil
Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, orange juice, and orange peel. Roll generously in pancake mix. Place in hot oil in deep skillet. Pancake coating browns very quickly, so watch carefully.
Turn chicken as soon as browned. Reduce heat to medium immediately. Cook about 30 minutes. This method makes crisp golden coating and retains flavorful juices. Serves 6. Oven-Fried Chicken 1 1/2 cups poultry stuffing mix 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 clove garlic, crushed 1/4 cup butter or margarine (1/2 stick) 6 chicken pieces
Whirl poultry stuffing mix in blender or crush into crumbs with rolling pin. Stir in grated cheese. Crush garlic and add to butter while it is melting. Dip chicken in butter, then in poultry stuffing crumbs. Bake in 350 degree F. oven 1 hour.
With your fried chicken, try serving some coleslaw with your own additions of chopped apples, pineapple, raisins, celery, walnuts, or chopped green pepper. For a real Southern meal you might add sweet potatoes, cornbread or spoonbread, and a deep-dish fruit cobbler of peaches, strawberries, or whatever is in season.