Fried chicken (not to be confused with chicken-fried steak) may the quintessential Southern dish, but the crisply battered bird didn't actually originate in the South.
Fried chicken first started popping up on Sunday supper menus and after-church dinner tables in the 19th century, a culinary gift of Scottish settlers who had migrated to the South. Recipes for fried chicken, however, date back as far as 1596—albeit with an unholy batter spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger—and there was a even a popular fried (though unfloured) chicken dish in ancient Rome, pullum frontonianum.
But it's not the history of the dish that consumes Southern cooks these days. It's a raging debate, and trust us, wars have been fought over less: To dredge or to dip? When it comes to Southern Fried Chicken, that is the real question. Fans of a dipping the poultry parts in a wet batter maintain the method seals in the juicy juices. Dredgers—even double-dredgers—swear on a stack of skillets that a dry flour batter produces a crispier fried chicken.
What cooks on both side of the argument agree on, though, is the necessity of brining the bird before the chicken hits the pan. Bone-in or boneless, dipped or dredged, a nice long soak in salt water or buttermilk will result in melt-in-your-mouth tender fried chicken. Another no-fail tip: use a cast-iron skillet and leave the lid on for 10 minutes or so after the chicken is browned on both sides. Remove the lid and let the combination of hot oil and air make the coating crispy again before serving.
And do the right thing by that bird after you've cooked it—serve it with hot buttermilk biscuits and warm buttery chicken gravy…true Southern perfection.
— By Stacey Norwood, Multimedia Editor