Fried chicken is hot.
As evidenced by last summer’s chicken-sandwich war between Chick-fil-A and Popeyes, the battle has elements of the Trojan War. Popeyes is the face that launched a million tweets (adjusted for 2019 inflation). Sparks of outrage, prohibitive lines around the block, connection to a murder, dozens of fights, Tik Tok videos — the modern-day history of fried chicken as we know it is changed. Fried chicken has become the great equalizer. Tradition has given way to style and it’s trendy again to eat fried bird. Even non-chicken eaters will look to a chicken-fried steak or a chicken-fried mushroom with comfort and joy.
What people don’t know is that the best fried chicken, on a sandwich or not, is skillet-fried chicken.
Oil, vegetable shortening or lard, the yard bird is best seasoned, floured and slowly lowered into hot oil that bubbles and sputters with delight as the chicken cooks. Cast iron heats evenly, retains heat and actually imparts a miniscule amount of the iron to the food cooked in it. Roman enemies boiled in oil never had it so good.
In the Triad, we are lucky to have three longstanding restaurants where diners can find the golden truth every day of the week.
Sundays and Tuesdays are skillet-fried chicken nights at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Greensboro. Rendered lard is blessed with wings, legs and breasts. The crust has a light coating and the tender meat is juicy. Served with mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, collard greens and a hunk of cornbread, you can switch up the sides if you like, but Lucky knows best how its fried chicken should be served. And I agree.
Smith Street Diner has fried chicken night on Thursdays including extended hours for diners craving the cozy atmosphere alongside the greasy spoon’s menu. A whole fried chicken, two sides (I highly recommend the rice and gravy and collard greens) with your choice of bread (cornbread, roll or a giant biscuit). Cut into quarters, the chicken has nooks and crannies and a crisp crust that begs for the skin to be peeled off and eaten separately.
Miss Ora’s Kitchen in Winston-Salem has skillet fried chicken Tuesday through Saturday. Not only can you get chicken by the piece, but tenders, livers, gizzards and wings are available every day too. It’s served with a fluffy sweet-potato biscuit (a small nod to its sister restaurant, Sweet Potatoes), but the secret is in the oil. Fried with pieces of pork fatback, not only does the chicken hum while it’s cooking, it sings when it’s done and you get to eat the crispy fatback as a prize.
“It’s cheap flavor,” says executive chef and owner Stephanie Tyson. “And you can eat it.”
When asked about the lure of the fried chicken frenzy of 2019, Tyson and partner Vivian Joiner of Miss Ora’s Kitchen both agree: It’s a personal thing.
“Why eat chicken with hate when you can come here and eat chicken with love?”
Everyone has a special relationship to fried chicken. Whether you’re cooking it or eating it, it evokes emotions and memories in all of us.
Want to go?
- Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen: 1421 Westover Terrace, GSO
- Smith Street Diner: 438 Battleground Ave., GSO
- Sweet Potatoes, A Restaurant: 607 N. Trade St., WS
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen Skillet Fried Chicken
- 3 – 3/12-pound cut-up fryer chicken
- 1 1/4 cups oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp minced garlic (optional)
- 4 tbsp minced parsley (optional)
- Heat oil in cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. The oil should come about halfway up the sides of the skillet (adjust amount to skillet size).
- Combine garlic and parsley in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
- Wash chicken pieces in cool water, pat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk egg, evaporated milk and water. Season with salt and pepper. Place flour in a separate bowl.
- One piece at a time (starting with heaviest pieces) dip chicken into egg wash, squeeze, dip into flour and place gently in skillet. Do not overcrowd skillet.
- Maintain temperature of 350. Use tongs and fork to turn chicken often for 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken from oil, pierce with fork and squeeze. Return chicken to skillet for approximately 7-8 minutes.
- Chicken is done when no longer hissing and juices run clear. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to drain. Immediately top with a sprinkle of garlic and parsley mixture.
Reprinted with permission.