Two Dixie staples meld for sweet feast
John T. Edge is a rising star in the food world. And he’s going to offer us a personal lesson on the right way to fry chicken.
Today’s recipe is sweet tea fried chicken, his "house" chicken, the chicken he fries for family and friends in Oxford, Miss. The recipe is from his latest book, Fried Chicken: An American Story, the first in a series about iconic American foods. If you want to know a culture, he says, examine its dinner plates.
In doing his research for Fried Chicken, he writes, "I gleaned a defining paradox: Fried chicken is at once a totem of tradition and a lowest-common-denominator lunch."
John T. is quick to point out that sweet tea fried chicken is not his recipe. It was created by John Fleer, chef at the Inn of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. This dish takes two Southern hallmarks and combines them in a delicious and unexpected way.
It is the zenith of Southern or maybe American fried chicken. Each piece is dipped in three mixtures — dry, wet, then dry again to create a thick, crunchy, salty crust melded onto tender and succulent meat. It seems almost impossible that one dish could completely embrace two such opposites and do it so well. But John T., as he is known, says it’s better after hours in the refrigerator, when the crust softens.
Aside from his scholarly pursuits of fried chicken, he’s got grease in his blood. A native Southerner, he holds a master’s degree in Southern studies from the University of Mississippi and is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss in Oxford.
He has captained the success of the Southern Foodways Symposium, a popular annual gathering that looks to preserve the history of Southern food.
He has written a handful of books about food, and he’s a good home cook, though he maintains that a domestic worker or a mother is still better at fried chicken than he is.
Sweet tea fried chicken
1 quart brewed tea, double strength
1 lemon, quartered
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 quart ice water
8 chicken leg quarters, cut into thighs and drumsticks
3 cups all-purpose flour (divided use)
2 cups corn flour (or fish fry; see note)
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon chili powder
Salt and pepper
1 cup buttermilk
Combine tea, lemon, sugar and salt and simmer for 5 minutes or until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Pour in ice water and cool brine completely. Submerge thighs and drumsticks in brine for 48 hours, refrigerated.
Remove chicken to a wire rack and allow it to drain.
Combine 2 cups flour, corn flour, Old Bay, chili powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. In a medium bowl have 1 cup flour, and in a third bowl beat the 8 eggs with buttermilk.
Line up, in this order, the containers of flour, egg-buttermilk mixture, and flour-corn flour.
Bread the chicken in the flour, then dip in the egg mixture and then the flour-corn flour mix, applying pressure to ensure even adherence.
Let the chicken sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before frying.
Pour oil into a heavy pot to a depth of at least 3 inches. Heat oil to 300 degrees.
Fry chicken, submerged in oil, turning occasionally, for 15 minutes or until an internal thermometer registers 170 degrees for dark meat or 160 degrees for white meat. Drain on a rack.
Cool to room temperature and then place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours and no more than 24.
Note: Corn flour is finely ground cornmeal. You can make your own by running cornmeal through a food processor.
By Laura H. Ehret
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Sun, Nov. 28, 2004