Thursday, April 1, 2010

Veggie Might: UNCLE! You Win, Fried Chicken.

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Y’all, it’s been a crazy week. Kris and I had our names in proverbial lights, and I had a crisis of faith like none I could have ever expected. After reading all your amazing comments from last week’s VM column, I realized something that I thought I’d long suppressed.

I miss fried chicken.

As long-time readers have gleaned, I come from a Midwestern mom and a Southern dad and lived equally in both places before moving to the Big City. Family lore goes, the first thing my dad taught my mom to cook after they married was Great-Grandma Fisher’s Southern fried chicken. Sunday after church, Mom would fry up a batch of flour-dredged goodness with sides of rice and gravy, green beans, and corn—in the summer, the veggies were fresh from a neighbor’s garden.

Fried chicken holds all those memories of golden childhood that, as of this weekend, I just couldn’t resist any longer. But I said to myself, Leigh, if you’re going to jump, you gotta go off the high dive.

Let me reassure you that I didn’t abandon all my values over the weekend. My move to the move to meat was going to be the right way. Sonny, my local butcher, was sure surprised to see me darken his door on Saturday. I pass his shop every day while walking my dog, and we always wave and exchange pleasantries, but in 14 years, I’ve never been in his shop.

I took a deep breath and asked Sonny for a locally and humanely raised chicken. The smell of freshly cut steaks and chops filled my nostrils. I was transported back to my youth, shopping at Farmer Brown’s with my mother and siblings. Sonny was thrilled to oblige my request and asked about my dog, who he calls Pee-Wee, though that’s not his name.

There, on the spot, emboldened by adventure, I asked Sonny if he had any pork skin he could sell me. I remembered my dad talking about a Paula Deen episode in which she made her own pork rinds, and I figured I’d make my own too. He wrapped up a couple of pounds along with my two-pound fryer.

Back home with my quarry, I set to making my nostalgic dreams come true. This quest called for a spirit guide, so I called my dad. He was so happy to hear I was coming back to the omni fold I thought he might cry, even if I wasn’t planning to make Grandma Fisher’s recipe exactly.

Years ago, during the height of the Atkins diet craze, I read about Pork-Rind-Coated Fried Chicken. The recipe made the rounds on the Weight Watchers’ vegetarian messageboards, and we all had a good laugh about the “healthiness” of dredging chicken in egg and fried pig skins before a dunk in boiling oil.

Well, healthy or not, it’s unbelievably delicious and the perfect recipe to bring myself out of vegetarianism—or meat retirement as I’ve started calling it.

My Charming Dinner Guest was surprised to smell fried chicken coming from my apartment when he arrived for dinner, but happily joined me for heaping plates of pork-rind fried chicken with all the Angel family sides.

My apartment smelled just like I the Sundays I remember. Biting into the crunchy skin (still the best part!), I let the juice run down my chin—just once—before I grabbed a napkin. The deep-fried experience was everything I dreamed it would be, and, I dare say, it was worth giving up 19 years of vegetarianism for the pleasure.

You win, fried chicken.

Pork Rind Crusted Fried Chicken
Serves 4
Note: My picture wasn't the greatest, so this is provided by Ms. Paula Deen herself.

2 lb fryer chicken, cut into pieces
2 cups pork rinds
2–3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 cups vegetable oil

1) Rinse and pat dry chicken pieces.

2) Beat eggs in a wide, shallow bowl. Crush pork rinds and spread on a baking sheet or large platter.

3) Dip each chicken piece in egg and dredge through pork rinds until completely coated. Set aside until all pieces are coated.

4) Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet.

5) Carefully lower a few chicken pieces into hot oil. On each side, cover and cook over medium high heat for 5–7 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for 10 minutes. When both sides are cooked, give each side another 2–3 minutes to brown the crust. Repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

6) Drain excess oil on paper towels.

7) Make gravy with the drippings and serve with rice, green beans, corn, and, for dessert, a big ol’ Southern-fried APRIL FOOL! Mmmwah!

(American Chicken Room photo courtesy of Flickr member Badger 23.)

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