Every other week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes — dishes that have made their way from one generation’s kitchen to the next.
My Big Mama’s (grandmother) recipes are the epitome of timeless. While growing up, I would watch in awe of everything she would prepare in her small rustic kitchen in Mississippi. From the prep work of dicing and slicing to her impressive dinner table display, there was always such an electric energy pulsing in that space that transferred to everyone around it. The charming Southern cooking and laughter from our “back in the day” conversations with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are the memories I cherish. Each recipe on that dining room table inspired creativity in my own cooking and baking. Each memory became part of the fabric of who I am and was the catalyst for starting Grandbaby Cakes. Even today, in her late 80’s, my Big Mama is still creating the most inspired and remarkable recipes which I am proud to have in my cooking arsenal.
Left: My grandparents with my mom and uncle; Right: Big Mama with my brother and me
One of those recipes is my Big Mama’s fried chicken. Whenever we visited my grandparents down South, this ended up on the dinner table. It was always a fresh bird, perfectly seasoned with a juicy inside and golden brown crunchy crust on the outside.
The “back in the day” story of Big Mama’s fried chicken is equally fetching. According to my mom, Big Mama fried chicken at least once a week when she was growing up. She would buy chickens from her neighbor Ms. Barnett’s hatchery, then they would load the chicken crates into the back of Big Daddy’s pickup truck. My mom would shudder as the chicken crates were unloaded at home because she knew the inevitable was coming for these poor chickens. Big Mama would wring the chickens’ necks, then drop them in scalding water so she could then pluck all of their feathers. By the time Big Daddy got home from work, a beautiful fried chicken was on the table for supper.
Big Mama’s approach to frying chicken was quite minimalist: the chicken was coated with plain salt, pepper, and flour in a brown paper bag, then fried in a worn cast iron skillet with lard. As time went on and more ingredients became available, she would sometimes dip the chicken in eggs or buttermilk for a crispier crust texture or add different spices to her flour to vary the taste. By the time I learned to fry chicken from my mom and Big Mama, the recipe had evolved quite a bit from the original.
This recipe honors that classic while embracing newer techniques picked up along the way. Passed down from my grandmother to my mother and aunt and eventually to me, we have all taken this recipe and created our own unique spin on it. Now I am delighted to pass this family heirloom down to you.
Big Mama’s Fried Chicken
8-10 chicken pieces
3 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons seasoned salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, hot sauce and worcestershire and set aside.
- Next add flour, cornstarch, seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder to a paper bag and shake to mix well.
- Dip each piece of chicken into egg wash coating both sides then dip into seasoned flour thoroughly coating each piece. Then add piece to baking sheet to rest.
- Finish coating all chicken and let sit for 10-15 minutes until coating has set.
- While coating sets, add 1-1/2 inches of oil to a cast iron skillet or heavy bottom skillet and heat over medium high heat. Also turn on oven to 275 degrees.
- This is my test for knowing when the oil is ready: Big Mama always tossed a tiny bit of flour in the oil and if it began to fry and sizzle, the oil was ready.
- Fry four pieces at a time on each side starting with dark meat since it takes longer. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan. After each side has turned slightly golden, put the top on the skillet to steam the inside of the chicken ensuring doneness. After a couple of minutes, remove the top and continue to fry until the crust is crispy again and completely golden brown.
- Remove chicken from oil and place on paper towels or rack to drain. Place chicken on a baking sheet covered with parchment and add to warmed oven while finishing the other chicken pieces.
- Fry the remaining chicken pieces and drain and add to oven. Add the remaining chicken to the oven.
- Serve chicken when ready.
This article originally appeared on Food52.com: Big Mama’s Fried Chicken