Taking simple to a whole new level

I love fried chicken. I think fried chicken is one of the things that makes the South such a great place to eat. It’s also one of those dishes that no two people make the same way, which is another great part of its appeal. Every family has a recipe that’s special to them in some way, and some recipes are the product of a couple of those family recipes getting together to make something new. If people actually wrote these recipes down, they’d probably provide as accurate of a family tree in the South as all of the genealogy studies put together.

I love Williams-Sonoma. They sell quality products at admittedly frou-frou prices, and they also sell a lot of products that no one really needs. But it’s a fun place to shop, and I do think that it’s one of the places that’s helped to bring quality kitchen goods into more American homes. They encourage home cooks to experiment, and that’s a great thing. And, you know, sometimes you do just need a batter dispenser.

I also love Thomas Keller. He is without a doubt an incredibly gifted chef. He’s been one of the inspirations for young chefs all over the world. He makes incredibly wonderful food. His books are beautiful, and the recipes are uncompromising, some requiring days of prep work to prepare a single dish. His attention to detail and drive for perfection are a great part of what makes his food so unanimously adored. In a perfect world I would be able to jet off to Napa to enjoy a meal at any of his restaurants on a whim, and that whim would strike often.

And lest we forget them, I love chickens. They eat the scraps from your produce, stale bread, and have a near dangerous fascination with slightly moldy cheese. They appreciate the simple things in life like a juicy tomato or the crisp kernels of an ear of corn. They’re humble birds who, with the exception of their snooty blue-footed French cousins, never aspire to culinary greatness. To be perfectly honest, I don’t doubt that they would rather not aspire to culinary anything. They just taste so darn good.

So you would think that if fried chicken, Williams-Sonoma, and Thomas Keller got together it would be a beautiful thing. WRONG!!! It’s a travesty, is what it is! I’m sure that Thomas Keller makes great fried chicken (he did start out in Florida, so he’s kinda Southern at least). And I’m sure that Williams-Sonoma sells pans that would be great for frying chicken in. But don’t tell me that I need to spend $15 for a bag of seasoned flour and some spices for brining, and that it would be even better if I bought special brining bags. And that while I’m at it, I should really spend $200 for a super special fried chicken pan kit. Puh-lease!

The best fried chicken in the world never touched any of that. You brine your chicken in what you want to taste after you’ve chewed and swallowed – the tang of buttermilk is nice, but I’ve heard of using beer or even sweet tea. If you want it in a bag, a Ziploc works just fine, but I always just put mine in a reusable plastic container. You season your flour with what you want to taste as soon as you take a bite. And you don’t need a fancy pan or a deep fryer to cook fried chicken. An iron skillet is the best pan in the world for the job.

How about we take something that’s perfect being just as simple as it is and let it stay that way? Spend $40 (and that much only if you have to buy the iron skillet) instead of $240. The chicken will taste just as good, maybe even better. And you’ll be making fried chicken the way your grandmother and her grandmother before her did. You’ll be participating in the family tree of the Southern plate, and I promise, that adds a flavor that no chef can duplicate.

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