What it means to be Southern (and a fried chicken recipe)

best fried chcken, frying

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what it means to be Southern, either by birth or by choice. As many of you know, I was born a Yankee. But I got here as quick as I could and have not over-stayed my welcome yet going on almost 50 years.

My great friend, Danny Bonvissuto, who is Southern through and through, shared another great Southern woman’s definition of the South. It’s from the noted actress Alfre Woodard being interviewed in this month’s Gun and Garden (which, by the way, is the most improbable name of a magazine ever):

“You want to know something? You can leave the South, but it never leaves you. And I think we feel confident because of that. If you are Southern, you never run out of company. Because it lives in your head and in your heart. It is a well inside you that keeps you from ever being lonely.”

I hate that I didn’t think of that first because she is exactly right. And she’s also right about what makes the South a unique place:

“I like that people touch each other there. They fight. They don’t back away from human contact. The South is like a family. There is more social engagement. There are more real relationships between cultures, age groups, economic groups. The people are alive. The region is a huge, breathing organism. My husband is from an old New England family. And I’m just saying, if you boil some meat instead of frying it, you aren’t going to be telling any good stories.”

You tell it, Alfre. And, of course, that comment about frying instead of boiling (who does that?) made me think of fried chicken, a topic of conversation that’s never far from my thoughts). I will say that I have fried many a chicken over the years, but I don’t do it often because King Daddy would not be able to fit through the door if I did. For my money, this recipe from Bon Appetit is the best fried chicken ever. Here’s the link but you can also just use this version below.

The Best Fried Chicken
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons paprika
  • ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 3–4-lb. chicken (not kosher), cut into 10 pieces, backbone and wing tips removed
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Peanut oil (for frying)
  1. Whisk 1 Tbsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, and onion powder in a small bowl. Season chicken with spices. Place chicken in a medium bowl, cover, and chill overnight.
  2. Let chicken stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and ½ cup water in a medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornstarch, remaining 1 Tbsp. salt, and remaining 1 Tbsp. pepper in a 9x13x2" baking dish.
  3. Pour oil into a 10"–12" cast-iron skillet or other heavy straight-sided skillet (not nonstick) to a depth of ¾". Prop deep-fry thermometer in oil so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°. Meanwhile, set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Working with 1 piece at a time (use 1 hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry ingredients), dip chicken in buttermilk mixture, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in flour mixture; tap against bowl to shake off excess. Place 5 pieces of chicken in skillet. Fry chicken, turning with tongs every 1–2 minutes and adjusting heat to maintain a steady temperature of 300°–325°, until skin is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes for wings and 12 minutes for thighs, legs, and breasts.
  5. Using tongs, remove chicken from skillet, allowing excess oil to drip back into skillet; transfer chicken to prepared rack.
  6. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces; let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.


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