American food came up the other night as Independence Day was looming, and we ex-pats decided to plan a party for ourselves. It came out of a discussion I was having with my eminent friend, Don Michele di Sicilia, over dinner one night at the Palazzaccio, which is one of our favorite restaurants here in Umbria. As usual, we were eating while talking about eating, planning another meal while ingesting the one in front of us. It may not exactly be living in the present, but I don’t think it’s bad for the digestion to know that there’s another good meal in the hopper for tomorrow night.
Anyway, we were eating grilled lamb and discussing fried chicken. Don Michele was extolling the virtues of a buttermilk batter whereas I was of the opinion that the coating should be in parts – first a dip in the egg and milk; then a roll in the flour before going into the hot fat. To me a batter is too all encompassing; it creates a shell around the chicken, so that the crust and the meat inside are separate entities. I prefer a marriage between the outer and the inner. I feel the same way about onion rings. And life.
When he started to get adamant about his batter – and Don Michele can get adamant – I told him about Chicken Betty and the best fried chicken in the world.
I still have the recipe for Chicken Betty’s chicken, cut out from the New York Times long, long ago – back before archives, before computers, back when the Times was delivered by horse-drawn wagons in the early hours of the morning. Clip-clop, clip-clop. It’s my second oldest recipe, the first being my mother’s crab cakes.
Chicken Betty hung out in Kansas City, as best I can recall. She made chicken and people came from miles around to eat it. Then the Times published her picture and her method and I’ve been eating great fried chicken ever since.
It goes like this:
Combine an egg with a cup and-a-half of milk and stir vigorously with a fork;
Set out a shallow tray with a lot of flour;
In a big sauté pan, melt 4 tbsps of lard into some peanut oil; the fat should be about a good inch deep in the pan; the fire should be about three-quarters;
Dip each piece of chicken into the egg mixture, let each piece drip off a bit and lay them onto a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap; salt and pepper both sides;
When the fat is ready – a piece of bread dropped in should bring up a nice bubble — but not too hot – toss each piece of chicken into the flour and pound the flour into the skin on both sides; then shake off the excess. Don’t flour the chicken until the fat is almost ready or it will sit there and turn into the despised batter;
When the fat is perfect, put in the chicken pieces and let them get golden on one side – it should take six to seven minutes; adjust heat accordingly – then turn and brown the other side;
Then lower the heat, cover the pan three-quarters and let it cook twenty minutes, turning once;
Drain on paper towels, salt and go to town.
Don Michele offered to bring a German potato salad to the party in exchange for tasting Chicken Betty’s chicken;George and Mariane brought prosecco; my sister-in-law, Barb, did a great coleslaw; Jim and Joanne brought a wild rice salad; JoJo brought chips and a home-made salsa with chilis from Laos; Martin and Karen brought an eggplant casarole; Jill, of course, did the salad – and a fine, patriotic time was had by all.