Everyone loved Grandma Betty’s fried chicken!
When in the first grade my family moved away and lived on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas for about a year, but Grandma Betty would come visit and make her fried chicken on Sunday.
One Sunday she attended a tent revival meeting with us conducted by a man now well known as Reverend Billy Graham.
Brother Billy joined us at our house afterwards for a plate heaped with some of her fried chicken! He smiled and told Granny Betty that thanks to her fried chicken he’d have to say a prayer asking God’s forgiveness for gluttony.
He came wearing bell bottomed jeans instead of a Sunday suit and tie.
While waiting for it to finish being cooked, he sat my sister and I each on a knee and told us Bible stories for as long as we’d sit still (although two very short stories and a very tiny bit of the third is all we’d sit still for after sitting still for so long at the tent meeting and riding in the car).
Then my sister and I played while the adults visited and sang Gospel hymns. A family friend, Gordon (who we kids called “Dee Dee”), played an electric guitar, Dad an acoustic guitar, and Mom was on her tambourine. Granny Betty belted out in song that could be heard from the nearby kitchen and came in to sit and sing for short periods when she could.
Of course he graciously led the meal time prayer. After the meal and with the table cleared, they went right back to singing and playing instruments. When it finally came time for him to leave, prayers were again said and then Granny sent him very happily on his way with some more of her fried chicken in a brown paper bag.
Granny Betty’s Sunday Fried Chicken
2 large whole fryer chickens (today about 3-1/2 to 4 pounds each; almost twice as large as the 2-1/2 to 3 lb largest ones available back then), cut into 10 pieces each, rinsed, and soaked in enough Buttermilk to cover
3 large whole eggs, beaten with 1 Tbsp. Carnation evaporated milk
3-1/2 to 4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 3 Tbsp. paprika
2 teaspoons to 1 Tbsp. onion powder (optional)
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (optional)
Granny Betty would marinade the chicken in buttermilk on the counter top for 4 or more hours.
However, due to our modern day super bugs, on the evening before, I put mine in zippered plastic bags with buttermilk, place them in a casserole dish in case of accidental leaks, and let them marinade on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator overnight.
I pull them out to warm up to room temperature about 2 hours before using. I pour off the buttermilk and place the chicken in the same casserole dish and set aside to warm up. If placed in a different room temperature casserole dish only 40 minutes to an hour is needed.
Unlike Granny Betty and Great Granny Eary, I prefer to purchase my chicken already cut up or will ask the butcher at the meat counter to do it for me rather than cut up my own for frying. My hands simply lack the strength and dexterity needed for it these days.
While the eggs can be beaten with any kind of milk, there is something good to be said for the richness in flavor imparted by the canned evaporated milk.
Granny Betty would sift the flour together with the seasonings, cornstarch, and baking powder, but I usually just whisk them together until well blended.
However, if you don’t have a flour sifter but really wish to sift something together then you can simply use a wire mesh strainer.
I also add onion and garlic powder which she didn’t use. I like doing this because it makes the taste similar to that of a bucket of KFC’s Extra Crispy.
Granny Betty would use either purchased lard or Crisco hydrogenated vegetable oil for frying.
Great Granny Eary just salted and peppered the chicken itself after only dipping briefly into buttermilk and let the chicken rest on a plate or in a bowl while she prepared her flour and eggs and heating up the skillet and grease. She only stirred a little baking powder into her flour with a fork. She would save bacon grease from breakfast in a silver-grey colored grease tin kept sitting over the back of the stove for frying.
I like to use a combination of Crisco and bacon grease when frying chicken. I use the bacon grease from breakfast, cooling then saving it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or will fry a skillet full of bacon to obtain fresh bacon grease. I use about 4 to 6 Tbsp of congealed bacon grease and then add Crisco repeating when levels get low adding more only when there is no chicken in the skillet and allowing it to get hot enough first.
For best results, like both Great Granny and Granny Betty, I prefer to use an iron skillet and 1 to 1-1/2 inches of hot grease.
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, then in egg, and then dredge in the flour mixture again.
Make sure the grease is hot before putting in the chicken or the chicken will absorb more grease, loose much of its breading, and just end up soggy and greasy instead of crispy and crunchy.
If unable to tell when the grease is hot enough, you can use a meat or quick read thermometer to ensure the grease is preheated to 360 F degrees initially then keep it at around 325 F degrees while the chicken is frying. The tip of the thermometer should be held half way at mid-level in the grease not touching the sides or bottom of the pan nor too close to the surface of the grease for an accurate measurement.
Today’s factory farmed chickens are much larger, thicker, and far more meatier — and therefore take much longer to cook through than before — about 8 to 12 minutes on each side depending upon the type and size of the parts.
If testing for doneness with a meat or instant read thermometer it should read 165 F degrees in the center of the thickest portion while not touching any bone with the thermometer tip.
Don’t bread nor fry chicken straight from the refrigerator. The breading will not stick as well and it will drop the temperature of the frying oil resulting in greasy, soggy skin. Bring it up to room temperature first.
I use a screen splatter guard on top of the skillet to reduce the amount of grease left to cleanup on the stove. Later, when the stove has cooled, I use window cleaner with ammonia to help cut and remove the grease as well as sanitize and it makes clean up easier. Spray, allow to sit for 30 to 60 seconds, then simply wipe off with a paper towel before cleaning as usual with a well wrung cloth dipped in clean, warm, soapy water.
To ensure the chicken stays crispy and avoid condensation (moisture) collecting and creating a soggy bottom, line a pan with paper towels and place a wire rack on top of the paper towels. Rest the chicken on the wire rack when removed from the skillet for 8 to 10 minutes before plating.
If you do not have a rack, rest on a thick layer of paper towels and change out for fresh paper towels after five minutes or sooner as needed.
If having a bad day and unable to stand over a hot stove long enough, I will preheat the oven to 450 F degrees and fry the chicken parts on both sides in the hot skillet — for about 3 minutes on each side, then place on top of a generously spray oiled baking or metal cooling rack set inside a shallow baking pan to bake for 20 to 38 minutes (or until temperature is 165 F degrees on a meat or quick read thermometer). Remove and let rest while being left on the rack for ten minutes before placing on a serving platter.
If you do not have a rack, the chicken will need to be turned over every eight to ten minutes and if any excess moisture collects in the bottom of the pan it should be removed to prevent soggy chicken.
The pan may be covered with a sheet of parchment paper if desired to prevent sticking.
Spray oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil may be used. However, coating the surface of the pan or parchment paper lightly with real butter (not margarine) will help with making skin crispier on bottom. The pan or parchment paper may also be rubbed with a folded up slice of bacon until a clear, shiny coating of grease is seen.
Some recommend that you stop cooking the chicken at 157 F degrees because it continues to cook while resting for ten minutes, however, I have had chicken turn out still bloody and not well cooked closer to the bone when doing so — especially in cooler or rainy weather conditions. However, I’ve never had any to turn out over cooked by waiting until it reached 165 F degrees before I stopped cooking and allowed it to rest ten minutes.
Allowing the chicken to rest for ten minutes on a rack not only prevents potentially serious scalding mouth burns but also allows time for any outer moisture to evaporate preventing soggy skin.