Ironically, the very popularity of chicken is it’s drawback. It is the leading source of protein the world over and it can be cooked in many different ways -grilled, steamed, fried, boiled, braised or barbecued. On one hand, it can be turned into a nourishing soup for the whole family; on the other, cooks in rich Chinese families have been known to use a whole chicken to get a scant half cup of super rich broth. Chicken is so affordable and versatile that it sometimes seems boring, resulting in anguished cries of ” Not chicken AGAIN !” or the dismissive ” It tastes like chicken.” On occasion I have said such things myself yet there are some chicken dishes that I never tire of .Rotisserie Chicken. Chicken pot pie. Chicken yakitori. And above all, fried chicken.
Not that I eat these delicacies that often. Most of our cooking at home is done on the stovetop and we rarely deep fry. Our home cooking is usually Indian , Chinese or South East Asian ( Thai, Malaysian , sometimes Burmese, Vietnamese or Singaporean). And as for fried chicken , it is too much trouble and entails using a lot of oil for the deep frying. Easier to eat all these dishes when we go out, which means I get to enjoy them only occasionally.
For a long time , before I knew better, I thought fried chicken meant Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC to give it it’s modern name. I didn’t care for its greasiness and would blot out the excess oil with a napkin before I bit into a piece. We humans have a predilection for fried foods. Hot. Crunchy. Salty. Juicy. It hit all the right flavor notes, but there was a vague sense of dissatisfaction. There was something missing. Extra-crispy was not the answer; I preferred the regular variety. Then, about 20 years ago, my wife and I had the misfortune to eat a bad batch of KFC , got badly sick and stopped eating KFC which, in our case, meant all fried chicken.
So , for the last dozen years or more, we made do with our other favorites particularly the rotisserie chicken from Costco, not only delicious but , at $ 4.99 a whole bird, an incredible bargain. From time to time , I would be reminded of what I had given up when I passed fried chicken emporiums. U.S fried chicken. ( Surely it must be better than Kentucky fried? After all , Kentucky is only a single state in the U.S.). Kennedy Fried Chicken.(Funny take on Colonel Sanders brainchild, but the shack didn’t look too appetizing). Maryland Fried Chicken ( The next best thing ?). Kansas Fried Chicken. ( Same initials , but ..??)
I resisted all these imposters. Then a couple of years ago , we went to North Carolina for a nephew’s graduation and found ourselves at Bullock’s , a BBQ joint in Durham NC. Along with the ribs and the brisket and the pulled pork, the family platter we ordered had a helping of fried chicken. Unable to resist, I grabbed a piece and had a bite. Sheer heaven. The meat was juicy and tender, the paper thin coating enclosing it greaseless and crispy and perfectly seasoned. Who cared about Colonel Sanders secret mix of 23 spices ? This was the real thing. At every other stop on our North Carolina trip, I made sure to order some fried chicken. Since coming back to New Jersey, from time to time I get my fried chicken fix at places like Brother Jimmy’s , a Southern style BBQ joint down the street from where we currently live in New Brunswick , NJ. Goodbye , KFC. Hello, Southern Fried Chicken.
Recently, I’ve also discovered another favorite place for fried chicken. It’s the Korean Fried Chicken ( KFC again!) at in the food court at H-Mart, the Korean supermarket. Korean Fried chicken comes in many styles. One popular version has a thickish coating and is drenched in a red sauce, sweet or hot on request. Ugh! The type I crave, is the garlic flavored chicken which has a thin crispy , almost crackly coating with a hint of sweetness.It is served with long, thin, wrinkly brownish colored fries … quite different from the ubiquitous machine cut McDonalds fries we are so familiar with. It also comes with some cubed daikon in a dilute sugar solution served in a styrofoam cup. It may not sound so but it IS good . In fact it is great !
Between Brother Jimmy’s and the H-Mart food court , I am one happy man .