I grew up in the south and fried chicken was a family favorite in our home. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother was a great southern style cook, but never taught me how to cook. Actually I wasn’t even allowed to help much at all in the kitchen other than to dry the dishes or grate the cheese for pimento cheese sandwiches. However I loved to stay with her while she baked homemade bread, canned blueberry jelly, or whipped up a batch of fresh mayonnaise. A curious child, I would ask how to do this or that, but the answer was always the same. “Oh, I don’t know. I just do it.”
When I took Home Ec in the tenth grade, one of our assignments was to make dinner for our family. Naturally I chose fried chicken, mash potatoes and gravy, and some kind of vegetable which I don’t recall. All I remember was the chicken. This is rather embarrassing to tell on myself, but my mother cooked the entire dinner and there was never a question in her mind as to whether I was going to cook or not. The answer firmly was “no” and certainly not in her kitchen. As I look back on it today, I don’t know whether she thought I would make a huge mess and splatter grease all over her immaculately clean stove or that she thought she wasn’t a good enough cook to teach me. Probably the latter. I’ve found that a lot of people that cook from scratch using recipes in their head and do not measure don’t think of themselves as good cooks, which would apply to my mother. It certainly wasn’t that she wasn’t smart. She was a tough taskmaster on her students in her seventh grade English class and anyone who finished that class by golly spoke with good grammar and could diagram a sentence.
As my parents got older and my mother’s health declined, my father Bo did more and more of the cooking. One of his specialties was fried chicken, only he didn’t fry it, he baked it and we called it Bo’s "unfried" chicken. He made his own homemade bread crumbs by whirling around torn pieces of bread in what was then “the” new kitchen toy of the time - the food processor. To put his personal touch on the dish, he seasoned the crumbs with a few of his favorite herbs and spices.
One of the best tricks I learned from him was to add big generous dashes of Tabasco sauce to the beaten egg mixture. By the way, you almost can’t add too much hot sauce to the eggs. It gives the chicken a subtle extra kick of flavor, but definitely doesn’t make it hot or spicy.
The only major change I’ve made is to use really good quality extra virgin olive oil, because the flavor of the oil really comes through in this dish. You could also use a whole cut-up chicken or breasts with skin and bones to make a more authentic “southern fried” chicken. In either case, you’ll need to make more crumbs and egg wash, use more oil, and extend the cooking time accordingly.
We’ll be spending Father’s Day at a blogger get-together at Almost Heaven South on Lake Tellico for an authentic Texas BBQ served up by grilling greats Larry and Chris. To all the fathers out there, I hope you have a wonderful day surrounded by family and friends, filled with sunshine, happiness, and all your favorite foods. And be sure to give my father’s “unfried” chicken recipe a try. I know it’s sure to become one of your family favorites too.
Bo’s Unfried Chicken
From My Carolina Kitchen - Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, excess fat removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups unseasoned homemade bread crumbs (use a firm country bread)
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
Several big generous dashes of hot sauce, such as Tabasco
3 tablespoons (may need more) best quality extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Flatten the chicken breasts slightly with the heel of your hand, dry well with paper towels, then season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.
On a large piece of wax paper combine the bread crumbs with the flour, parsley, basil, oregano, and paprika. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together with several dashes of hot sauce.
One at a time, dip each chicken breast in the egg wash, allowing the excess to drip off. Then coat each side of the chicken with the bread crumb mixture. Place the chicken on a sheet pan and set aside in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to allow coating to adhere to the chicken.
In a heavy oven-proof nonstick skillet large enough to hold 4 breasts, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it is hot. Add chicken pieces and cook until they just begin to brown, about 2 - 3 minutes on each side. Turn carefully with a spatula or tongs. (When I first put the chicken in the hot oil, I gently scoot it around for just a second, no more, so they don’t stick. An unconventional method, but it works. After that, don't touch them again until it's time to turn them.)
After chicken has browned on both sides, you may need to add a bit more olive oil at this point so the chicken doesn’t stick. Place skillet with chicken on the bottom rack in the preheated oven and bake 15 - 20 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown on both sides and its internal temperature reads 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. It may take longer to cook, depending on the size and thickness of your chicken.
Remove chicken to a cooling rack and let rest for ten minutes. This is an important step, because if you put the chicken it on a paper towel right away, it will steam and the crust tends to come off.
This chicken tastes great served hot or at room temperature, making it perfect for picnics or family outings.