Of all the things my mother cooked when I was growing up, this may be the one that I end up doing the most explaining about. It’s not like any other fried chicken I’ve ever eaten or heard about, and people often tell me that it’s unlike any fried chicken they’ve had, either.
Technically, it’s not even just fried: it’s fried and then baked. But it’s the breading that’s most unusual. Mom uses Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, and the coating isn’t light and crispy—it’s substantial and crunchy, and not at all greasy, despite being fried in a nice big puddle of oil.
Growing up, I didn’t like meat. Even when I was eating baby food, mom had to hide the meat behind my veggies to get me to eat it. But the cool thing about fried-chicken nights, to me, was that I could get the total yum of mom’s fried chicken without eating the meat, if I played my cards right:
Card #1: Eat plenty of the pancakes. (“Pancakes” = the fritter-like things my mom made from leftover breading ingredients, and my favorite part of the meal, with the exception of…)
Card #2: See if you can cadge some chicken skin from someone, or manage to eat just the skin off a piece without mom noticing.
Mom HATED it when I ate just the skin from a piece of chicken, but she eventually got used to the idea that there was no way she was going to force me to eat the chicken, so she may as well let me have a piece of skin and give the meat to someone who wanted it. But it took years. And the innate stubbornness of her darling daughter.
I’m calling this “weekend cooking” because it’s just plain time-consuming. It’s NOT hard, not at all. Just takes a while, especially if you make a lot, and if you’re anything like my mom, you’re not going to bother making it unless you make a lot. I suppose if you only made as many pieces as would fit in one frying pan, the time factor would be much lessened. Hypothetically, of course, because I have never seen mom make less than ten pounds of fried chicken at once. In the summer, it’s good cold the next day. In the winter, if there’s any left over, it’s great reheated.
Munchkin The Elder always calls this “Nana’s Famous Fried Chicken”, but growing up, it was just fried chicken. I didn’t have any other kind until I was an adult. All other kinds are some weird substitute. And these days, I often even eat the meat.
It’s kind of like me, too, now that I think about it. A little Italian, but not in all that overt a way, and American, but in just a weird enough way that people kind of wonder. It’s multicultural fried chicken—yeah, that’s it!
Nana’s Famous Fried Chicken
5-6 pounds chicken parts (mom does 10 pounds of leg quarters; I use thighs)
Oil for frying (I used more than a pint, but less than a quart, for this amount of chicken)
The Breading, dish 1 (halve if you don’t want pancakes from the leftover):
6 eggs, beaten with
1 T. oil and
1 T. water
The Breading, dish 2 (halve if you don’t want pancakes from the leftover):
1 can (15 ounces) Italian Breadcrumbs (or make your own)
1 cup Parmesan cheese (yes, in the green can. Cope.)
1 T. granulated garlic / garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
With one hand, dip the chicken pieces one at a time into the egg mixture. Place the chicken into the breading dish and use the other hand to cover the chicken with bread crumbs. This way, you won’t bread your fingers. Bread all the chicken pieces one at a time that way, and place them on a dish that will fit in your fridge (layers are fine). Let rest for 30 minutes to 3 hours in the fridge.
If you’re making pancakes, mix the bread crumbs and egg mixture together, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water to the mixture to make a thick batter, then let sit covered in the fridge until the chicken is done frying.
Preheat oven to 350F. Fill a heavy frying pan (I use cast iron. Mom often used whatever she had handy, and for a while, she used an electric skillet) with enough oil to go up to about halfway on the chicken pieces. I started with about a pint in my 10-inch iron skillet. Heat on medium-high until a piece of breading sizzles when it hits the oil.
Fry a few pieces at a time (as many as will fit in your skillet — I did 3 at a time), turning once, until both sides are browned as brown as you like it. Place the fried pieces on a cookie sheet in the oven. Mom says to tell you it’s not done yet. Keep frying and adding the new pieces to the oven to finish cooking. By the time you’re done, the pieces you put in first will be perfect. If you’re not making the pancakes, go ahead and serve those pieces, turn off the oven with the rest of the chicken in it, and let it heat through while you eat. Otherwise, leave the oven on, make the pancakes (see next paragraph), and by the time you’re done with those, all the chicken should be done.
To make the pancakes, just fry 1/4-cup-or-so portions of the batter, turning once, until they’re as brown as the chicken or a little browner. Don’t worry if the oil foams up so you can’t see the pancakes — it’ll die down in time for you to flip them.