JOPLIN, Mo. —
Anita Simmons’ award-winning fried chicken is no overnight sensation. Simmons’ flavorful fried chicken took first place this past week in the entree division of the Soul Food Cook-off, sponsored by the Joplin Emancipation Park Days Committee.
When Simmons was asked about the secret to her fried chicken, her answer was much like that of the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
“That chicken comes from 20 years of practice,” Simmons said. “It took me 20 years to learn how to fix fried chicken the right way.”
In addition to Simmons’ fried chicken, other first-place winners at the Soul Food Cook-off were Janice Booth, who won first place in the sides category for her collard greens, and Louise “Coolie” West, who won the desert category for her jelly cake.
Simmons said one of the secrets to her fried chicken is marinating the chicken for 24 hours before she dredges it in a mixture of flour and spices. Marinating the chicken, she said, allows the flour to practically cling to it, creating an even coating and, at the same time, ensuring that the chicken remains moist as it cooks.
When asked what she uses as marinade, Simmons smiled and shook her head.
“I can’t tell you that. It’s a secret,” she said.
Simmons did say that she fries her chicken in a deep nonstick skillet, making sure the grease in the skillet is very hot. If it’s not hot enough, she said, the flour will not stick, and you’ll wind up with breadless chicken.
Learning from one of the best
When asked how she learned to cook, Simmons stepped back and pointed at ArBella Rodgers -- a woman sitting at a nearby table who was chatting with friends.
“I learned from that lady there,” Simmons said. “We lived next-door to her when I was growing up, and when I had something that she fixed, I would rush home and try to duplicate it until I got it right.”
That tradition of passing recipes and cooking tips from generation to generation is what gives soul food its soul, Simmons said.
“It’s all part of the tradition. I’m teaching my daughter-in-law to cook right now, and when I’m gone, she will carry on the tradition,” she said.