By Mike Pound
JOPLIN, Mo. —
There are several foods that can lay claim to being true American fare. Cheeseburgers, barbecued ribs, hot dogs and apple pie are a few that automatically come to mind. But if there had to be one meal that conjures up memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in small towns across the country, it would have to be fried chicken. Of course, to complete that fried chicken experience you almost have to include traditional sides such as mashed potatoes and gravy (milk gravy or brown gravy), biscuits and green beans.
In many families, fried chicken recipes are passed down like trade secrets. And debates over methods and ingredients rage. Pan fried or deep fry? Lard or vegetable oil? Crisco or Wesson? Whole milk or buttermilk? Salt and pepper or garlic? Flour or bread crumbs? Honey or no honey?
Longtime manager of Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor Restaurant and Bar, 5410 N.E. Oak Ridge Drive in Kansas City, Tammy Ruff knows a thing or two about fried chicken. Stroud’s, at its various Kansas City area locations, has been a Midwest Mecca for fried chicken since 1933. And when it comes to chicken, Ruff said there is only one way it should be prepared: pan fried.
While admittedly biased, Ruff said pan-fried chicken is far superior to deep-fired chicken.
“Of course it is. There is nothing that compares to pan-fried chicken that is just the right color and just the right texture,” she said.
If you’ve struggled to get your own homemade pan-fried chicken to just that “right color” and “right texture,” you might take solace in this bit of information. Ruff says that at Stroud’s, proper pan frying is considered such an important part of the restaurant’s appeal that their cooks typically spend at least a year and a half working in the kitchen before they are put in charge of a pan of chicken.
“We fry 16 pieces (of chicken) in a pan and we typically have 10 or 12 pans going at once,” she said.
“The guys on the line, that’s all they do is take care of the chicken.”
So is there a Stroud’s secret recipe for turning out the mouth-watering, legendary pan-fried chicken? Surprisingly, Ruff says there isn’t.
“Just flour and salt and pepper,” she said.
The key to tasty fried chicken, Ruff insists, is in the frying. The oil in a pan for Stroud’s chicken is heated over a medium high gas flame. When placing the chicken one piece at time into a pan, it’s important that the oil cover one half of the chicken. If the oil is too shallow, the chicken won’t cook through, Ruff said.
It takes about 25 to 30 minutes to cook a pan of Stroud’s chicken.
“It works out to about 12 to 15 minutes per side,” Ruff said.
When frying chicken, it’s important to be patient and to be vigilant. If the chicken appears to be browning too quickly, you can lower the temperature. After the chicken has been frying for 12 to 15 minutes, carefully turn each piece.
“It’s all in the turning,” Ruff insisted. “To get that even browning, the oil has to be halfway up (on the chicken) and then turned at just the right time.”
In addition to its Oak Ridge Drive location, there is a second Stroud’s restaurant at 4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway in Fairway, Kan. The original Stroud’s location at 85th and Troost in Kansas City closed on Dec. 31, 2005.
To go with Ruff’s basic Stroud’s recipe we have included fried chicken recipes from two well-known cooks.
Paula Dean’s Southern fried chicken
2 1/2-pound chicken, cut into pieces
Oil, for frying, preferably peanut oil
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/3 cup water
1 cup hot red pepper sauce
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon pepper
To make the house seasoning, mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange. In another bowl, combine the flour and pepper. Season the chicken with the house seasoning. Dip the seasoned chicken in the egg, and then coat well in the flour mixture.
Heat the oil to 350 degrees in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than 1/2 full with oil.
Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp. Dark meat takes longer than white meat. It should take dark meat about 13 to 14 minutes, and white meat around 8 to 10 minutes.
Bobby Flay’s fried chicken
1 quart buttermilk, plus 2 cups
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons chile de arbol powder, or 2 tablespoons hot sauce, plus 2 teaspoons chile de arbol powder, or cayenne pepper
2 chickens (3 to 4 pounds each), each cut up into 8 pieces
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Peanut oil, for deep-frying
In a large bowl or baking dish, whisk together 1 quart of the buttermilk, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons of chile de arbol powder, or hot sauce, and a little bit of pepper, if desired. Add the chicken pieces, turn to coat, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Place the remaining 2 cups of buttermilk in a bowl. Stir together the flour, garlic and onion powders, paprika and 2 teaspoons chile de arbol powder (or cayenne) in a large bowl. Divide flour mixture among 2 shallow platters and season generously with salt and pepper. Drain the chicken in a colander and pat it dry. Dredge the pieces a few at a time in the flour mixture and pat off excess, then dip in the buttermilk and allow excess to drain off. Dredge in the second plate of flour and pat off the excess. Put the chicken pieces on a piece of waxed paper or on a clean platter while you heat the oil.
Pour about 3 inches of oil into a deep cast iron skillet; the oil should not come more than halfway up the sides of the pot. Put the pot over medium-high heat and heat the oil to 375 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the hot oil, 3 or 4 at a time and fry, turning the pieces occasionally, until evenly golden brown and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and transfer to a rack to drain; repeat to cook the remaining pieces. Serve hot.