Thursday, April 1, 2010

Playing chicken

When famous chefs come to Nashville (usually for book signings) I try to finagle interesting meetings. But they almost never have time to hang out.

Rachael Ray? Phone interview only.

Paula Deen’s sons? I tried to take them honky-tonking (they seem like partiers!), but no-go.

So when Chef Thomas Keller came to town, I fired off an e-mail to his publicist, thinking there was no chance I’d actually get to sit down with him. I was shocked when they said they’d join me for lunch at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, one of the diviest of dives in town.

(Photo by Mandy Lunn)

We mostly talked about chicken and its emotional resonance (read the story by clicking here), but the coolest and most unexpected part of the interview for me was his insistence that I enjoy his Buttermilk Fried Chicken recipe with company, not by myself.

I owe what happened next to my friend Jaime. She’s fearless when it comes to hot grease (and many other things), and she decided, based on the interview, that we should fry chicken together using TK’s recipe for a Sunday Supper.

Here’s how it went down.

On Saturday, we planned the meal and picked up ingredients at the farmers market.

Then we prepared the brine, in which we left our chicken with fragrant lemons, a sliced head of garlic, bunches of thyme, parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorn….

I stopped by Woodland Wine Merchant, where Tyler told me he used to pick up fried chicken from a place called Phyllis’. He’d eat it on his front porch with a glass of rose. I could not trust his recommendation more.

Then, on Sunday, we finished the job.

Seasoning the flour with garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, paprika, s&p…

Fryin’…(and textin’)…

We made sides, too, like garlic mashed potatoes and collard greens with citrus raisin redux, and green beans with onion…

Cornbread and whiskey (which oughta be the name of a band …probably is)…

While dear Shannon poured us Whiskey-Lemonades…

Lastly, Jaime whipped up a ridiculous banana pudding topped with almonds, vanilla bean wafers and whipped cream…

A fried chicken Sunday Supper ain’t necessarily easy, we learned.

But it’s much easier than it used to be. While writing the Keller story, I called my dad, who remembers my grandmother killing chickens from the backyard with her bare hands. Hard to believe, in these days of shrink-wrapped grocery store chicken parts.

He also told a story about buying some chicks for a 4-H egg project when he was about 12 years old. But as the chicks grew into birds, he realized they were all roosters. There would be no egg laying.

"It looks like my 4-H project is over,” he told his mother casually.

The next day, he came home to the smell of chicken frying in her black skillet. And when he went to feed what had become pets, they were gone.

“Well, you said your project was over,” she told him.

He also told me that the only time he heard my grandfather (a strict Baptist preacher) say a “bad word” was when he accidentally smashed his finger with a hammer while putting the roof on a chicken coop.

My dad isn’t big on details. But this one he wanted known:

“He said ‘damn.’”

Watch this video of some gospel singing at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.

And a few more songs about chicken that are -- on the flip side of all this -- less about “chicken” and more about, well, you know…

Chicken Grease – D’Angelo
Country Boyz - Nappy Roots (from Watermelon, Chicken and Grease)
Chicken - Mississippi John Hurt
Sister Big Bones - Anthony Hamilton
Fried Chicken - Nas
Southern Girl - Erykah Badu (I’m pretty sure she’s vegetarian, but I say this one still counts – esp. for the last few seconds of the song.)
Little Red Rooster – Sam Cooke (originally by Willie Dixon but also covered by The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Big Mama Thornton, The Doors, and Jesus and Mary Chain, so take your pick)


Beth said...

I love it Jennifer! You just brought tears to my eyes as memories came rushing back to me. Growing up, every Sunday after church our entire family of 15-20 aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered at my grandparents' house for a huge potluck lunch, and the highlight of the meal was my grandmother's fried chicken. Oh, the simple and happy times of my youth in a small town!

CaRoLiNe said...

LOVE it!!! And I got lots of good photo ideas for our blog swap =)

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your article about TK and now this blog :) I have never made fried chicken but have saved TK's recipe from the paper and aim to try it soon. As a girl raised in Pittsburgh PA, the fried chicken memories some have are replaced by big pasta dinners in my memory bank. But now that I live in Nashville, I think it's time to add some fried chicken to the mix. love it! Happy Monday!