Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken
Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

The Dish

You can identify the smell with your eyes closed: The salty, intoxicating aroma of fried chicken can be mistaken for nothing else. And if you grew up in Texas a generation or more ago, you know the sound, because Sunday dawned with the certainty that around eleven you’d hear hot lard crackling in your mama’s cast-iron skillet. A golden platter of poultry, its juicy flesh set off by the crispest of crusts, would later appear on the table, to be dispatched with unabashed hunger and greed. Everyone who grew up BB (before buckets) understands the power of old-fashioned fried chicken. Older Texans remember Grandma wringing the bird’s neck out back. Somewhat younger ones recall the trek to one of the many outlets of Youngblood’s, which ruled the fried-chicken world in Texas from the forties to the sixties. Others have fond memories of its archrival, Leslie’s Chicken Shack, especially the busy Waco location, an obligatory stop on family trips along Interstate 35. But regardless of the time and place, those gloriously crisp, brown pieces unite us all. As do the napkin stains.

How to Make It

Ask a Texan to state his fried-chicken preference and you’ll get an instant one-word answer: Wing. Breast. Drumstick. Tom Perini understands. Though he is known far and wide as a beef man, one of the most popular meals at Buffalo Gap’s Perini Ranch Steakhouse—which turns 28 this month—is the Sunday noontime fried-chicken dinner buffet. “People love it,” he says. “They line up and point: ‘I want that piece.’ ” The kitchen cuts up whole chickens the old-time way, so that there are eleven pieces: “Two each of the breasts, thighs, legs, and wings, the back, the neck, and one pully bone—that’s the wishbone,” he says. Perini coats each piece (except the back and neck, used for stock) in an egg-and-milk wash and gives it a quick dredging in seasoned flour for a light crust. “Dark meat takes longer to cook, so put it in first,” he advises. And you must use the mandatory cooking vessel: a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. “If you

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