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 don’t own your mama’s old skillet, you can buy a preseasoned one from Lodge,” he says, referring to the well-known manufacturer. Drain the fried pieces on paper towels (don’t stack them), and serve them up with biscuits and honey. —JN

The Judge’s Fried Chicken
from Tom Perini

vegetable oil (such as peanut), enough to cover chicken and allow it to float
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 whole frying chicken cut into pieces, or about 8 individual pieces of chicken
2 cups flour

In a deep, heavy skillet, large pot, or Dutch oven, heat the oil to 325 degrees. In a bowl, mix milk, egg, salt, and pepper. Dip chicken pieces in the egg mixture, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Put chicken pieces in skillet a few at a time. Be careful not to crowd them and adjust heat to keep temperature even. Fry until done; pieces will float to the top. (Remember, thighs and legs take a little longer to cook.) Serves 4 to 6.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 1/2 cups soft-wheat flour (if using all-purpose, subtract 4 tablespoons)
1–1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening, well-chilled (or lard, for a flakier biscuit)
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine dry ingredients and sift 3 times. Add shortening and cut into flour mixture with a fork, pastry blender, or back of a mixing spoon till the texture of coarse meal. Add buttermilk and mix just until it makes a sticky dough. Turn onto a well-floured board and knead about 5 times. Roll out or pat dough until 1/2-inch thick. Cut into rounds and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, depending on size. Makes a dozen 2 1/2-inch biscuits. (Adapted from Tom Perini’s Texas Cowboy Cooking.)