My grandmother insisted that whenever people gathered to share memories they also needed to enjoy the taste and sensations of food together.
"You don't have time to overeat when you're reminiscing with friends and family. There's too much of living life in those moments to worry about the food," Grandma Iva would say. "You can relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the moment. Sharing the food becomes part of the experience, part of the memory."
It's true. Every time the whiff of fried chicken fills the air, I find myself caught up in the memory of being back in her kitchen on a weekend.
On Fridays, she cooked homemade pizza, calzones or spaghetti.
On Saturdays, beef or chicken manhattans were served.
On Sundays, she cooked my favorite, fried chicken with all the trimmings. (It's funny. Sitting here in the office of The Brazil Times at this keyboard typing, I find myself drifting back there on the faint aroma.)
Although everyone knew she marinated the chicken overnight, her big secret was using paper bags and cast iron skillets.
The day before planning to cook the chicken, she would sprinkle a mixture (about 2 tablespoons each in a bowl) of Paprika, garlic powder, onion salt, basil, black pepper and a touch of cayenne on top of each piece of chicken, and then, with a small sprinkle of lemon juice on top, store it in the refrigerator overnight in a sealed container.
Before cooking the chicken, whisk together 2 eggs, 1-cup low-fat buttermilk, a 1/4-cup of mayonnaise, three (melted and cooled) tablespoons of butter and several drops of hot red pepper sauce (to your taste) in a bowl.
Pour two cups of flour and one cup of corn meal into a paper bag. Line the area around the stove and on the floor with several paper bags, making sure to keep them from the stove's burners to help with clean up later. Pile two or three extra bags next to the stove with a rack and a pan on top for draining grease from the chicken after frying.
Dredge the chicken in the liquid mixture, let excess drip off and then toss in the paper bag. Shake off the extra flour when removing the chicken pieces in preparation for frying.
Heat oil (Grandma only used shortening or a shortening/lard combo when frying) in a large cast iron skillet over low heat at first, then turn the heat slowly up to let it rise to but not go over 325 degrees. (You can use a thermometer to check the temperature, but my grandmother had an instinct. Monitor the shortening every few minutes.)
Place the chicken, skin side down, into the pan with the thighs in the center, breast, wings and legs around the outer edge of the pan. (REMEMBER: Monitor the oil, it will rise up the side of the pan when you put the chicken in, so please be careful.)
Cook chicken until golden brown on each side, approximately 10-15 minutes per side, making sure the internal temperature should reach 180 degrees.
Carefully remove cooked chicken to the rack and cover loosely with foil, but avoid holding in the heat too much. The crust of the chicken will soften if you do that.