Deep Thoughts on Deep Frying

30 Jul
In the South, anything can be fried... and most likely will be.

In the South, anything can be fried... and most likely will be.

POOLER, GA – Local authorities responded to a 911 call in this tiny town today that involved a deep fryer, a turkey, and Richard “The King” Petty. Apparently, Leroy “Greasy” Gaines sustained major injuries when he thrust his hand into a deep fryer.

“I dropped my lucky spit cup into the grease,” he told medical personnel. “I didn’t want it to melt. They don’t make Dixie cups with Richard Petty on ’em anymore.”

“Greasy” Gaines was taken to the county hospital where he was treated for second and third degree burns on his left hand. According to witnesses, the spit cup was retrieved with minor damage – the picture of Petty was slightly singed.

“I sure learnt my lesson,” Gaines told reporters. “Don’t never drop your spit cup into hot grease.”

*     *     *     *     *

A co-worker asked me about the Southern penchant for deep frying the other day, and requested a column dedicated to the phenomenon. Always the humble servant, I thought I would oblige, so today we’re going to focus on the magic of Southern Fried Food.

There are many schools of thought as to why Southerners choose to fry dang near everything. One is that “frying tastes the bestest.” Another is that the average Southerner couldn’t afford some of the fancier devices required for other styles of cooking (i.e. ovens, microwaves, grills) so the pan fry method became the standard. Others just believe the region is occupied by obstinate, tradition-oriented people who refuse to change from what their momma and deaddy did.

Whatever your philosophy on frying (and I personally fall somewhere between number 2 and 3) there is no limit on the variety to be found within this method of cooking. For example, a quick list of things that Southerners fry:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Okra
  • Squash
  • Apple pies
  • Peach pies
  • Banana sandwiches
  • Baloney (the correct Southern spelling)
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Corn
  • Cornbread
  • Green beans
  • Onion rings
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Pickles
  • Ice cream
  • Pork chops
  • Chitterlings (pronounced ‘chitlins’)
  • Tongue
  • Brain
  • Cracklins (pig knuckles)
  • Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Salmon (pronounced ‘sal-mun’)
  • Green tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Chopped steak
  • Steak
  • Other assorted items, according to personal or familial tastes

Now, there are many different ways to fry. The gold standard in the South is the following: on your gas stove top, in a 10 to 12 inch cast iron skillet, using melted shortening or lard. The process is simple. Put the skillet (appropriately seasoned – and if you don’t know what that is, head to Food Network for a quick tutorial) on the gas and turn it to medium heat. Add in approximately three and a half pounds of Crisco shortening, or,for more flavor, good old fashioned hog lard (basically, the captured, rendered and cooled fat from a large swine). Let the shortening heat up until it’s melted, then jack the heat to medium-high to high. As soon as the grease starts spattering your hands and leaving small burn marks, you’re ready to do some cookin’!

One of the biggest questions for Southern frying is whether to bread, batter or both. Breading simply means sopping your items in a liquid (the standard is cold buttermilk, but you can substitute whole milk, cream, half and half or any other dairy product that flows slowly downhill) then dredging or dipping the item into a seasoned flour or other dry ingredient – bread crumbs, crumbled biscuit, cornmeal, cornmeal/flour, you get the idea. Battering means you take the flour or other dry ingredient and stir it into the buttermilk or other liquid until you form a loose batter that coats your item like Pepto Bismol does your stomach ulcers. Then of course, you can do both – dredge your item, dip it in batter, and then RE-dredge it, just to get that perfect one-inch thick layer of crust.

Once you’ve done all that, you simply deposit the chicken/turkey/veggie/strange concoction into the nuclear grease. It’s best to do this as though tossing a hand grenade – stand back from the pan and gently toss the chicken/turkey/veggie/concoction into the grease. If you stand directly over the pan and deposit the item, several layers of skin will be burned off by flying grease.

Now that you have your chicken, or whatever, in the pan, you must watch carefully for the signs of browning. Nothing on the planet is worse than something that was burned while fried. So keep a sharp eye on your food. Once you see the first hint of brown, go ahead and count to 15, then flip the item over. Why 15? Because that’s how long it takes from first browning to golden crispy perfection. Any less, you get rubbery crust. Any more, you get soot.

The opposite side of the item will take longer to brown, and should get darker than the other side. That’s fine. Once you’ve determined maximum crustage, remove the item from the grease (and please – use tongs or another type of utensil…) and place it on a raised rack. This will allow the grease on the bottom to drip off while the grease on top soaks into the meat and adds flavor. Not to mention another week closer to your first heart attack.

All that’s left to do now is enjoy! Take that first bite of fried chicken/turkey/veggie/whatever and savor the crisp crust… and the undercooked meat or veggie inside. Another Southern tradition is it usually takes about 3-6 times of attempting to fry something before you get it right. So, you can officially toss aside that flash-fried raw chicken and head to the local KFC, where they do chicken right.

And that, as they say in the cartoons, is all folks.

One Response to “Deep Thoughts on Deep Frying”

  1. Margaret July 30, 2008 at 11:31 am #


    Three cheers for frying the Southern way! I receive this as a gift, and I am constantly amazed at your creativity and the fact that you have not scored yourself a big, fat, publishing deal! Keep fryin’!


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