My niece Maggie pointedly reminded me recently, “Aunt, you didn’t make fried chicken for us last winter when you were here.” The rest remained unstated, thereby allowing me to reach my own conclusion as to expectations.
There is nothing magical about my fried chicken, I assure you. I simply put flour, salt and pepper, and a hearty pinch of cayenne pepper into a bag, toss the chicken into the bag, shake it all about, and fry it to a golden brown in a mixture of vegetable oil and butter. I then place the chicken into the oven to finish cooking for about an hour. The result – hopefully – is very tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken that truly sticks to your fingers.
The thing is, no one else wants to make it. Why? It’s a frigging messy job, and there’s no two ways around it. As the chicken fries, the grease pops and snaps, getting all over the stove, the floor, the microwave, and if I’m particularly unlucky, my arms. Flour ends up all over the place. An apron is a requirement unless I’m wearing clothes I care nothing about.
Furthermore, I find that as I get older and more forgetful, it is not unusual for me to forget to put the chicken into the flour. The last couple of times that I fried chicken, Bec was my overseer: Kris, I don’t think you put that chicken into the flour, did you? Probably not. So I dig it out of the grease and put it into the flour. Ina Garten doesn’t have these kinds of problems. (As if Ina Garten would fry a chicken for Jeffrey.) But remember, she has staff. Bec is my staff.
When we started spending entire winters in AZ, I had to decide what things I needed here – the operative word being needed, and not wanted. I have a storage room full of things I wanted in Denver that have been used once or twice and now gather dust. This home is too small for those kinds of shenanigans. The Kitchen Aid standing mixer was one; cast iron pans were another.
At first, I got by with my small 10-inch Lodge pan (always Lodge; I’m a fan). But the first time I invited our AZ family for fried chicken, it became abundantly clear that I needed a larger pan. I have a 12-inch Lodge cast iron frying pan in Denver and it didn’t take long before I had one here as well…..
I don’t use it much, and it takes up precious space. Still, in my humble opinion, certain things need to be cooked in cast iron, and chicken is one of them. And when you fry two chickens plus extra dark meat, you need a big pan. Or you will spend hours frying chicken, and that’s not fun.
Country western singer and Food Network chef Trisha Yearwood gives newlyweds a cast iron pan as a wedding gift. That might work in the south, but I’m pretty sure some of my friends would have looked puzzled at such a gift, preferring 600 thread count sheets instead. But I did make sure Court had a Lodge cast iron pan, and I noticed in our recent visit that it was sitting out on his stove, so I think he uses it.
If the cast iron pan is properly seasoned, food doesn’t really stick to it, and clean-up is pretty easy. To season a cast iron pan – both when you first get it and then on an ongoing basis as it is needed – you rub the inside with vegetable oil and place the pan in a 325 degree oven for an hour or so. Shut off the oven, and allow the pan to cool inside the oven before removing it and wiping it with a paper towel or cloth.
I was always told not to use soap to clean a cast iron skillet. In fact, many people insist that you should only use paper towels, salt, and elbow grease. Personally, here’s how I clean my cast iron pan: wait until it is cool; remove as much food and grease as you can with a paper towel; add some hot water and let it sit for a few minutes. Not too long, mind you. Use a scrub pad without soap to clean the bottom and sides of the pan; dry it completely with a paper towel or cloth. Sit it out on your stove overnight, or until such time as you can convince someone else to put it away for you as it is HEAVY AS CAN BE!
Because cast iron maintains an even heat for so long, I read recently that it is one of the best ways to make a homemade pizza. Preheat the pan for a very long time. Make your pizza crust. Carefully (and I’m not entirely sure how this could be managed, perhaps with a pizza peel) place your crust in the pan. Add your ingredients and bake in a hot oven. Voila. I’m going to try it sometime.
By the way, this blog post is NOT sponsored by Lodge!