"Grease and gravy," commented the desk clerk. "That's what we're all about down here!"
I chuckled in response to her comment, a coda to the discussion about Southern cooking we'd had with the hotel desk staff since arriving the night before. Just off the interchange of Interstate 70 and state highway 63 in Columbia, Missouri, the hotel was our stop for the night en route to the Missouri Ozarks to scatter my mother's ashes in the landscape of her family roots. The city is also the place where my sister and I were both born.
For dinner that night in Columbia, we indulged in chicken-fried everything, green beans with ham, mashed potatoes, white gravy and biscuits, and coconut cream pie. When we got back to the hotel, the young woman at the desk showed off her own meal--brought to her by her roommates--of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits, and greens. "We mix greens with cabbage down here and add hot spices," she clarified.
The next morning, news of our meal had spread, and the morning staff asked for a full report of our choices. They listened intently and with genuine interest, smiling with a kind of pride as we talked about the central ingredients of Southern cuisine.
The fried chicken recipe we make at home, in the faraway North, was given to SJG long ago by a coworker from the Deep South. It's spicier than the fried chicken my mother used to make (she seasoned the chicken with salt and pepper only). It is delicious, easy to make, and tastes even better the next day.
Southern-Style Fried Chicken
6 skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks
1 or 2 cups white flour for dredging
1/2 cup canola oil
4-6 bulbs fresh garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
salt, pepper, paprika, dried dill, and cayenne--all to taste
1) Rinse chicken in cool water.
2) Put the flour in a plastic bag; dredge the chicken in the flour.
3) Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan (we use a cast iron pan) until nice and hot.
4) Put the chicken in the hot oil, skin side up.
5) Squeeze the fresh garlic into the sizzling oil (rather than directly onto the chicken pieces).
6) Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, dried dill, and cayenne.
7) Brown the chicken on both sides.
8) Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place the chicken on the foil, skin side down. Re-season with the spices (except the garlic).
9) Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 30 minutes.
10) After 30 minutes, flip the chicken so that the skin side is up. Bake another 30 minutes more.
Serve with mashed potatoes, white gravy, biscuits, and greens or green beans. Enjoy!