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Monday, March 5, 2012

The Annals of Fried Chicken

The quest for perfect fried chicken is at once the hardest and easiest thing in the whole world.  It is like looking into the face of a tiger and having him eat you.  - Zen Proverb

When last we spoke, I had eaten probably the finest fried chicken I have had in New York City at The Cardinal in the East Village.  As of this writing, I've had the best fried chicken I've had anywhere.  Not long ago, I traveled to Louisiana, and in the capital, Baton Rouge, I found the most delectable fried chicken.  I will chronicle the amazing adventure soon, but now I must remark on Sean Brock, a southern cooking genius who owns restaurants in Charleston, NC.

Mr. Brock was featured this fall in the New Yorker in a fascinating profile which featured his attempts to revive true Southern cuisine, which requires a rather complicated revival of Southern agriculture.  I will not go into details but I suggest you read the article. Recently, Mr. Brock was a guest on the Charlie Rose and the subject of fried chicken came up.  Here is a condensed transcription:

"Husk is the restaurant where you eat the most perfect cornbread.  And this is the restaurant where you eat the most perfect shrimp and grits.  And the most perfect fried chicken.  And that's a lifelong journey. We've been trying to perfect fried chicken for about 2 years now.  The old fashioned way - several animal fats at a low temperature in a cast iron pan with a cover and it takes half an hour. I think we're really close, and we won't serve it until its perfect."

Now, when the man says fried chicken is a lifelong journey, I concur.  But if this is so, how can he be close to perfecting it in 2 years?  Do not get me wrong, I highly respect this man and applaud him for taking 2 years to work on the recipe before even serving it in his restaurant. Does he simply mean he's trying to get it to a certain high level which is worthy of his restaurant?  That makes sense.  But the quest for perfection in fried chicken must take longer than 2 years.  Like he said, it's a lifelong pursuit, implying it's more of an unfolding process as opposed to a state of affairs you can reach and then be done with, especially in only 2 years.

I recommend you watch the video here: