Make Dinner Tonight: 3 Southern Comfort Food Recipes to Slow Down and Savor

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As kids, Momma would always allow my sister Ashley and I to pencil our dinner ideas into a monthly calendar. For her, such a practice created one less thing to think about – no more “what’s for dinner” questions. Ashley and I also ensured that pizza and taco night were a weekly occurrence.

But every now and then, Daddy would catch wind of a meal that didn’t suit his tastes, and that whole “plan” thing went kaput.

You see, Daddy is a meat-n-potatoes kind of guy. In other words, no frills or hard-to-pronounce dishes; he simply sought the comfort foods of his youth to ease the stress of travel and a busy work week.

On such evenings, I remember Momma spending a bit more time to make our nightly dinner – standing over the stove watching chickens fry to a golden brown in hot oil contained by a cast-iron skillet that was as old as the Great War.

Though I resented Daddy for scraping our planned pasta Mediterranean, it was typically just a few bites into Momma’s Southern comfort foods that made such resentment quickly fade – leaving plenty of room for a satisfying food coma, washed down with gulps of sweet tea.

Nowadays, it seems that I’m always in flux, cooking my wife Callie and I a dinner based on what’s in season, what I’m testing, or what’s on sale at the store. I couldn’t even commit to a weekly meal calendar, as it seems I’ve become a slave to life’s demands, manuscript deadlines, and red-eye flights.

But sometimes – I put a stop to all that nonsense. I scrap the plans. Work can wait and travel can be rearranged.

It’s in such moments that you’ll find me in my home kitchen – not whipping up a soufflé or putting together a crudité platter. Rather, I’ll be standing over that same hand-me-down skillet, frying up chicken in the tradition of my ancestors, and allowing the following dishes to remind me that dinner tonight is not just a monotonous planned activity – it’s a chance to slow down and enjoy the best of what life has to offer. So, tonight, I’d like to thank Momma for teaching me how to fry the chicken, and Daddy for teaching me how to savor the entire flavor.

Cast-Iron Skillet Fried Chicken

There is nothing better than frying chicken in a cast-iron skillet. Down south, such a method is the only way to “properly” fry a chicken – yielding a crispy golden skin, only to give way to moist, tender chicken. My grandfather, a butcher by trade, always said that the best frying chickens were those that weighed in at around 2-3 lbs. Finding a chicken that size is easier said than done nowadays, as most whole chickens are double that size – which certainly raises some concern! So, in this instance, I suggest buying a smaller organic or free range bird – you can taste the results. You guys have been clamoring for my grandmother’s fried chicken recipe for quite a while – which this is not – I’m saving it for my new book! Regardless, this is a damn good version that wins approval in any Southern kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1 3lb chicken, cut into eighths
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. Louisiana Hot Sauce
  • ½ tsp. fresh-cracked pepper
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • Peanut oil, for frying

Directions

  1. Thoroughly wash and rinse chicken under cold running water, pat dry, and place into a large mixing bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients, except oil, and use your hands to work the flour mixture into a paste to coat the chicken – adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover chicken with plastic wrap and place into the fridge for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.
  2. Fill a cast-iron skillet with peanut oil until it reaches just over halfway up the side of the skillet. Over medium-high heat, bring the oil to 350 degrees F. Add chicken, working in batches of white meat and dark meat; fry the white meat pieces for 6-7 minutes per side, and the dark meat 7-8 minutes per side. Always ensure that you drop the chicken away from you in the oil to prevent hot oil from splattering on you during the process.
  3. Remove chicken from oil and place on a wire rack to drain. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

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