Bird is the word — we love chicken

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2016

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Raised on can-of-soup casseroles, with memories of chicken-frying grandmothers, Cynthia Graubart learned to cook, she says, in self-defense. She wound up producing Nathalie Dupree’s show on PBS and realizing that cooking has techniques. She could learn.

Memories of chicken must be ubiquitous in many adults, from the crispy fired, to the golden roasted to the long-simmered.

Sundays in the South means,t chicken dinners, especially if the preacher was coming to visit.

At one point in America, chicken was more expensive than beef or pork. Then came industrialized chicken, Graubart writes, and there indeed was, a chicken in every pot.

Southern fried chicken, she writes, remains a point of discussion — is it fried in lard or oil, floured, dipped in egg and floured again, or just floured? Does it have to have bones?

Citing well-known chefs and food experts like Bill Neal and John T. Edge, Graubart demonstrates the passion about chicken, particularly fried chicken.

As with so many traditional Southern foods, we owe a debt of gratitude to African American culture, which brought us yams, rice, okra and more. It was those African or African American cooks who taught Southerners to love that food, all without recipes, information passed down from generation to generation.

Georgia is the top poultry-producing state, and North Carolina is in the top five. Americans eat 85-90 pounds of chicken a year (!?), Graubart writes.

We love our chickens. They are immortatlized in folk art, they appear in every item off decor you can imagine and clubs were formed to breed beautiful chickens.

And the term chicken has taken on so many meanings, from small, to fearful to playing chicken. Hoover did not come up with a chicken in every pot, King Henry IV of France promised the sharecroppers a chicken in every pot on Sunday, Graubart writes.

And how far back does a chicken go? Bones of a related bird were found dating 10,000 years back in Southeast Asia. The domesticated bird showed up in Europe in 4000 BC. In ancient Rome, chicken fat was a medicine, warmed and dropped in the ears.

Of course, the Jewish have long used their own form of penicillin: chicken soup, as a cure for any ailment.

In case you were wondering, roosters are males more than a year old, cockerels are less than a year old; a capon is a castrated male; a hen is a bird one year or older and a pullet is a female chicken under one year old.

Graubart offers a section on chicken basics and tips on getting it cooked.

Important note: Do not rinse your chicken. That’s old news. Rinsing could spread salmonella to your sink and counter. Instead, pat the chicken dry with paper towels and discard the paper towels. Cooking will destroy any bacteria.

Perfect Roast Chicken

“A sign of a great cook is his or her ability to roast a chicken. It seems so easy — just pop the bird in a pan and stick it in the oven, but just taking a few steps in between will produce a moist and tender bird, fit for a Sunday mealtime centerpiece. And if you really want to make life easy this week, roast two birds at the same time, carving the second one for use later in the week.

“Brining is a cooks insurance that the bird will be moist, and sealing the skin by coating it in butter before roasting results in the golden, crispy skin we love. Sliding butter under the skin keeps the breast tender and flavorful. Turning the bird during roasting helps keep the breast from drying out before the legs and thighs are fully cooked.

“Consider mixing herbs and spices into the softened butter before placing it under the skin. The fat transfers the flavors into the breast meat more intensely than when the flavorings are added to the brine. Use one teaspoon finely chopped herbs per tablespoon of butter. Try thyme, rosemary, parsley, garlic, curry or chili powder, or minced ginger.”

Makes 4–6 servings

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken

Canola oil or cooking spray

3 tablespoons butter, softened, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon

1–2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 quarts of water in a pot or tub large enough to submerge the whole chicken under the water. Add the chicken and refrigerate for 1–4 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place an oiled (or sprayed) v-shaped rack in a large roasting pan. Remove the bird from the brine to a colander placed in the sink, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and move to a cutting board. Using your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the breast meat. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the softened butter under the skin of one side of the breast. Spread the butter over the breast by massaging it through the skin. Repeat with the other side of the breast. Rub the skin of the entire bird with the remaining butter and season with pepper. Cut both ends off the lemon and then cut the lemon in half horizontally. Insert the lemon halves and rosemary in the cavity of the chicken.

Move the chicken to the oiled rack, placing it on its side (one wing facing up). Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roast for 15 minutes. Using long tongs or wadded paper towels, rotate the chicken in the rack to the other side so that the other wing is facing up. Roast for 15 minutes. Rotate the chicken again so that the breast is now facing up and continue roasting for 20–25 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thigh reaches 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes, then carve and serve.

Summer Anytime Bourbon Peach Chicken Thighs

“I always feel like a traitor to my state (Georgia) when I eat South Carolina peaches and feel like South Carolina should be the peach state. I wish fresh peach season would never end, and I always look for new ways to use them, especially in savory dishes. I even unabashedly use frozen peaches in the off season. Freestone peaches are the easiest to use, but sliced cling peaches are nearly as easy. And frozen peaches also work well here. The minced shallot is superb in this dish, but a Vidalia or other sweet onion could be substituted for a milder flavor. The bourbon is a mild taste in this dish—not at all overpowering. The bourbon brand is your call. Arent we fortunate to have so many to choose from?”

Makes 6–8 servings

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs


Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 shallot, finely minced

1/3 cup bourbon

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat the chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, cook the chicken pieces skin-side-down until golden brown, about 5 or so minutes. Turn the pieces over to brown the other side for 3-4 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter (the chicken will not be fully cooked at this point). Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan. Cook the shallots in the hot fat, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the bourbon and scrape again if needed. Return the chicken to the pan. Tuck the rosemary springs in between the thighs and scatter the peaches over the thighs. Cover and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the thickest part of a chicken thigh reaches 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the chicken and peaches to a serving dish and discard the rosemary. Coat the chicken lightly with the pan juices. If any juices remain, pour them into a gravy boat and serve with the chicken.

Biscuit Topped Chicken Pot Pies

The fresher and more deliciously cooked the chicken, the better the pot pie, but we do not have to go so far as the cook in the nursery rhyme who arranged for “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” and found that “when the pie was opened the birds began to sing.” I usually use a store-bought rotisserie chicken for this recipe unless I have cooked chicken on hand from another meal. The biscuit tops are delightful.

Makes 4 servings

1 cup sliced carrots

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onion

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, quartered

1 cup frozen cut pole beans, thawed

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth

2 cups shredded or diced cooked chicken

1 cup self-rising flour

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place four (10-ounce) ovenproof ramekins or bowls on a rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

Place the carrots and 2 tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe glass bowl and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, or until crisp- tender, and drain. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the beans and carrots, and cook for 2 minutes.

Sprinkle the all-purpose flour, salt, and pepper over the vegetables. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until the flour is incorporated. Gradually stir in the stock or broth and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for 8–10 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in the chicken and remove from the heat.

Stir together the self-rising flour and cream in a bowl just until flour is moistened. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat out and fold the dough 3-4 times and then pat it out to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut out 4 disks, reshaping the scraps once, if necessary, for the fourth biscuit. (Avoid twisting the cutter so the biscuit will rise properly.)

Divide the hot chicken mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins or bowls and top each with the cut biscuit dough. Bake for 20 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown. Serve hot.

All recipes rom CHICKEN: a Savor the South cookbook by Cynthia Graubart. Copyright 2016 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.