What's the best?
It is said that there is no better fried chicken than that served at Popeye’s. This is a thing said by many chefs and while it is not true, it is nearly so. If you are looking to purchase fried chicken, you will find consistently excellent product at Popeye’s or another fast-food restaurant.
That is because men and women smarter than I have perfected every step of the process, such that the meat is well-seasoned, cooked to the proper temperature and has a toothsome crust. Fried chicken is very well suited to this mechanized process, maybe more so than any other food apart from hard-boiled eggs, and who the hell cares about hard-boiled eggs?
Fried chicken used to be a delicacy. There was a time when chickens were not produced in factories, and the young birds preferable for frying weren’t cheap. Frying anything takes a good bit of oil, too, and if you’re only frying enough to feed a family for one meal, a lot of that oil will likely end up wasted when all is said and done. It’s a bit like making a dark roux, in that it’s a simple process but pretty easy to screw up. And if you screw up, you’re starting over.
I believe that the best fried chicken is made in small batches, usually in small kitchens and in cast-iron. This is not another paean to my grandmother, or at least not specifically to her. Unless you are related to me or a very good friend you never tasted my grandmother’s fried chicken or heard her whistling away in the kitchen while she cooked it. You will have to take my word that it was sublime.
But what I’m interested in isn’t your trust; I’d like to know your fried chicken stories. I’d like to know whether you’ve had it at Dooky Chase, or Willie Mae’s or Galatoire’s, or McHardy’s, or a random gas station off I-10. I’d like to know the best fried chicken you’ve ever purchased, and what about it was so good.
Then I’d like to know how that fried chicken compared to the best fried chicken you’ve had at home – either your home or someone else’s – and why you think one was better than the other.
I can tell you that my grandmother’s fried chicken was better than anything I’ve ever paid for, but I tasted that chicken knowing how much effort went into preparing it. I knew it at the time, and now that I’m an adult (chronologically) and have fried a chicken or two hundred myself, I know what a tremendous pain in the ass it is.
I can’t be objective about fried chicken, and I don’t expect you to be objective either. I hope you’ll respond, but even if you don’t you’ll be thinking about the questions I’ve posed and hopefully will appreciate home-cooked fried chicken even more than you already do. Even if it’s not as good as Popeye’s.