I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.
For the farmer/essayist, chickens may be frustrating, but for the cook, chickens are a wonderful culinary canvas for flavor and cooking technique.
As with all the books in the Savor the South series, this one ranges from classics to new southern flavors. There’s Country Captain, a Low Country chicken and rice casserole, and Nashville Hot Chicken, a dish currently at the center of pop food culture. And of course, Crispy Fried Chicken.
But the book also includes recipes that plumb the new South–Latin Fried Chicken with Smoky Ketchup, Asha Gomez’s Kerala Fried Chicken with Mango Drizzle, and Hoisin-Sauced SEC Wings. Salivating yet?
Graubart begins with some childhood memories of grandma’s fried chicken, tugging the wishbone for luck, and a comfort food menu of savory roasted chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, and tender green beans.
She also explores chicken’s place in Southern foodways, including the newly-freed black women of Gordonsville, Virginia who served fried chicken from the platform to train passengers, to support their families. During the Depression, Jesse Jewell vertically integrated chicken production and made Gainesville, Georgia the “poultry capital of the world.”
But chicken goes way back in culinary history. Aesop was the first to warn against counting your chickens before they hatch. Roman, and later, Renaissance physicians advised on the medicinal properties of chicken, and rulers have been promising chicken-in-every-pot prosperity since King Henry IV of France.
Graubart encourages you to start with a whole chicken, and notes that current wisdom says not to rinse bird; pat it dry to avoid spreading bacteria around. She directs you on how to cut it up and offers tips on dealing with “ghastly large” chicken breasts and general trimming.
And despite the compact size of this book, she covers a lot ground–brining, frying, roasting, stewing, braising, baking. Graubart cooks chicken under a brick, with 40 cloves of garlic, in a bog and in a mull (an 1890s recipes for a long-stewed chicken, served amid a sleeves-worth of crushed saltines). She makes use of the wings, the tenders, and the livers.
But she doesn’t stop there because nothing is more appealing to the harried cook than chicken ready to be deployed in salad, potpie, dumplings, and from competing and complementary grandmothers–Memorable Matzoh Ball Soup and Greek Lemon Chicken Soup–both guaranteed to cure what ails you.
A book worth crossing the road for? I think so.