I remember when my Grandma Smith taught me to make fried chicken. I must have been about 13 or 14 at the time and my family was in the middle of one of our annual trips to Cookeville, Tennessee. At my young age, I was not fully aware of how much I loved cooking, although the signs had been pretty obvious throughout my life (filming my own cooking show and putting together a tea party from my Anne of Green Gables cookbook are two examples). My Grandma walked me through each step she took. I can’t remember all of them, and I wish I had the foresight to write down everything she said, word for word. I wish it would have been possible to write down the words in a way that depicted her sweet southern drawl and the gentle way that she showed me how to pat the chicken dry and dredge each piece lightly. I was shocked to find out that my Grandma was able to make crispy, delicious fried chicken using only flour, salt and pepper.
Fried chicken wasn’t the only thing we enjoyed during our summertime visits to Tennessee. Fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, soup beans, and fried okra were all common foods found at the table. While I was visiting my mom in Minnesota a few weeks ago, she made fried okra and it was delicious. Okra tends to be slimy on the inside, but frying it in small pieces creates a mask with a crunchy cornmeal coating. Okra is a relatively popular vegetable in Japan, so when we lived in Tokyo and I found some beautiful okra at the grocery store, I would make it like this. Simple, satisfying comfort food. It doesn’t get any better.
I’m not much for frying chicken these days. I’m not sure why, but it just doesn’t seem to fit into our life and food style very often. But that image of learning the process with my Grandma is something I will always cherish. At least I can always turn to an easy recipe like this to bring me back to those hot summer days with my southern grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
From Entertaining with Southern Living by Margaret Chason Agnew
1 pound fresh okra
2 eggs, beaten
3 to 5 drops hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
Wash the okra and drain it well. You can also use a paper towel to help dry it completely. Trim ends and stems, then cut into 1/2 inch slices. Combine the egg and hot sauce in a bowl. Add the okra and toss to coat. Combine cornmeal, salt and pepper in another bowl. Stir well. Dredge the okra in the cornmeal mixture. Deep fry the okra in oil that has reached 375 degrees F. It should take about 5 minutes for the okra to fry completely. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the okra out and transfer it to a paper towl-lined plate.