Growing up, Fried Chicken – as in real fried chicken – was a stable in our house, especially on Sundays during the summer. Dad cut up the chicken, dredged it in flour and usually fried it in two big, black cast iron skillets filled with melted shortening. The chicken was seasoned with a little salt and pepper and that was about it. Off to the picnic table in the yard, along with a big bowl of mashed potatoes and sweet corn on the cob from our garden. Sometimes, when Dad was feeling exceptionally ambitious, he made a big batch of light, flaky buttermilk biscuits. That was it – simple, basic foods. Nothing fancy, not a lot of spice or seasoning. But then food way back when had better flavors naturally – the way food was intended. I’m old enough to remember “the good old days” when most foods were raised or grown without a lot of thought to packaging and shipping and shelf-life that has led us genetically altered corn that really isn’t sweet, tomatoes without flavor and chicken that is bland. Maybe that’s why we say “oh, it taste just like chicken” because chicken has no flavor anymore. Another reason I can remember food tasting better is because I grew up eating things from Dad’s garden – he planted everything from tomatoes to potatoes. I can remember walking through the corn with my Dad on a warm summer evening. The moon was full and Dad called it a harvest moon because it bathed everything in moon light . . . oh those were the days!
Whenever possible I like to buy whole Rocky Free Range Chickens. I don’t know how readily available these birds are to the rest of the country, but here in the central valley of California, you can usually find them in the meat section of the grocery stores. The birds are raised exclusively on sustainable farms in Sonoma county (wine country), with nothing artificial added to their diet. These birds are given access 24 hours a day to pastures and grasslands. Their feed is all organic, all vegetarian with no hormones or antibiotics ever. Do you pay a little more? Yes. Can you taste the difference? In my opinion, yes. Am I a spokesperson for Rocky Free Range Chickens? Nope – I just know what I like, and when I find something superior out there, I like to spread the word.
If you have the time, the patience, a good set of knives and kitchen shears, cutting up your own chicken is the most economical “per pound” way to go. Just a few “tricks” – wiggle your birds. Wiggle the wings to reveal the joint between wing and breast. Wiggle the legs to reveal the socket between thigh and leg. Cut pieces bone side up, skin side down to keep skin in place. Wing tips and back are great to save for making stock later. These can be collected and kept in the freezer until you’re ready to make a stock from scratch. If you need additional “visual” aid in cutting up a chicken, google a few videos – there are a ton out there.
The best, safest way to handle raw chicken is to create an assembly line of sorts – always going in one direction. Cutting station, dipping station, dredging station, with your racking station on top of the stove (for added “counter” space) works best for me. Not only does this prevent the spread of chicken goobers, it creates a rhythm. And a one, and a two, and a three – let’s get to cooking . . .
Taco Baked “Fried” Chicken
1 Whole Chicken (3 to 4 lbs), cut into pieces
2/3 Cup Milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Corn Meal
1 envelopes taco seasoning
1 teaspoon Cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450-degrees.
Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil and top with wire racks.
In a shallow bowl, lightly beat egg with milk. In a separate shallow bowl, combine flour, seasonings. Dip dark pieces in egg mixture to coat lightly, allowing excess egg to drip off. Dredge chicken in seasoned flour.
Place dark meat skin-side up on prepared wire racks and place in oven on upper rack.
Roast dark meat for 10 minutes. While dark meat is roasting, dip white meat in egg mixture to coat lightly, allowing excess egg to drip off. Dredge chicken in seasoned flour.
Place white meat skin-side up on prepared rack. Transfer dark meat to lower oven rack, place white meat on upper oven rack.
Roast chicken in oven until brown and crisp, about 30 minutes; switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through the roasting process.
Remove from oven, let chicken rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
A little rice, a little corn and dinner is served.