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Fried chicken is as Southern as sweet tea and kudzu. It is so iconic, in fact, that it has nearly become a stereotype. Fried chicken was once called Gospel Bird. This phrase isn’t another wispy bit of food myth shrouded in fiction and perpetuated by the Internet. I remember very well my own grandfather calling it Gospel Bird when I was a little girl. It was called that because it was most often served on Sundays, once a week.
Once upon a time, there weren’t fried chicken drive-through lanes on every other corner and overflowing hotel pans of fried chicken always at the ready under a heat lamp at the local grocery store. There certainly wasn’t fried chicken at the local gas station, which is unbelievably prevalent in the rural South, or boxes decorated with fictitious twinkly eyed grandmothers containing flash-frozen fried chicken parked between the vanilla ice cream and deep-dish pizza. Fried chicken was special. Fried chicken was homemade.
Real fried chicken still is special and means down-home comfort for many folks like no other dish. It is the cast-iron Holy Grail of Southern comfort food. Ah, but chicken without gravy and rice is like heaven without the angels: really, really great, but not quite the ticket. Gravy is a salve to the soul. Gravy marries the chicken to the rice and is the deep brown pool for baptizing the biscuit.
Chicken with rice and gravy is the comfort food holy trinity.
Once the chicken is fried, most of the fat is poured off. Flour is added to make a roux, then water or stock is added. Keep in mind that almost all cooks who make fried chicken have their own variation on the dish — and many people will claim that their grandmother’s is the best. This one is my grandmother’s recipe, and I think that it is the best! I hope you like it.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.