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Southern Fried Chicken: an old favorite

Poke it with a fork and clear juices ooze from the tiny piercing. A delicate, lightly seasoned coating is golden brown and makes a crunching sound with each bite. It's good hot, cold or at room temperature. Pick it up to eat it. It's my favorite fried chicken.

Fried in oil with the skin on, we all know this isn't the most healthful way to prepare chicken. But, boy, it sure is good. And fried chicken once or twice a year won't hurt, will it?

With summer picnics and family reunions in full swing, I have fried chicken on my mind.

Fried chicken was not something I ate much when I was growing up. The chicken I knew was most times simmered in paprika gravy. But I do remember a time when my Hungarian grandma made fried chicken using fresh chicken, and I mean very fresh. That-day fresh from the chicken coop on her farm. It was probably the best fried chicken I've ever eaten.

Preparing fried chicken can be a daunting thought for some. Experienced cooks seem to have their own special secrets for achieving crisp, succulent, pass-another-piece-please chicken.

Way, way back in the 1970s I clipped a recipe for Southern Fried Chicken from a Lunds supermarket ad in a Twin Cities newspaper. It was the marinade for the chicken that caught my interest. Cooking oil was blended with fresh garlic, seasonings and two eggs to make the bath that the chicken would soak in for at least a couple of hours.

I must have experienced a burst of bravery when I decided to tackle the preparation of this unusual recipe. I had never made fried chicken before.

I still have that original recipe taped into my old recipe notebook. I have a note written beside the recipe that reads, "Absolutely wonderful - melts in the mouth." It seems my daring was well rewarded. I made the chicken again this week, maybe only for the second time since I wrote that note. Those words are still true.

It is important to use two large, heavy pans that will hold an even heat and will prevent the chicken pieces from being overcrowded while frying. I use a cast-iron pan and another heavy magnalite pan that I've had for years. They both measure about 12 to 13 inches across the top. I didn't have a cover for the cast-iron pan, but my grill pan was just the right size to use as a lid.

Covering the pan for the last 30 minutes of frying promotes even cooking of the chicken.

I know, it's a lot of oil. The stove will be spattered, you'll have flour on your nose and the picnic crowd you serve Southern Fried Chicken to will stand up and cheer.

Southern Fried Chicken

5 to 6 pounds chicken pieces, skin on

2 cups canola oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

2 teaspoons paprika, divided

2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

4 cups cooking oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Divide between 2 large zip-top plastic bags. Place bags of chicken in shallow dish.

In blender, make marinade by mixing canola oil, eggs, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, garlic and 1 teaspoon paprika. Pour marinade over chicken, dividing evenly between the two bags. Seal the bags. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.

When it's time to fry the chicken, mix flour, salt, black pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon of paprika. Roll each chicken piece in seasoned flour to coat completely.

Use two large heavy skillets with covers. Pour 2 cups of oil into each skillet. The oil should come halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Place chicken in hot oil, skin side down, and cook until golden brown. Turn chicken pieces. When bottom is beginning to turn brown, cover pan, reduce heat and cook slowly for 30 minutes. The internal temperature of the chicken should be 165 degrees.

Prepare a place for chicken to drain. Layer a couple of brown paper bags on a baking sheet. Cover with a double layer of paper towels. Place a metal cooling rack, upside down, on the paper towels.

Remove chicken from pans and place on prepared cooling rack to drain. Place drained chicken pieces on a platter in a warm oven to hold until serving time.

This recipe is a slightly adapted version of the original Southern Fried Chicken recipe courtesy of Lund Food Holdings, Inc.

Tips from the cook

--If you just can't stand the thought of eating chicken fried in oil, you can adapt the pan-fried chicken recipe for oven-frying. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Marinate and flour the chicken as the recipe directs. Place the floured chicken pieces on a rack over a jellyroll pan. Bake until golden and juices run clear, 45 to 50 minutes. Internal temperature of the chicken should be 165 degrees.

--I would never be without my instant-read digital thermometer. It is the only way to know for sure that any meat is safe to eat. Find them at hardware stores, department stores and some supermarkets.