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Cookbook Review: Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen + Granny Foster's Fried Chicken Recipe

There's something about summer that automatically revs up our food craving for fried okra, succotash, crispy slaws, picnic-worthy fried chicken and yeah, even those mayo-drenched Southern potato salads and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Or maybe it was flipping through Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen cookbook that did it. Either way, we could really go for a fried green tomato BLT right about now (p. 79).

If you don't know Foster, she owns several namesake cafes in North Carolina and has already amassed quite a mini cookbook empire. As Foster says in the Introduction, what's different about this cookbook from her others is that this is actually a book about Southern food.

Turn the page for more, including her grandmother's fried chicken recipe.

If it seems odd that her previous books, being as she is a Southern chef, have not focused so directly on Southern cuisines, it is because Foster has served more as the [enter virtually any well known California chef's name here] of the South. She has been known more for bringing the bounty of thoughtfully-prepared local farmers market produce to the table - collard greens sautéed for five minutes rather than simmered for five hours - rather than for a certain overtly Southern style of cooking.

But Foster is Southern. And so she knows a thing or two about giving pirlou (a rice pilaf) a handful of fresh field peas and enough chopped parsley to brighten up the low country classic. Or in the "Pig: A Food Group All Its Own" chapter, giving pork tenderloin the flavor boost it so often needs with a coffee-bourbon-molasses marinade before it hits the grill.

Many of the recipes are still fairly basic, or perhaps it's more things we've seen many times before: Candied sweet potatoes, buttermilk mashed potatoes, grilled vegetable skewers with a pesto vinaigrette. And so if you happen to already have a solid southern cuisine recipe database, and are also a seasoned farmers market recipe Improv actor, you probably don't need this book. But if you don't have an innate instinct for cornmeal battering and frying those big fat okra pods that are at farmers markets right now (it is really easy, promise), then Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen may be exactly what you need. That, and Granny Foster's fried chicken recipe.

Granny Foster's Sunday Fried Chicken

From: Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen

Note (per Foster): "Granny Foster made the best fried chicken in the world--salty and golden brown with a crackly crust that gave way to meat as moist and tender as could be. The secret is the overnight brine of water, salt, and spices that drives extra moisture and flavor into the meat, where they are locked in during the cooking process."

Serves: 4

One 3 - to 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces

3 tablespoons sea salt, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

2 bay leaves

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Pinch of ground cayenne pepper

Crisco vegetable shortening or canola oil, for frying

1. Place the chicken in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Add 2 tablespoons of the salt and the sugar, vinegar, and bay leaves and stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. When ready to cook the chicken, place the buttermilk in a shallow bowl and transfer the chicken from the brine to the buttermilk.

3. Place the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon salt, the black pepper and cayenne in a separate large shallow bowl or plastic bag and stir or shake to mix.

4. Melt the shortening about 1/2 inch deep in a large cast-iron skillet and place over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches between 350° and 375°F. The melted shortening should be deep enough to submerge the chicken about halfway; the level of the shortening will rise slightly when you add the chicken.

5. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge or shake in the flour mixture, one piece at a time, to coat evenly on all sides, beginning with the large pieces. Shake off any excess flour.

6. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the hot shortening, reduce the heat to medium, and fry until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Check the pieces to make sure they are not browning too quickly; if so, reduce the heat or turn the pieces. Turn the chicken and fry the other side until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. The chicken is done when the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced with the tip of a small knife and an internal thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads about 165°. The chicken should cook for a total of 30 to 35 minutes.

7. Line a platter with a brown paper bag and transfer the chicken to the platter to drain, Season with additional salt and pepper and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving warm.


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