For a woman who spent months frying chicken after chicken after chicken while dealing with two small children and trying to sell her house at the same time, Rebecca Lang is a surprisingly reasonable person. So it makes sense that her new cookbook, Fried Chicken: Recipes for the Crispy, Crunchy, Comfort-Food Classic, out this week, is also exceedingly reasonable. Issued in a small format, rather than the coffee table-size cookbooks one has come to expect, and including no silly, over-primped lifestyle photography, but rather straightforward photographs of food, it is an attempt to convert you to the joys of frying, both skillet and deep.
Lang, a Georgian born and bred and an Athenian for some years, grew up eating her grandmother’s fried chicken every Sunday, but the idea of doing an entire book devoted to the subject wasn’t the first thing on her mind. Lang has four other cookbooks to her name and has been a contributing editor to Southern Living, so she’s always on the hunt for what might be next. She says that, with the aforementioned children, about the only place she gets some peace and quiet is in the shower, where she does her best thinking, and that’s where the book occurred to her.
Damon Lee Fowler had written a book back in the late 1990s that was now out of print, but there was nothing else of the sort on the market geared to home cooks. She sat down with her mother one night to see how many recipes they could brainstorm; by the end of the evening, they had 60 ideas. The final book has 51, divided among skillet-fried, deep-fried and “combination fried,” which suggests some went by the wayside, but she says that, in the testing process, she tends to tweak and rework rather than throw things out.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Davick
Once she had a publisher on the hook, she commenced to frying morning, noon and night, through the snow-filled winter of 2013 and into May, when she popped on a wide-brimmed hat and liberally applied sunscreen. Lang says it was the hardest project she’s ever done, and physical labor was a good part of that. To keep the house clean and cool, she ended up doing her frying outside on an induction burner or in an electric deep fryer, both set on a six-foot plastic table that itself sat atop a big piece of plywood to protect the grass. Her dog hung out underneath the table, and her fire extinguisher sat at the ready.
She used only Springer Mountain Farms chickens, raised naturally with no antibiotics just up the road from Athens in Mount Airy. She’d meet the farmers in the parking lot of Ingles and transfer two or three huge Styrofoam coolers of freshly processed chicken to her own car, then move it into washtubs in a dedicated outdoor “chicken fridge” to marinate and await the fryer. Barberitos was kind enough to recycle gallon after gallon of oil, although she says the workers at the Five Points location who didn’t know the whole story gave her some funny looks.
Tammy Cook, a professional culinary researcher who has worked for the Food Network’s Alton Brown, used the library in the Art Institute of Atlanta to help Lang track down recipes from all over the globe, with a premium on authenticity. Given restrictions and guidelines by Cook, Lang then created her own dishes. The resulting product is beautifully international: Southern, Guatemalan, Brazilian, Indian, Thai, Argentinian, Japanese, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Jamaican, Filipino, West African and Indonesian. The world, as Lang says, has been frying chicken for a long time. Chickens are everywhere, and in hot climates, frying cooks them faster than an oven, heating up the house less.
Lang says she learned a tremendous amount from the project, and although she started out “religious” about skillet frying (due to the same grandmother), by the time she finished up, she was converted to the deep fryer. She calls it “mindless frying”: Fill it up, plug it in, pop in the chicken and the results are safer, easier and more predictable than those produced by a cast-iron skillet, romantic as the old-fashioned way is.
Does she have any recommendations for where to eat fried chicken in Athens, should you be lazy enough that even the Fry Daddy seems like too much work? She does not. Fried chicken is a food she believes in cooking at home, and when she does get a chance to eat out, she wants to order something she can’t make. Maybe she can get you to do the same.
WHO: Rebecca Lang
WHERE: Avid Bookshop
WHEN: Friday, May 29, 6:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: FREE!
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