Mother’s Day was two weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about the fried chicken I made. People think it’s funny that I do the cooking even on Mother’s Day, but honestly I prefer it. I’ve never been much of a breakfast in bed person, and I know my self well enough – as does everyone else in my family – to know that I am happiest when I am the one in control of the kitchen.
While Sunday evenings around here are usually reserved for Roasted Chicken, on Mother’s Day I had a strong desire for fried chicken.
A few days before we had to put our dog down. It was not a surprise, he’d been battling tumors since November, but nonetheless it was a huge, gut wrenching blow to all of us. Each of my children reacted differently to the dog’s death, and since it was the first time in more than ten years that they had experienced death, it was enlightening to see. One embraced the emotions head-on, the others avoided them as much as possible, which was actually harder for me to witness.
I, on the other hand, cried for about two days straight. One of the things I’ve since realized is that for me, the sadness comes not just from the absence of that sweet dog’s companionship, and watching my children’s heartbreak, both of which are hard enough, but also the stark reminder of my rapidly emptying nest. There is now one less soul in this house who needs my care.
The truth is I’ve never been much of a dog person. We had dogs growing up, and both of my brothers are devoted dog people, but as an adult I’ve never felt like my life was incomplete without a pet the way some people do.
Several years ago my daughter said to me “Mom, I’ll give you two choices. I either want a little sister, or a dog.” There was only one of these options that I was even willing to entertain, and it was the latter. Soon after we adopted a Labradoodle name Chloe. Chloe was a sweet dog, though I doubt she was really a Labradoodle. She was also a LOT to handle; she was high-strung and very high energy. And she came into our life when my plate was already overflowing with commitments. I was struggling to keep my head above water and every time I looked at that dog I thought to myself “You are just one more thing I am not doing well.”
We kept Chloe for about six months before I had to say to my kids that it was either me or the dog – literally. We found a new home for her with a friend whose children were grown and was a long-distance runner. It was a perfect fit. And yes, this was a sad day for the kids, and for me, but it was best.
A couple of years later I thought that my life was finally calm enough to reconsider adopting a dog. It helped that friends of ours had just brought a new dog home who was very mellow. I thought to myself “I could do this.”
So we went to a shelter in Portland after reviewing several on-line profiles of the dogs waiting there. There was one on their web site who we thought would be a good fit for us. When our family of five walked into the shelter (the kids were then 13, 11 and 8) the guy behind the counter said “I have the dog for you.” We told him we were interested in the dog we saw online, and he kind of shook his head and said, “Not that one. I have just the dog for you.” It turned out that guy was right. Zillah (named for the town in Washington state where he was rescued) came home with us that day. He was such a good fit for our family that in no time he was as at home with us as we were with him.
Even I, the reluctant dog person, grew to love him. A friend sitting at my kitchen counter chuckled when she realized why I was sautéing the chicken giblets before dinner. They were for Zillah and this step had become just as much a part of the Sunday Roasted Chicken ritual as any.
It didn’t take us long to realize that chicken was Zillah’s favorite food. All chicken was good, but friend chicken was best.
We used to have a food truck in our town that sold pretty decent fried chicken. Very occasionally I’d pick up some for dinner and whenever the fried chicken came into the house, the dog went a little nuts. That’s how we knew.
So there it was Mother’s Day, just three days after we’d had to put the sweet guy down and we were still very much in mourning. I started thinking about making fried chicken in his honor. Fried chicken is also primo comfort food, and that’s certainly what we all needed.
To add just a note of occasion to the menu, I told Rob that I wanted Champagne with dinner. Champagne and fried chicken are actually a classic pairing in the wine world. If you get a chance to enjoy them together, you absolutely should.
I spent a little while researching gluten-free fried chicken on line (my daughter is now gluten free, as I’ve mentioned) and came across several recipes. Ultimately I combined bits from two or three and made my best fried chicken ever. I think the secret was the addition of tapioca flour, which is very light and therefore lightened the breading considerably. I suspect rice flour might have a similar effect.
Served with mashed potatoes, my favorite coleslaw and sparkling wine, it was an absolutely perfect meal – both comforting and celebratory at once.
- 12 to 16 chicken pieces (I use all dark meat, because that's what we like_
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup tapioca flour
- 1 cup gluten free all purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Combine the buttermilk in a large bowl with the hot sauce, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat. It's best if they're submerged.
- Marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours.
- Combine the flours in a shallow dish, a pie plate works well. Season the flour mix with a heaping tablespoon of salt and at least a teaspoon of pepper.
- Meanwhile, pour the oil into a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep. Heat the oil over medium high heat until it is 350 degrees when tested with a thermometer.
- Pull each piece of chicken out of the buttermilk marinade, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and make sure its well-coated. Allow excess to shake off.
- Rest the chicken on a sheet pan fitted with a rack (I use my cooling rack) until it's all been coated with the flour mixture and the oil is to temperature.
- When the oil is ready, turn the oven on to 350 degrees.
- Using tongs, put the chicken pieces in the hot oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Don't crowd the pan when you do this. Also, check the temperature of the oil throughout and adjust the heat under the pan to try and maintain 350 degrees.
- As you take the chicken pieces out of the oil, set them back on the racks on the sheet pan. When all the chicken is fried, put the pan into the oven and let it finish cooking. This should take only 15 to 20 minutes.