James Beard’s Southern Fried Chicken
July 16, 2010, 2:49 pm
Filed under: James Beard Project, Poultry, Southern, Supper, Technique

We had friends over for supper last night. They moved here from Chicago and it was my opinion that they needed a good Southern Feast with real honest-to-goodness Southern Fried Chicken. James Beard’s recipe is almost exactly how my mother-in-law makes it, and you don’t get more Southern than her. The only difference is that he prefers it to be fried in lard.

I don’t know how you feel about frying in lard, but as I put the lard bucket in the grocery buggy, all those alarm bells installed by years of indoctrination by health teachers and Government Warnings were banging around in my head, saying that we’d all surely drop dead within an hour of eating. Then reason prevailed, my 98 year old grandmother and Terry’s 101 year old great grandmother didn’t have vegetable shortening…and fried everything in lard, used it in biscuits, all that. And they’d both outlived most of their doctors. My grandmother was recently warned that she needed to cut back on the bacon and eggs for breakfast or she might not make it to 100. She had no comment. Anyway, back to the chicken. Oh, lard: all things in moderation. ’nuff said.

James Beard’s Southern Fried Chicken (my comments in parenthesis)
1 to 1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
(1 teaspoon garlic powder. I am constitutionally incapable of cooking chicken without garlic)
Two 2-1/2 to 3 pound frying chickens, cut into 4 drumsticks, 4 thighs, 4 breast halves (sever the wings if you wish), 2 backs and 2 necks
Lard for frying (I bought a 3 pound bucket and used about 3/4 of it)

Mix the flour and seasoning in a (gallon) plastic bag, add the chicken pieces (4 at a time) and shake well, then remove and rub in the flour so the chicken is well coated. Let the pieces stand on a board for 30 (or 45, or a bit longer) minutes before frying.

floured and resting

In 2 large heavy skillets (a cast iron dutch oven, because I was only cooking legs and thighs) melt enough lard to come 1-1/2 inches up in the pan. When hot (stick a wooden spoon in the fat, when small bubbles come out of it, it’s hot)fit the chicken pieces without crowding (a 9 inch pan will hold 5 drumsticks or 4 thighs) or you won’t get an even color. Start the pan of white meat 5 minutes after the dark. Add necks and backs to the pan of white meat after 5 minutes. Cook at a rather high heat, being careful the flour doesn’t burn, until brown on one side. Lift frequently with tongs tocheck browning. Turn and brown other side, then reduce the heat (just a little!!) to cook the chicken more slowly, and keept turning. You don’t want the chicken to stew in the fat but to cook to a delicious crispness. Total cooking time according to how you like you meat done, is 20 to 25 minutes for dark meat, 15 to 20 minutes for white meat, and 10 to 15 minutes for necks and backs. gauge your timing carefully. (I cooked the meat for 15 minutes with the lid on the dutch oven, then turned, and put the lid back on for about 8 minutes, then cooked without the lid for 2 minutes).


Remove the chicken to paper towels to drain briefly, then arrange on a hot platter with watercress. If you want to eat the chicken cold, cover with paper towels to absorb surplus fat, and don’t refrigerate, if possible, as fried chicken tastes better tepid or close to room temperature.

That’s his recipe. Here’s what I did:
I bought drumsticks and thighs, to make about 35 pieces. Since I couldn’t cook them all at one time, after they cooked, they were put on a roasting rack over a pan and into a 200 degree oven to drain and keep warm.

In this house, fried chicken is served with a bottle of hot sauce (Texas Pete’s, Louisiana, or Tabasco)

Now, commentary about frying with lard. Yes, it’s a little scary at first. One thing I noticed is that the chicken seemed to soak up far less of the lard than it would have soaked up of vegetable shortening or oil. In times past, large batches of chicken would have required refilling the pan a time or two with more oil, but that wasn’t necessary with the lard. The chicken browned more evenly and was juicier than when fried in shortening. Strangely, it seemed to stay hot longer as well.

The chicken was aggressively monitored by the Household Quality Control Officers, who announced that it was better than any made in the past. Initially, Officer CJ was dubious about the breading, opining that battered is better than just flour, but his opinion changed with the first sampling. This is a case of simpler being better.


2 Comments so far
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[…] under: food The James Beard Project is chugging right alone. Yesterday involved his recipe for Southern Fried Chicken- just regular fried chicken only fried in lard (what??). Details on the web […]

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Wow that looks wonderful! I am in the midst of my buffalo wing craving time, but I believe your fried chicken would substitute nicely!

Comment by deedee

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