Fried Chicken - A Revolutionary Soul Food

No matter what part of the world you are from, unless you refrain from eating meat or for religious reasons, everybody loves some sort of fried chicken.  It is quite possibly the ultimate soul food with an iconic history of struggle, racial connotations, defiance and culinary genius.

Chicken was not always a popular and accessible protein as it is today. It was once an animal that held monumental, religious and a strong fertility status in the ancient world.

"Sacred Roman Chickens" Image Credits; Tim O'Brian/   Smithsonian Mag

"Sacred Roman Chickens" Image Credits; Tim O'Brian/Smithsonian Mag

In Roman times, there were sacred chickens whose behavioural patterns – particularly their eating habits, were kept under watchful eye as they were known to have the ability to predict the outcome of events in times of war.

In Greek Mythology, chickens were considered sacred, a symbol of fertility and a token of love. The Greeks as early as the fifth century BC also used cocks to fight, a sport and tradition that is now prohibited in many countries.

Chickens, throughout history were not initially consumed but raised to lay eggs and it was only when the hen’s egg laying career was over, the old bird was then cooked but the meat was dark and tough.  Chicken in the United States was not nearly as popular as it is today and has developed over the years, particularly with the introduction of vitamins and antibiotics, where chickens could start to be reared in large quantities without even seeing a lick of sunlight.

Waiter carriers pass food to passengers on a train stopping in Gordonsville, Va. Image Credits:     NPR    /Town of Gordonsville

Waiter carriers pass food to passengers on a train stopping in Gordonsville, Va. Image Credits: NPR/Town of Gordonsville

Fried chicken is a rural dish developed by the working class, cooked by the slaves and served to their masters. For years, fried chicken was not documented in recipes but cooked and created on gut instinct depending on spices and ingredients that were available at the time. It is unclear  exactly when the process of coating and then frying the chicken came about, but the method of frying meat most definitely is an influence  from African culture.

Post-Civil War in the United States around the 1860’s and 1870’s saw slavery abolished and many African American women who had served in kitchens for years, now out of a job and income. These women began to sell their fried chicken, along with pies and biscuits, to passengers stopping at a major transport hub in Gordonsville, Virginia. Known as waiter carriers, they became iconic symbols of civil rights empowerment, becoming financially independent and spread the joys of southern style fried chicken throughout the United States. 

As the popularity of fried chicken grew, a Caucasian man in a white suit and bead, by the name of Harland Sanders introduced pressure cooked fried chicken in the 1930’s. Thirty years later, his restaurants were to be found all over the United States and today, KFC is the most common brand of fried chicken worldwide.

Col Harland Sanders; Photo AP.         The Telegraph

Col Harland Sanders; Photo AP. The Telegraph

The idea of coating and frying chicken lays its roots in the United States, however countries around the world have developed their own style and variations using local flavours and different cuts of chicken.

Japanese Karaage consists of boneless chicken cubes, commonly thigh that is marinated in soy, sometimes sake, dredged in potato or wheat flour and then fried. Korea’s take on fried chicken is twice fried, initially seasoned with spices, salt, sugar and then basted with a sweet spicy sauce before serving.

Gai Tod, Thailand’s answer to fried chicken finds its flavours with garlic, white pepper, coriander seed and fish sauce while Vietnamese Can Gha Chien uses potato flour, palm sugar and fish sauce.

Brazilian fried chicken is known as Frango à Passarinho, uses a spiced lime marinade with a cornmeal and wheat flour coating. Southern fried chicken, probably the most iconic of them all, only uses chicken cuts with the bone in, is brined in salt and garlic, marinated in seasoned buttermilk and fried with a corn starch or flour batter.

Chikin, Korean style fried chicken is usually twice fried and seasoned pre and post frying. Influenced by the American Southern fried chicken, it also has taken a characteristic on its own where post frying is followed by a painting of sauce on the chicken. This coating is sticky and has a combination of both sweet and spicy flavours. 

From Korea, to the United States, to South America and beyond, nobody can resist the simplist of pleasures as biting into a piece of good fried chicken.

See my recipe here and tell me what you think!