All hail the queen

To Fried Chicken

by Remy Tumin

To Fried Chicken

Liana Jegers

There are two rules to making Mom’s fried chicken.

1. The temperature outside needs to be uncomfortably warm. 2. You have to double dip.

I stepped into the kitchen with Mom on a recent morning—we had the heat, now all we needed was the buttermilk.

The first time Mom made fried chicken she nearly burned the house (and herself) down. I woke up to the tang of chicken frying and then quickly burning. The smell lingered in the house for days.

The next time she experimented with a splatter guard to avoid further disaster. Trial and error, year after year, and the perfect fried chicken recipe evolved.

Every time she returned to the deep pot of oil and spice mix, Mom would tweak the recipe just so— more or less spices, a change in salt, a different dipping method.

By now, she’s got it nailed. Mom only makes her fried chicken a few times a year—July 4, Illumination Night in August and by special request.

Growing up in New York, my limited knowledge of fried chicken consisted of drumsticks from a neighborhood rotisserie and takeout shop called Williams BAR-B-Q. My weekly swim lessons at the nearby YMCA always ended with
a trip to Williams for a drumstick. Drumsticks were free for kids.

Chlorinated hair sticking to my shoulders, the satisfying exhaustion of a good swim, I was rewarded with the most perfectly crisp and sweet drumstick. My brother and I would stand on our tiptoes to reach for what felt like the Olympic torch of drumsticks from the guys behind the counter, carefully grabbing them by the deli paper end.

Williams closed in 2005. Soon after that, Mom took up the mantle on the Vineyard.

Fried chicken is always made by 9 a.m. After that, because it’s summer, it gets too hot. My brother and I would wake up not to the smells of coffee or eggs, but of cayenne and garlic. Downstairs, Mom would be diligently working away on her multiple batches of fried chicken, asking us if we thought the spice mixture this year was better than last, or if we thought it needed more salt. We would reassure her that this was the best batch yet, and it almost always was.

“You know the secret, right?” Mom said to me standing over a simmering pot of garlic oil. The early morning summer sun crept in through our old farmhouse windows as she began to show me how it’s done. We were both still in our nightgowns and now had aprons around our waists. “You have to double dip.”

That means double dipping between her special flour mixture and buttermilk. It also means a mess, which is why I almost always steer clear of the kitchen. Except for today.

“The recipe is from many amalgams over the years,” Mom said. “You need to have enough room in your pot—you can’t overcrowd your chicken—so I recommend two large pots at a time. Every recipe calls for not crowding your pot, even if you get tired of the batches.”

She uses canola oil and flavors it before frying, using the same set of spices in the oil and the flour batter. After years of experimenting, she’s finally settled on chipotle, cayenne, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Then it’s time to turn to the chicken.

“You have to please a crowd—you want breasts, you want legs, you want thighs,” she said. “But let’s face it, the drumstick is the queen of fried chicken.”

Mom prefers skin-on chicken. Sometimes the best parts are getting to the bottom of the platter and sneaking a few extra crunches.

Then she prepares a shallow bowl with buttermilk, rinses the chicken in water, and pats it dry. I watched her as she soaked the chicken in the buttermilk for a few seconds before placing it in a Ziploc bag of flour and spices, carefully swaying it side to side to ensure full coverage, dipping it again before returning it to a second bag of prepared flour mixture.

“It’s very messy on your hands, so you need to do it near a sink,” she advised. She wiped her brow and a smudge of flour paste stuck to her forehead.

Into the oil went the chicken, quietly sizzling until just past golden and perfectly brown. The smell was just right.

“It’s best served hot, but it’s also really good cold,” Mom said.

My friends now ask to join any event that involves Mom’s fried chicken; word has gotten around. The chicken is always crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, best enjoyed with your hands.