Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Eating. fried chicken.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (to paraphrase Jane Austen) that any food with the word "fried" in its description will automatically be delicious (so long as it is fried properly). Equally true is the fact that it will, as it is with nearly anything delicious, be absolutely terrible for you. So. Alas. I must limit the amount and frequency of fried foods in my diet (as I try to limit all unhealthy things); all good things in moderation. One of these good things I cannot go for long without is fried chicken. Sometimes I make oven-fried chicken, and it is all very well and good, made with free-range organic chicken thighs, brined and seasoned with sea salt, herbs, pepper, and a dash of paprika, but it is not fried. It lacks something. But I have a fear of deep-frying things in my own kitchen, given my unholy ability to set things on fire. There are certain lengths I will go to in the name of culinary arts; burning down my house is not one of them.

When we growing up, it was an unusual treat for us to have fried chicken and hot wings from Kentucky Fried Chicken. I looked forward to the crispy-skinned chicken, the spicy, crunchy wings, the smooth mashed potatoes with gravy (a foreign entity at our table), baked beans (ditto), and the fluffy, cottony biscuits that stuck to the roof of my mouth. I would think about the scene in Dear Mr. Henshaw where Lee and his mother go to the beach and sit in the car in the rain, eating fried chicken from the cardboard bucket and using the bones to scoop up the mashed potatoes because they forgot the forks. Sporks, actually, are what they provide to spear your chicken and spoon up the mashed potatoes. (Ah, the spork, the great cutlery invention. Where would we be without it?). Besides KFC (so renamed during the time where Americans paradoxically feared fat yet managed to grow fatter than ever) there was the fried chicken joint not too far away, an even rarer treat, the best place in town. And then there would be platters of fried chicken with mashed potatoes (always mashed potatoes) at roadside diners and truck stops during cross-country road trips.

I have been thinking about fried chicken all day, so we have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, the place I always go to for fried chicken when I am in the mood. I have not been here in years, and as we sit down I flash back to another time, another friend sitting across from me, with whom I will share the hot berry cobbler that always burns my tongue with the first bite. Flash forward and it is someone else but the food is the same, a disorienting sensation. And then I am in the present again, as we talk about our day and other things, place our orders and look around at the wild artwork on the walls. The chicken comes drizzled with honey, which I always feel tastes wild and untamed beneath the sweetness, like sunlight and wildflowers. There are smashed potatoes and brussels sprouts with bacon, which make me jump a little in glee, because I love brussels sprouts with bacon more than the usual medley of green beans and zucchini. And I burn my tongue on the blackberry cobbler, as I knew I would.

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