Fried Chickens

Mary Randolph is considered by food historians as one the best cooks to come out of an American kitchen. Her fried chicken recipe is the first to appear in an American cookbook. The use of fried cornmeal mush balls is the first recipe for what will eventually be called “hush puppies.”

18th Century

Cut them up as for the fricassee, dredge them well with flour, sprinkle them with salt, put them into a good quantity of boiling lard, and fry them a light brown, fry small pieces of mush and a quantity of parsley nicely picked to be served in the dish with the chickens, take half a pint of rich milk, add to it a small bit of butter with pepper, salt, and chopped parsley, stew it a little, and pour it over the chickens, and then garnish with the fried parsley.

Randolph, Mary. “The Virginia Housewife”

21st Century

  • 3 ½ -4 lb. fryer chicken, skin on, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lard or vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 cups chopped parsley plus 2 Tbsp. minced parsley
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp., plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of cornmeal mush in teaspoon-sized pieces
  1. Season the chicken with salt and dredge through the flour, shaking each piece so the flour evenly coats the pieces. Set the chicken in the refrigerator while the oil heats up to 375 degrees.
  2. Fry the chicken for 15 minutes in a deep fat fryer until nicely browned and the internal temperature equals 165 degrees. Don’t overcrowd the pan or fryer. Continue to monitor the oil temperature. Adjust the heat to maintain 375 degrees. Do not let the fat begin to smoke. Let the finished pieces drain on a rack with paper towels underneath.
  3. When the chicken is finished, fry the pieces of cornmeal mush in the same oil that the chicken was done in.
  4. Prepare the fried parsley and milk gravy. Fry the chopped parsley in a Tbsp. of oil or butter until wilted. Remove from pan. Add another Tbsp of butter and the minced parsley. Stir in the milk but don’t let it boil. Continue to stir until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Plate by ringing the platter around the edge with wilted parsley. Place the chicken in the middle and the sauce over the top or in a sauce boat on the side.

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7 Responses to “Fried Chickens”

  1. May 31st, 2012

    Chris Hansley says:

    Hi Frank,
    As usual I have a few questions. Not being a Southern girl I’m not sure about a few things.

    1. We just dredge the chicken in the flour once? No dredging in eggs to help the flour stay on the chicken? I’m used to dredging – flour – egg – flour, or egg – flour. Or something similar.

    2. Did I miss the recipe for Mary Randolph’s cornmeal mush balls? How does one make them?

    Thanks for help,
    Chris

    • June 1st, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Good questions. I think that everyone has their own dredging style. I like flour, egg, flour or bread crumbs myself; however this method leads to a much heartier crust. We tried to translate this recipe as closely to the original as possible. I think as time went on, fried chicken became more about the coating rather then the chicken.

      It seems to me that the original version was a variation on the fricassee, which was fried first then stewed or sauced. Mary takes it from England — actually Hanna Glasse — and puts the Virginia twist on it of emphasizing the frying to do most all the cooking and leaving the sauce to the end. The modern versions ditch the sauce altogether and build up the coating on the chicken with layers of flour and 11 secret herbs and spices and the like. So we see the evolution of this dish from a lightly coated and spiced chicken fried with a cream sauce to today’s crispy coated crunch. Feel free to batter the way you like, but that is why we wrote it that way.

      As for Mary’s recipe for mush; It is given on page 157 in my copy:
      “Put a lump of butter the size of an egg into a quart of water, make it sufficiently thick with corn meal and a little salt; It must be mixed perfectly smooth, stir it constantly till done enough.”

      My guess is around a cup to two of corn meal will be enough.

      -Frank

  2. May 31st, 2012

    Angela says:

    I come from a southern family and we only dredge in flour once, no egg is necessary. We fry ours in a skillet in lard or butter or a combination, rather than deep frying. I assume the cornmeal mush ball are hush puppies. Cornbread batter made thick enough to form balls to drop in the deep fryer.
    Now you have gone and made me hungry!

  3. June 1st, 2012

    Chris Hansley says:

    Hi Frank and Angela,

    Thanks for the Foodways answer and a personal southern family answer.
    Angela, I’m sorry I made you hungry, but all of these recipes do that to me too. They make me want to be in Williamsburg.
    Have a great weekend,
    Chris

  4. June 3rd, 2012

    Helen Robison FitzGerald says:

    Hello all, I have to agree with Angela. My dad was taught by my Missouri grandmother whose family got there from the 17th c. onward via Virginia and Kentucky. He made fried chicken every other Sunday, and very simply tossed all the cut-up chicken parts into a brown paper grocery bag with flour, salt and pepper. Shook vigorously. Took the parts out and shook and promptly fried them in a skillet with about a 1/4 – 1/2″ layer of vegetable oil. Delicious.

    I can’t wait to try this (after many years of just broiling or grilling) after I get down with the pork pie. AND, wishing I was in Williamsburg, though perhaps not the upcoming months!

    Many thanks, as always,
    Helen

  5. June 13th, 2012

    H.Perkinson says:

    I strongly suggest a 2 1/2 lb. free range chicken, The current industrial superchicken at 3-4plus pounds developed in several weeks will not begin to capture the 18 cent. dish.

  6. August 1st, 2012

    Eric Fowler says:

    i wish y’all would make videos of all of the recipes

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