JOPLIN, Mo. — There are several foods that can lay claim to being true American fare. Cheeseburgers, barbecued ribs, hot dogs and apple pie are a few that come to mind.
But if there had to be one meal that conjures up memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in small towns across the country, it would have to be fried chicken.
In many families, fried chicken recipes are passed down like trade secrets. And debates over methods and ingredients rage. Pan fried or deep fry? Lard or vegetable oil? Crisco or Wesson? Whole milk or buttermilk? Salt and pepper or garlic? Flour or bread crumbs? Honey or no honey?
Longtime manager of Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor Restaurant and Bar in Kansas City, Tammy Ruff knows a thing or two about fried chicken. Stroud’s has been a Midwest Mecca for fried chicken since 1933. And when it comes to chicken, Ruff said there is only one way it should be prepared: pan fried.
“Of course it is. There is nothing that compares to pan-fried chicken that is just the right color and just the right texture,” she said.
If you’ve struggled to get your own homemade pan-fried chicken to just that “right color” and “right texture,” you might take solace in this bit of information. Ruff says that at Stroud’s, proper pan frying is considered such an important part of the restaurant’s appeal that their cooks typically spend at least a year and a half working in the kitchen before they are put in charge of a pan of chicken.
“We fry 16 pieces (of chicken) in a pan and we typically have 10 or 12 pans going at once,” she said.
So is there a Stroud’s secret recipe for turning out the mouth-watering, legendary pan-fried chicken? Surprisingly, Ruff says there isn’t.
“Just flour and salt and pepper,” she said.
The key to tasty fried chicken, Ruff insists, is in the frying. The oil in a pan for Stroud’s chicken is heated over a medium high gas flame. When placing the chicken one piece at a time into a pan, it’s important that the oil cover one half of the chicken. If the oil is too shallow, the chicken won’t cook through, Ruff said.
It takes about 25 to 30 minutes to cook a pan of Stroud’s chicken.
“It works out to about 12 to 15 minutes per side,” Ruff said.
When frying chicken, it’s important to be patient and to be vigilant. If the chicken appears to be browning too quickly, you can lower the temperature. After the chicken has been frying for 12 to 15 minutes, carefully turn each piece.
“It’s all in the turning,” Ruff insisted. “To get that even browning, the oil has to be halfway up (on the chicken) and then turned at just the right time.”
Mike Pound is a columnist for The Joplin (Mo.) Globe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.