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May 20th, 2011

A Taste of the South: Sara Foster’s Secrets to Perfect Fried Chicken

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Sara Foster’s new cookbook, SARA FOSTER’S SOUTHERN KITCHEN (Random House), is spectacular, and “absolutely stunning,” according to Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa). Sara cooks whatever inspires her from the farmers’ markets in the Durham-Chapel Hill area where she has owned and operated the beloved Foster’s Markets for over 20 years.  In her fourth and most personal cookbook, with a foreword by Lee Smith, Sara gives us a slice of Southern heaven–squash-laced hush puppies, Carolina shrimp chowder–but always with her own twist and respect to what’s seasonal and fresh.  There are also classics, welcome any time of year, including her Granny Foster’s Sunday Fried Chicken.

I was recently in North Carolina visiting with Sara, and some of our friends, including authors Frances Mayes and Lee Smith.  Sara and I worked together for years at Cottage Living magazine and we always seem to spend time testing recipes, tasting new things, and dreaming up the next dish we’re going to cook.

We spent an afternoon first buying free-range, organic chickens at the Durham market and frying up some crisp bird before heading to see Bill Smith over at Crook’s Corner for some fried softshell crabs and garlicky carrot slaw. Bill had just returned from winning the James Beard Award; Crook’s Corner was honored as an American Classic. Also, in the neighborhood, is the delightful chef, Andrea Reusing of Lantern Restaurant. We’ll cook from her brand new cookbook, COOKING IN THE MOMENT, next…

Bill had arrived the evening before and, just off the plane, freshly-churned some honeysuckle sorbet; it’s divine, pure summer on a spoon. He knows that if I’m in town and it’s honeysuckle season, I’ll be begging for this gorgeous floral ice. Here’s a video from last summer. If you can’t make it to Crook’s in Chapel Hill, you’ll find the recipe in his book, SEASONED IN THE SOUTH (Algonquin Books).

Back to fried chicken. It’s easier than you think. You just need to know a few basic things:

-The vessel. Every Southerner knows that a skillet is the way to go. If you don’t have one passed down from a family member, start your own tradition. They’re great for frying chicken, of course, as well as baking cornbread and stewing greens, all wonderful accompaniments.
-The chicken. A Free-range, preferably organic chicken from your local farmer or market.
-To brine or not to brine. Here, we have two options. If you have time, make a salt brine with Sara’s recipe, or just soak in buttermilk with a few seasonings for about 30 minutes.
-The temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil by tossing in a bit of flour. It should sizzle but not burn. Keep the frying temp to between 350 to 375 degrees F.
-A table of hungry (and soon-to-be-happy) friends.

Click here for SARA’S RECIPE FOR GRANNY FOSTER’S SUNDAY FRIED CHICKEN.

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