Fried chicken was on our opening menu – a bone-in leg quarter and a breast served with collard greens, mashed roast sweet potatoes whipped with butter and cane syrup, and tasso ham gravy. It was just one of our entrees and we never expected it to be such a big part of what we do. The dish evolved over time. Once we got busy enough, we quickly found that we could not cook the large bone-in pieces of chicken fast enough to serve all the guests that were ordering it. That’s when the dish began to evolve into what it is today. We bring in whole chickens and butcher them ourselves, painstakingly boning out the breast and thigh so that the white and dark meat on our entrée is completely boneless. The wings and drumsticks are rubbed, smoked, and fried, and the carcasses are used for chicken stock which we use in our sauces. Nothing is wasted. Pre-Covid, and hopefully again soon, we butcher up to 300 chickens per week. For our chicken and waffle, we purchase natural boneless breast meat as we would never be able to butcher all the chickens needed to keep up with those sales. In our busiest weeks we can sell over 1,300 pounds of chicken breast.
Besides our fried chicken, some of the best fried chicken I have had was at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans. The restaurant is a Black-owned business, started by Willie Mae Seaton in 1957 who cooked her family recipes. Here’s a little video about her:
Our Executive Chef, Dan Grill and our General Manager, Sarah Peters Grill and I were fortunate enough to take a culinary tour to New Orleans and the greater New Orleans area this past spring. I was able to show them where I grew up, all my old haunts, the places I worked and they were able to meet many of my family members. We visited over thirty restaurants in our short adventure! On our very last day, our last stop was Willie Mae’s. We arrived right at opening and stood in a line to be among the first to be welcomed into the small, intimate dining room. Our meal arrived quickly- golden pieces of fried chicken with a light and crispy exterior. Flavorful and juicy on the inside and perfectly seasoned. It was served with peas and delicious macaroni and cheese that we chased around the plate. Dan was able to peek into the kitchen and the cooks showed him their process- a wet batter rather than simply a seasoned flour. It’s a completely different type of fried chicken than we serve, but it’s definitely just as good as ours and I highly recommend visiting Willie Mae’s if you ever find yourself in New Orleans. Southern cooks in particular employ a wide range of techniques for seasoning, battering and frying chicken. I’ve seen dry dredges used with egg wash and buttermilk, straight dry dredges, wet batters, seasoning the chicken only, seasoning the flour only, etc etc. One Creole cook I knew in New Orleans coated his raw chicken in straight cayenne pepper before dredging. It was delicious and surprisingly not over-spicy. My mother made fried chicken very occasionally on the stove in a cast iron skillet. It’s a messy, kind of dangerous activity in a busy household, but my goodness, what a treat!