Issue 30

Fry Me A Liver

Fry Me A Liver

With the trend toward what has been called “nutritionalism,” or the tendency to eat only for nutritional purposes, why would we ever want to fry anything? Well, I’ll tell you. Because it tastes darn good.

And I don’t know about you, but I see absolutely no relation between a juicy inside, crunchy outside, home fried chicken, and those deep-batch-high-temp-fried-potato-food-products (to call them french fried potatoes would be insulting not only to the French, but also to potatoes.) If you think there is no difference between the two, come with me a moment, into the joys of pan frying, and see for yourself.

If you want to run the calories, there is actually not much difference between a chicken breast sautéed in olive oil and one fried at the right temp, no breading and definitely no skin. In fact, the sauté can often yield more fat, depending on how much oil or butter you put in. Nothing against oil or butter, but frying gets a bad rep, and there is no reason why we can’t bring it back in moderation.

At least twice a year, whether I need to or not, I fry a chicken. Not in a Mr. Fry-a-later, but in a skillet. I’ve updated my southern grandmother’s recipe in only one way: I use an electric skillet. Good heat control, lots of space, and coverage. Perfect. Use the high smoke-point veggie oil of your choice and heat to 350°. Now I will tell you the secret recipe for authentic southern fried chicken. Concentrate! If you can get this right, you can make chicken that will win you proposals of marriage, or at the very least, deep affection. Take your bone-on, skinless chicken pieces, and put them in a bowl of seasoned (salt and pepper only) unbleached white flour. Did I say white flour was evil? I take it back—for frying.

If there is anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken livers, I would say they haven’t eaten the right ones.”

Please, don’t go dunking and dredging things. It only makes people uptight.  Relax. Coat your chicken with flour, shake off the excess, place pieces into the oil, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes until golden brown on one side. Oil should come halfway up the sides of the chicken. When brown on the bottom, turn pieces over. If you are scared of poultry, use a thermometer and make sure you get a 165° reading in the thickest part of the chicken piece. Cutting up your own chicken is best, and a small one is perfect, since a roasting chicken will be too big in the, um, breast area, and the pieces won’t fry at the same time. When the chicken is done, and brown on each side, drain on a rack or paper towel and salt lightly while hot. Incidentally, I always wondered why my chicken never tasted exactly like my grandmother’s until I started buying local happy chickens. It was a revelation. I had done everything right, but the chicken was different. Now I can truly say this is my grandmother’s chicken, passed down through many generations.

And if you like that, get some local chicken livers and do exactly the same thing, but crank the heat down just a hair, maybe to 330°. Don’t overcook them, they will be done quickly, maybe a few minutes per side. If there is anyone who doesn’t like fried chicken livers, I would say they haven’t eaten the right ones. My three year-old eats them like they are going out of style, and proves that things really do taste better when fried right.

Now go to the farmer’s market and get some green tomatoes. I told you I was from the South. Make sure they are hard, green to pink, and fragrant. Cut them in slices the same width as a jumbo kids’ crayon (about 2/3 inch) wide. Any thinner, and you end up with brown, floppy Frisbees, and any thicker, you end up with mush. Get in the happy zone and you will be happy too. I lay out paper bags topped with paper towels on my counter, next to the electric skillet with fresh veggie oil heated to 350° (the temp will come down with all that water content). Then I dust the tomato slices in seasoned flour (just like the chicken—use a paper bag if your kids like to shake things and you don’t mind cleaning up), and fry a couple of minutes on each side. Here’s a tip: when the juices come up to the top of the unfried side, and the flour coating has a little wet seep in, you can take your tongs and peek underneath. Turn them gently, be nice. And take them out to drain and cool, sprinkling with a little salt. You’ll be doing better than I if you can get them to the table before they’ve all cooled. People usually eat them first in my house.

A quick word about okra. I know it is traditional to fry, but I prefer mine quick stir-fried in a tiny bit of oil and a super hot wok, with a spritz of lemon juice and salt at the end. No flour globs, no slime, and no teeny pieces to try and turn before they burn. Call me crazy, but I like fresh okra too much to ruin it.

But let us not abandon frying until we have fried some type of fish. You can get fabulous local trout from the folks in Ely, Nebraska, and frying is a lovely thing to do with these fillets. But instead of plain flour, use some cornmeal and flour together, fifty-fifty, with salt and pepper. (If your fillets were frozen, thaw them first in cold running water, and pat them dry.) Now coat them in your dry stuff, shake off excess, and put them into 350° veggie oil that comes half-way up the sides. Same rule for pan-frying fish, tomatoes, livers and chicken: when the flour coating on top starts to seep, you can peek. Fish is delicate, so use a large spatula or a flat slotted spoon to turn them. Most trout fillets have skin on one side and you can leave it on. You don’t have to eat it, but it will hold the fish together. Drain your fish and salt lightly, then serve with fresh lemon. Heaven is a little coleslaw and sliced fresh tomatoes to go alongside.

Now, do you really believe all the bad things you’ve heard about frying? I hope you can forget at least some of them. Don’t fry all of your food, every day. Our bodies don’t need lots of fat, but our brains do need some. If you are worried about gaining pounds, stop eating junk food, and start eating soul food. You know: good food, cooked with thought and love and tasty ingredients. In other words, fry. Make sure your oil is fresh, and hot enough to sizzle. Cold oil will make the food greasy, but the right temp will crisp the food outside, keeping the juices in. I don’t have anything big enough in which to dunk-fry a whole turkey and maybe you don’t, either. But even if you don’t have an electric skillet, you probably have a deep skillet with a lid and a little steel thermometer. So you can do this, and take back a little of America’s best home-cooking. If your marriage proposals don’t work out for you, I can’t help that, but I can guarantee that your fried chicken will be delicious, and possibly even worth passing on to the next generation.

You can find local meats and other wonderful ingredients at the Nebraska Food Co-op. See them online at or call (800) 993-2379.

Ann Summers

Ann Summers

Ann Summers is not a 40-umpthing-year old rock climber who got shut down in Boulder Canyon and drowned her failure in a microbrewery. She is neither a mother of two, a fan of Latin plant names nor a lover of fine Italian Grappa. You’ll not catch her shooting guns for fun or hollering like a redneck. She hates Shakespeare, and doesn’t call a certain fast food chain “The Scottish Restaurant.” She turns her nose up at organic yellow beets, eschews fresh oysters, and loathes chubby guinea pigs with Violent Femmes hairdos. She is also a dreadful liar

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