Fried chicken is pure comfort food, and you can reasonably expect that it will be prepared using similar methods wherever you go. Unless of course you were planning on time travelling to the 18th century. The recipe in question comes from Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Domesticum, and is cooked here by Jonathan Townsend whose YouTube channel is dedicated to researching and making food from the Colonial and Pre-Colonial era. Sure, that’s about one step removed from war reenactments, but Townsend’s videos provide fascinating insight into how food preparation has evolved in the last 200-plus years. In this case, while the end result looks much the same, the recipe deviates from the modern norm every step of the way.
A good fried chicken recipe will tell you to marinate the poultry in a buttermilk base for at least several hours or even overnight. Bailey’s calls for a marinade primarily made of lemon juice and malt vinegar, and for only a three hour soak. In the pre-factory farming days, chickens possibly had tougher, gamier meat, and this might have helped to tenderise it somewhat. But that’s pure speculation.
Likewise, breading is usually done in two parts: Wet and dry. The wet portion can be a beaten egg or leftover buttermilk, while seasoned flour, breadcrumbs or (if you’re fancy) panko provide the dry coating. Rinse and repeat until your desired level of crunchiness is achieved. Bailey’s single-step concoction of flour and white wine, while probably delicious, is much closer to a corndog batter. And as Townsend points out, the cooks of the time were more likely to be frying in lard or clarified butter instead of vegetable oil.
How exactly did we get from one version of fried chicken to the other? And why aren’t we using almost any of the same flavours anymore? For our tastebuds’ sake Mr Townsend, we implore you to research this topic further.