One of the best things about celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the fact that schools, government offices and many businesses across the U.S. are closed, giving workers an extra day off on the third Monday in January. A good thing about this holiday is that it you the opportunity to serve fabulous “soul food” to family and friends.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the newest American National holiday, signed into legislation on November 2, 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. January 20, 1986 was the first national celebration of this holiday, which comes as a welcome break between the end of the Christmas holidays and the beginning of spring.
There are so many great soul food dishes; it is sometimes difficult to cook just a few. I’ve taken some of my favorites and streamlined them by using timesaving appliances and convenience foods. With these new quick and easy Southern recipes, even the busiest of cooks will be able to celebrate this holiday properly without spending hours in the kitchen.
Shortcut Fried Chicken Recipe
One of the first things that come to mind when I hear “soul food” is fried chicken. Fried chicken is a Classic Southern Soul Food Dish, and recipes for it are included in every Soul Food and Southern cookbook. I have never been to a soul food restaurant where fried chicken was not an offering on the menu. In fact, fried chicken is so popular, that it appears on most restaurant menus, whether Southern or not.
Real Southern Fried Chicken is quite involved and time-consuming. Most recipes call for soaking the chicken in a brine solution or buttermilk overnight, then draining, dipping in egg wash, coating with seasoned flour, and finally frying in lots of oil. It’s always difficult to keep the temperature just right so that the chicken cooks through before the outside coating browns too fast. Once the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, the oil is drained off and a creamy gravy is made with the crispy bits left in the pan. Although this dish isn’t particularly difficult, most of us really don’t have the time to prepare it very often.
Since frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts are readily available, I like to use them instead of a whole chicken to make my fried chicken. Southern Grandmothers everywhere might frown on my shortcut method, since it doesn’t follow a proper secret Southern family recipe. However, the finished product is crispy, juicy, and delicious.
Instead of the classic cream gravy that usually accompanies fried chicken, I have included a fast and easy sauce that was adapted from Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook (Signet 1969), Sauce Beautiful, which was named after the author’s late mother. To round out the meal, I would suggest serving rice and a green vegetable.
Of course, if you have your heart set on mashed potatoes and gravy, and have some time to spend in the kitchen, you can also make cream gravy from the crispy bits that are left in the bottom of the pan; drain all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil from the pan, leaving any crispy bits; stir in enough flour to make a roux, then over medium heat, whisk in a mixture of half milk and half water (about 2 cups). Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Shortcut Fried Chicken with Sauce Beautiful
4 –6 Servings
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cleaned and cut diagonally in half
½ cup butter
½ cup vegetable oil
Mix the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken breast pieces in the mixture.
Melt the butter in a large heavy (preferably cast iron) skillet. Add the oil and heat it to 375°.
When the oil butter mixture has heated, add the chicken pieces, in a single layer without crowding. The chicken pieces will cook quite fast since there are no bones.
When the chicken breasts are golden brown on one side, turn them to brown the other side. If the heat is correct, the chicken should be cooked through by the time the second side is browned. Since overcooked chicken breasts can be dry, make sure they are removed from the oil butter mixture as soon as they are barely cooked through.
Makes about 1 ¼ cups
½ cup peach jam or preserves
½ cup water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
If the peach preserves are really chunky, mash them with a fork or put them in the food processor and process until smooth. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and mix well. Cook over medium-high heat until thickened, stirring occasionally.
Top Ten Signs You’ve Eaten Too Much Southern Fried Chicken
10. Hundreds of volunteers have started to stack sandbags around you.
9. Doctor tells you your weight would be perfect for a man 17 feet tall.
8. You are responsible for a slight but measurable shift in the earth’s axis.
7. Right this minute you’re laughing up pie on the carpet.
6. You decide to take a little nap and wake up in mid-July.
5. World’s fattest man sends you a telegram, warning you to “back off!”
4. People are beginning to lick your fingers
3. Getting off your couch requires help from the fire department.
2. Every escalator you step on immediately grinds to a halt.
1. You’re sweatin’ gravy.