Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Maryland II - Finger Lickin' Good, with Gravy

My late Great Great Aunt Florence had a few recipes for crab cakes, as I discussed in the previous Maryland post.  She also had a recipe for "Southern Fried Chicken" which reads an awful lot like another classic Maryland recipe: chicken, fried in a covered pan.

Official Name: State of Maryland
State Nicknames: The Free State; The Old Line State; America in Miniature
Admission to the US: April 28, 1788 (#7)
Annapolis (24th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Baltimore (largest); Columbia (2nd largest); Germantown (3rd largest); Frederick (8th largest)
Mid-Atlantic, South, Northeast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Crabcake; Clambake; Chestnut; Maple Syrup
Bordered by:
The Mason-Dixon Line (north and east); Pennsylvania (north); Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean (east), Virginia and the Potomac River (south and southwest); District of Columbia (southwest); West Virginia (west and southwest)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: blue crab (crustacean); rockfish, aka striped bass (fish); Diamondback terrapin (reptile); Smith Island cake (dessert); milk (drink)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Chesapeake Bay foods, especially based on blue crab, oyster, clam, shrimp & fish; historically, foods of the Upper South (especially fried chicken, stuffed ham, beaten biscuits & Brunswick stew); cuisines that reflect a broad multicultural landscape closer to Baltimore (Italian, Polish, Ukranian, German, etc) and Washington (Latin American, West African, Southeast Asian, Korean, etc)

Fried chicken is a classic Southern dish that has spread all over the country and the world.  It was poverty food, as poor Southerners rarely had access to any more expensive meats than the chickens they grew themselves.  As Mobile, Alabama native Eugene Walter pointed out in the Time-Life Book American Cooking: Southern Style (from the classic Foods of the World series, available in many thrift stores if you look in the right ones), fried chicken is perhaps the iconic Southern dish
In Maryland - as throughout the South - the great classic dish is, of course, fried chicken.  Southern fried chicken is such a byword that it produces a conditioned reflex: mention it and the mouth waters and Pavlov's ghost smiles.  It probably comes as close to being the ideal all-purpose, all-occasion dish as anything in this country...

Any attempt to prescribe the best way to prepare fried chicken is likely to start the Civil War all over again, or it may, at best, lead into a storm of prolonged arguments, widely diverse local and even neighborhood differences, not to say family bickerings.  [Walter 1971: 34-35]
Among the many variations - Walter lists Maryland fried chicken, Kentucky fried chicken, oven-fried chicken, and the generic "Southern fried chicken" for example - is the shake and bake variety from the Middle South: soak it in buttermilk, put it in a flour mixture in a bag and shake it until coated, then dip it in cream and then flour again, and then fry.  Maryland fried chicken stops with the first shaking, but then gets fried in hot oil in a covered pan.  It is then served with a cream gravy.  This gravy, according to John Shields, is what truly makes it "Maryland fried chicken".

Mind you, passing through the Southeast on your way to Florida many a weary traveler may come across a "Maryland Fried Chicken" restaurant.  This is not the same thing, and to be honest I am not exactly sure why they call it this since the franchise was made popular by Delaware native Albert Constantine.  There are none in Maryland - most of the franchises are in Florida and South Carolina.  From what I understand it is tasty chicken.  It just isn't what Maryland based cooks mean when they say "Maryland fried chicken".

Also note that if you are researching "fried chicken" on Wikipedia, they get the definition of "Maryland fried chicken" wrong.  It is not characteristically baked in the oven.  I don't know where they got that info.  Maybe they should just take a cue from John Shields himself, who in June appeared on WYPR's Midday with Dan Rodricks show with Foodnerd blogger and City Paper writer Henry Hong, for a "fried chicken contest" (link to the MP3 of the broadcast here).  For this installment of Maryland cooking, and for my first of a few fried chicken recipes over the next year, I am delving into my well-worn copy of Chesapeake Bay Cooking for a taste of Shields' Maryland fried chicken - or as he titles it, "Maryland Panfried Chicken" (for the recipe, see pages 131 and 132 of Chesapeake Bay Cooking)

Recipe: Maryland Panfried Chicken with Cream Gravy

For Maryland fried chicken you will need the following:

* one 3 to 4 lb chicken, cut up (or just cut it up yourself - don't know how?  There are many great videos on YouTube and more than a few tutorials online)
* buttermilk (this is what Eugene Walter says is iconic of the Middle South, which is farther south than Maryland.  You will need one whole quart)
* fresh garlic, chopped
* salt and pepper to taste (for the marinade and shake-and-bake)
* a lemon
* Old Bay (you will need this for both the marinade and the shake-and-bake)
* Tabasco sauce
* flour (this is the basis of the coating, and part of the roux for the cream gravy)
* thyme, cayenne pepper and rubbed sage (I could only find ground sage, but this works)
* milk (you will need this for the cream gravy at the end)
* oil (and lard - plan on using one whole bottle of oil.  You aren't sautéing the bird after all.  Shields recommends adding three parts oil to one part lard for flavor if you like.  I added a few spoonfuls of lard.  Maybe I should have added more?)

The process has a few steps, and takes a while, but it isn't terribly complicated.  If you haven't cut up your chicken, you might want to go ahead and do that before this next step. Skin on, please.  This isn't going to be healthy no matter what you do so just go all in.

 Prepare the marinade: start with your buttermilk...

Next add your other marinade ingredient: the Old Bay, Tabasco, garlic, salt, pepper...

 ...and lemon juice.

Pour over the chicken pieces and marinade overnight.  At first I was going to be my typical impatient self, but eventually I just let it marinate overnight.

It ended up marinating for a whole day.  I go to extremes.

After your chicken is finished marinating, prepare the shake and bake: mix flour, Old Bay, salt, pepper and your dry spices.

Transfer the mixture to a strong paper bag or sealable plastic bag and get ready to shake it.

 Dip each piece of chicken into the bag - a few at a time works - and seal and shake the bag.

Make sure you have your oil (and lard?) heating up until it is at deep frying temperature.

Place a few at a time into the hot oil.  Shields warns not to crowd the pan.

I crowded the pan.  It still turned out in the end.  Turn your pieces until browned, and then...

Cover with a lid.  The only lid I could find that would cover my 12" cast iron skillet was the lid to my crab pot.

Occasionally turn, and after 20 to 25 minutes you will have pan fried chicken.

But wait - that's not all!  What makes it Maryland fried chicken is the gravy, which you will make while the fried chicken is draining.

For the gravy, you will need flour, milk, salt and pepper and about 1/8 cup of the oil from the pan.

Make a roux from the drippings and the flour

Then add the salt, pepper and milk, and whisk for several minutes until thick.  It will thicken well after a while.

I must confess: this isn't the first time I have made this.  It is the first time I have made this successfully.  Rewind to California about 8 or 9 years ago.  A homesick Marylander invites some friends over for some fried chicken, and I decide to go all Maryland on them.  I didn't bother to cover the pan, since I didn't have a lid that would fit, so I left it out.  The result was not terribly crispy.  Fast forward to now: I actually follow John Shields' directions, and lo and behold: crispy chicken that is moist in the middle!  The coating is not typically salty like many fried chickens you will order out, and the coating stays crispy.  Even when you reheat it, the coating is still somewhat crispy (even if not as crispy as when you took it out of the pan).  The chicken is tender, and the gravy adds just enough salt to the chicken.  All in all, a worthy recipe to undertake.  Shields recommends serving this with mashed potatoes and greens - a fine way to accompany this lovely dish. 


"Crab Cakes".  Recipe from the author's family.

Fowora, Simbo.  "Jollof Rice".  Featured on the episode "Nigerian Dinner" of the show Sara's Secrets (Sara Moulton, host).  Food Network, 2006.

Gibbon, Ed.  The Congo Cookbook.  1999-2009.  Available as a downloadable book from and reprinted on the website

Hafner, Dorinda.  A Taste of Africa.  Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 1993.

Kitching, Frances.  "Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake-Mrs. Kitching's Original Recipe". Reprinted on the "Fun Stuff" page at the website (website for Somerset County, Maryland).  2007-2010 Somerset County Tourism.

Shields, John. Chesapeake Bay Cooking. Broadway Books: New York, NY, 1998

Shields, John. "Foreward".  In Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass.  Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.

Snodgrass, Lucie.  Dishing Up Maryland.  Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.

Walter, Eugene.  American Cooking: Southern Style.  From the series Foods of the World.  Time-Life Publications: New York, NY, 1971

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Maryland" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Maryland".