A month or so ago, as I walked up the stairs to my apartment, I smelled the warm, homey aroma of that night’s dinner coming from my downstairs neighbors’ door. The smell of the Spanish food they cook up regularly tempts my nostrils; I almost wish they would offer up their leftovers because I would gladly take them (plus the grandma lives there, so you know it’s banging). But that particular night, my perceptive nostrils recognized the unmistakably comforting scent of homemade fried chicken, and sent a signal to my brain that made me realize I desperately missed it.
So the next day I went the grocery store and grabbed some vegetable oil and flour, whipped up a batch, and sunk my teeth into the blissful seasoned crunch that soothed my craving. And as I went to pour the leftover grease into a Chinese takeout container, I paused. I remembered when a container of used grease by my stove was as regular as the iodized table salt canister. But I no longer made fried chicken often, so what was I going to use the rest of this grease for if I saved it? Well…it was here now. Why not fry some pork chops next?
While fried chicken was one of the first things I was taught to cook on my own, there’s a few reasons why I stopped eating it regularly since my college years. The biggest one, even more so than health, is that I come from a family of Black aunties whose cooking rarely fails. When you are raised on authentic Black Auntie fried chicken, it’s hard to settle for REGULAR fried chicken. And then of course, the basement-after-church-service fried chicken. And then there was my Grandma, the head fried-chicken-making OG. Whenever we’d make the trip down from New York to Baltimore, no matter what time we arrived, even if it was 2am and she’d already gone to bed, there was always a bowl of fried chicken waiting for us on the kitchen table. That just-as-good-possibly-better-even-when-it’s-cold fried chicken. Cause anyone can be lazy enough to eat some cold fried chicken from a fast food restaurant, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. My cousin and I would sometimes sit in the backyard on a discarded dresser, escaping the sweltering, air conditionless kitchen, snacking on Grandma’s fried chicken and throwing the bones over the fence to the neighbor’s dog.
So since I grew up on the best fried chicken, I learned not to seek it out anywhere else much because it was never the same caliber. I mean, Popeyes can hold its own in terms of fast food fried chicken when you forgot to make dinner or you’re coming in from a drunken night and need a meal that consistently delivers some flavor. Then there’s what I call the “hood chicken spots”, those dingy little joints in urban areas with the cheap specials and a million items on the menu and it looks like some shit could go down at any moment (think Crown or Kennedy Fried Chicken); they actually tend to be reliable to quench a hankering, especially after a grueling church service gone on for too long. Hip-Hop Chicken and Fish chains in Baltimore gets an honorable mention as the top store-bought fried chicken I’ve ever had. But I even avoid soul food restaurants because as many as I’ve been to, their fried chicken has never been as good as Grandma’s or my aunties. Or their mac n cheese (once again, my aunties slay in this department). Most of the time, I’d just hold out and wait for the best.
But now, Grandma is gone. And I don’t see my aunts as much, and they don’t fry up chicken as much, and ever since I started eating healthier almost 9 years ago, I cut out fried and fast foods heavily. But that random, home-cooked fried chicken craving and my not-as-good-as-Grandma’s-but-still-delicious results felt soothing.
So I kept the grease. And I made pork chops a couple of nights later. And fried up some fish. And then a few weeks later, I bought some MORE vegetable oil. And I made some MORE fried chicken and fish. And I’m not worried about it because I have habits now. My food choices are superbly different now than they were before I started eating better. My body generally craves the home-cooked option before the fast food one, the baked option before the fried one, the whole food option before the processed one. The 3-ingredient butter over the 18-unpronounceable-man-made additives “spread”. Making some homemade fried chicken once or twice a month is not going to derail my wellness when I’ve built up 9 years of discipline with consistent workout routines and choosing real food over the quick option.
And the memories attached make it good for my soul. 🙂