Comfort food go to buttermilk fried chicken to cope with Hurricane Harvey blues
Historically, fried chicken and I have had a complicated relationship. On the one hand there is my love of the Big Three chicken shacks in Dallas – Hall’s, Henderson’s, and Rudy’s on the other is the forced and necessary everyday consumption during a crazy period during my adolescence.
There is nothing ‘so Dallas’ as fried chicken from Henderson’s, Hall’s, Rudy’s, Spain’s or even Bubba’s. The latter two are Northside or Nawf Dallas joints vs. the former three the dirty Southside. This fried chicken recipe is more of a nod to the Southside trio where you’re subject to get a “basket” beautifully fried golden yardbird served with fries, pickles, and a pepper over a few slices of white bread. In Dallas as true for most if not all of Texas, we are about that seasoning vs. sauce which my Chicago peeps swear by.
I love them all as well as the newer more upscale Eater identified spots like Ellen’s and Chicken Scratch, but I’m partial to Henderson’s Fried Chicken Shack partly out of convenience in addition to its great taste and texture. Henderson’s is near the beer store so back in the day you could get a 40 oz or quart of beer and a fried chicken basket. There were a few times where I tried getting the chicken to go, but the aroma made it extremely difficult to make the 15 minute drive home without diving in. Those rare nights you could count on a greasy steering wheel and crumbs on the floor. Henderson’s also had the advantage of being across the street for Booker’s Arandis which was a hole in the wall club that specialized in blues, swing-out dancing, and stiff drinks. A “rum and coke” netted you a tall glass of rum with just enough coke to change the color from clear to a tannish brown. After a night of dancing and drinking nothing was a better nightcap and gut feel than a 2 Piece White (breast and wing) from Henderson’s.
Rudy’s Fried Chicken has that seasoning though. KFC secret spices has nothing on Rudy’s. Based on taste it’s a combination of garlic, paprika, salt, sugar, nutmeg, and possibly MSG, given how addictive it is. The only downside to Rudy’s is there is no such thing as a slow day/night; there will always be a line so be prepared to wait.
Hall’s is probably the most accessible as it has multiple locations throughout southern Dallas and the south suburbs. Once upon a time before the gentrification and new development where City Place and Uptown currently sit, Hall’s was a centerpiece to the neighborhood. It was located a block from the neighborhood football field, where we played our pee wee football games every Fall Saturday. I played in the early games and then hung around to watch all the later games. In between games I skipped the concessions and walked the few blocks to Hall’s flush with cash I had earned from scoring touchdowns and got a small chicken basket.
The crack cocaine epidemic of the 80’s had a profound impact on me in so many ways. Both directly and indirectly. Directly, given that my uncles seemed to go from heroes to zeroes in 60 seconds. Men who once had 9-5s, served our country, and were contributors on some levels to our household income, now were addicts we could no longer keep anything of monetary value in the house. Any portable electronics including my school issued TI Solar Plus calculator were barter for crack. I can remember the shame in having to lie to my math teacher that I had lost my calculator. Indirectly but very importantly my physical development was threatened. My uncles would binge on crack all night, sleep all day, then awaken and eat everything in sight. Given my two hour commute and after-school practices I was the last to get home daily. On many a nights food was gone or only so much left, but definitely not enough to feed a growing teen post football practice.
Luckily for me the cafeteria ladies Brenda and Maxine loved me and always gave me extras. Eventually I got a life line from my older brother Twivrus. He had begun slanging birds at the neighborhood Church’s Chicken.
Even more fortuitous for me he had a generous and enterprising manager (Mr. Hiawatha Williams who would later leave and start his own successful chicken franchise in Dallas bearing his name, Williams Chicken. If you’ve seen the movie “Coming To America” he was basically the McDowells of Fried Chicken. Mr. Williams had Twivrus under his wing as an apprentice. Tee Brown went from cleanup to flour duty and finally the fry daddy cooking up birds. And at the end of each nightly shift allowed Twivrus to bring chicken home for “our” consumption. I would get home each night around eight, woof down whatever food was available, then work on homework until my brother arrived home which was usually around midnight. He would come to the window of the bedroom we shared with my uncles, drop-off the birds, then entered in the front door while I set-up. While my uncles were out in the streets living the life of a nightly basehead I was smashing chickens like the Fantastic Mr. Fox inhaling whatever chicken and rolls he had brought home. I wasn’t alone as my partner in crime Tee Brown was breaking rule #1 of the 10 Crack Commandments, “Thou shall not get high on his own supply.”
We had to keep our late night chicken binges on the down low, for fear this would be another casualty of the crack game if our uncles were to have infiltrated our setup. Sometimes there would be so much chicken we’d force ourselves to eat 5 and 6 big pieces of chicken as not to waste nor leave any evidence behind. I can remember taking all the scraps and trash and dumping it all into the outdoor trash bins rather than risk contraband being found in the interior garbage can. At one point I even started wrapping leftover pieces in Saran Wrap and foil in a garage cooler. Later I started wrapping the bread rolls and hiding them between the mattress and box spring of my Uncle Buck’s bed since neither my brother nor I owned a bed at the time. I was eating so much chicken my breath, natural body odor and sweat all became Church’s special spice mix scented.
Great beats, better eats. Enjoy!
Chipotle infused Buttermilk Fried Chicken Wings
- 4 chicken wings
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 2 whole dried chipotle chili peppers optional
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup corn meal
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground sage
- 1/2 tsp ground bay leaves
- 1 tsp mace
- 1 tsp ground thyme
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- Peanut oil for frying
Make the Brine
Heat heavy cast iron skillet on high heat. Add chili peppers (remove seeds and veins if you prefer less heat) to the skillet for 2 minutes to release aroma of the smoked chiles.
Remove chiles from heat and add to blender with buttermilk and dried basil and pulse until chiles are broken down completely.
In a large bowl add the chicken and buttermilk mixture. Brine in refrigerator 2-8 hours.
Fry the Chicken
Set up metal rack with foil lined baking sheet beneath. Remove chicken from refrigerator, place on rack and let reach room temperature.
Heat oil in a deep skillet or fryer over medium high heat to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour and spices together in a large bowl. Working in batches, thoroughly coat each buttermilk-soaked chicken piece with the flour mixture.
Add the chicken to the oil a few pieces at a time without overcrowding. Cover pan and fry anywhere from 5-7 minutes. Turn, cover and cook additional 3-5 minutes more.
Remove the chicken from the oil and let it drain on metal rack for 5 minutes. Let cool for an additional 10 minutes before serving.