Fried chicken and cheese grits, though pretty synonymous with living in a countrified state like Oklahoma, is surprisingly hard to make and even harder to make well. So, of course, for this installment of my petty culinary battle with Ree Drummond and her The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook, I decided to try my hand at this pair of somewhat popular recipes.
After a list-heavy shopping trip to the grocery store of my choice—sorry, Whittaker’s—I laid out the ingredients on my ladyfriend’s counter, finding it a bit harder this go-round to use healthier substitutes, right down to the cooking oil; I mean, after last month’s choir of kitchenette crybabies bemoaned my use of olive oil to cook chicken fried steak, my heart be damned, this time I went with vegetable oil. Happy?
As I poured said oil into my trusted cast iron skillet to slowly heat up, I took the chicken legs, bathed overnight in buttermilk, out of the icebox with one hand and, with the other, prepared the much-needed bowl of flour and seasonings. Mixing a little more buttermilk in, it created a slightly lumpy batter that Drummond said is necessary to the process.
I’ll take her word for it.
I slathered the drumsticks in the bumpy batter, the heavy globules running between my fingers as each cold leg was covered in the ghostly gloop, and then again with a bit more flour. About six of them were heavily coated; I gently dropped the chicken in the now-ready oil to fry for a few minutes on each side.
Normally when I cook, I do it without a shirt on. Mostly it’s because I don’t want any grease pops to permanently mark my clothing for life, gladly taking every surprise tiny burn in return. But, as I took the chicken out of the frying pan into the fire of the waiting oven, I received an oily burst near my eyes. These are the dangers that Drummond must go through everyday, I suppose.
The small deluge of protective tears getting me through the minor sting, I decided to get the grits going. Because Drummond said to use a five-minute brand, it only took a few counts of sixty seconds to get the grits the way my dad used to serve them every Sunday and, after adding the stick of butter, the bag of cheese and other life-ending extras, the way Drummond probably does for her family.
Fifteen minutes of fried chicken baking in the oven filled the house with an unctuous scent, the kind of aroma that you always seem to breathe in when you walk into someone’s house for the first time; now I know where it came from. With a thick casing of puffy breading, the chicken looked more like some sort of British-branded fish, I silently lamented as I plated it alongside the cheese grits.
As I gave my ladyfriend her plate, she took a forkful of the cheese grits and, after stirring them around, asked me if I had baked them. “No,” I replied, “You don’t bake grits!” I grabbed the cookbook to show her she was wrong and…
Shit. I missed the part where Drummond said I had to bake the cheese grits for a few minutes.
The chicken, though the billowy breading kept sloughing off onto the plate, was still a dandy bit of deliciousness—at least it was cooked all the way through. I thought the cheese grits were pretty decent as well but, because I was paying more attention to the bubbles of grease instead of the bubbling grits, I can understand if you’d want to call it a failed dinner.