Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cold fried chicken and potato salad

Rose. Laura Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Cancer is a journey, that’s what they tell you. When they tell you anything at all. In the past year of my mom’s illness, I’ve learned a lot of things, but it mostly comes down to this ~ cancer sucks. Even in these precious cancer-free months, it’s pretty clear that life will not go back to the before, the lunches and shopping trips, the big family dinners and small vacations. They’re gone, replaced by counters of pill bottles and corners filled with medical supplies, a calendar filled with doctor appointments.

We got here so fast ~ a summer of feeling lousy, the initial doctor visits and tests. On an oppressively hot and humid August day, Mom gave me the heads up and told me she would call after her meeting with the doctor. While she was out, on my break from work, I ran to the store, picked up a bouquet with bright pink Gerbera daisies and brought it to her house, just around the corner from my office Once inside the quiet, dark house, I was overwhelmed by how much I count on my parents' house always being home. (Well, not my home home, but you know what I mean.) In the quiet, dark house, I knew that if I sat down, I would bawl my eyeballs out. Knowing that I had to face the folks at work, instead I reached onto the top cabinet for the pretty blue pitcher. It was dusty. There is never dust in my parents’ house. They have vacuumed, swept, bleached and polished every square inch of this home for 37 years. If there was a smidge of dirt, it was because someone wasn’t able to reach to the top shelf.
I left the flowers in the blue pitcher. Later, Mom called while I was waiting with my girls at their dentist appointments. Because bad news kind of doubles up that way. Yes, it was cancer. And we would get through this. 

Roses. Laura Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
When I think about the house I grew up in, about the comforts of home, there’s an intense longing to look inside the refrigerator. There was always something good in there. There was a pantry, too, but we didn’t keep a lot of chips and snacks on hand. The real treasure was in the harvest gold refrigerator ~ Tupperware containers with salads like chicken salad, potato salad, tuna salad, pasta salad, usually mayonnaise based, the eggy spread being something of a religion in our family. Not that we were partial to any one brand. We were non-denominational in that way.

I always knew that I could come home from work or school late at night, open the refrigerator and find a picnic in plastic. Even in the darkest days of winter, cold fried chicken and potato salad would be so sweet. If it was late, I’d take a plate upstairs to my room, read a book and nibble.

This is my emotions eating, what the Germans call kummerspeck, appropriate for this great-granddaughter of German immigrants Otto and Wilhemina. Kummerspeck is literally, “grief bacon.” I truly understand this. And so at my house in 2014, I make a big bowl of potato salad, divide it between my 90s powder blue Tupperware bowls, save one for Mom and one just for me.

Cold fried chicken and potato salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Cold fried chicken and potato salad

As you will see, these are not really recipes. This is the way I learned to make these two dishes, at my Mom's apron strings, without real measurements

Potato salad

Take three pounds large red potatoes, peeleand dice them into ½ inch pieces. Put a pot of water on to boil, add a teaspoon or so of salt, then boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes or until tender when tested with the tip of a knife.

Hard boil three eggs. I place a steamer basket inside a pot, place the eggs on the basket, cover them with water, then set to boil. When it’s bubbling away, I cover the pan, turn off the heat and set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I pour out the hot water, add cold water and ice and let the eggs chill. After a few minutes, peel and slice the eggs.

In a large mixing bowl, add a ½ medium sweet onion, finely chopped, 3 stalks celery, diced, the potatoes and eggs. Stir in mayonnaise. I begin with about a cup of mayo. Add a squidge of Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remembering that some brands of mayo can be quite salty.
Place in your finest Tupperware and in the fridge.

Fried Chicken

I like to use dark meat and I start with a buttermilk brine. I usually buy a small package of legs and a small package of thighs, but this method can be easily adapted to larger quantities of meat.

Place chicken pieces in buttermilk in a Tupperware container and let soak for a few hours or overnight. 

Season flour with salt, black pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic. Lawry’s seasoning salt is optional, but an essential flavor of my childhood. Dredge chicken pieces in flour and let sit on a plate or tray while the oil is heating up.

Heat oil in Dutch oven on cooktop. I use a combination of vegetable oil and leftover bacon grease, if I have it. Olive oil will do, but is best in combination with vegetable oil, due to its low smoke point.

Fry chicken, being careful not to crowd the pan, and adjusting the heat when adding pieces. I cover the pan while the pieces are cooking, and flip after about 5 minutes. Drain chicken on paper towels. 

Place any leftovers in your best Tupperware.

This story is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party. This month’s topic is Kummerspeck, or grief bacon, the comforts of food in times of great grief. Take a few minutes and explore the world of kummerspeck with the tasty offerings of this talented group of writers:

Annabelle‘s Evil Grief Brownies at Glass of Fancy
Betty Ann‘s Mung Bean Soup with Bacon at Asian In America
Karen‘s Maple Candied Bacon at GeoFooding
Linda‘s Dark Chocolate Vanilla Pomegranate Parfait at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Caramel, Chocolate and Salted Peanut Ice-Cream at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s Slap-Yo-Mama Brownies at In A Southern Kitchen
Margaret‘s Chicken Noodle Soup at Tea and Scones
Rebecca‘s Comforting Toasts at Grongar Blog
Tammi‘s Pot Stickers at Insatiable Munchies
Vivian‘s Hug-In-A-Bowl Noodles at Vivian Pei


A Tiger in the Kitchen said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story...and so sorry to hear. That chicken and potato salad looks so incredibly comforting! Hugs..

Rebecca said...

What a beautiful post, with so much love for you mom. I'm sorry for what your mom and your family are going through. Cold friend chicken seems a perfect form of comfort. xo

Angela said...

A beautiful post. Wishing you all strength and comfort through this process.