WanderSups: 'Enjoy fried chicken. It deserves it'
Paying tribute to its African American originators, Hannah Gregory shares her take on fried chicken - her ultimate burger
A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of my ultimate chicken burger on my Insta, and the crowd went wild! So, of course, it only seemed right that I share the recipe with you lovely lot. But first, I need to set a couple of things straight. We need to go back to the roots.
I have always had a fascination with fried chicken. I think it stems from a strict childhood where I was never allowed ‘junk’ food. Maybe on very special occasions, a Maccy D’s would be slipped into the house on the down-low but something as ‘filthy’ as fried chicken? Absolutely not. And to be honest, in the Nineties, it hadn’t had its millennial makeover that we are now all so familiar with today. Apart from KFC and brightly lit chicken shops, there wasn’t really much of it around.
On my first trip to America, South Carolina at that, I was introduced to a whole new world. Chicken as I had never seen it before. Brined, soaked in buttermilk to create the tenderest, juiciest meat. Tossed in a spiced coating and then deep fried till golden and crisp. Tenders in a plastic basket, wings in a bucket, towering burgers, a combo of all the aforementioned - I didn’t care how it came; I just wanted it. Suffice to say, I couldn't get enough of it, and I have been tweaking and testing recipes ever since.
To truly honour this dish, we need to go back to its origins. Every day I battle with appropriation versus appreciation when it comes to my cooking, and I think it boils down to this… food is about joy, culture, bringing people from all walks of life together. I am not ashamed to admit that I lean on other cultures for inspiration for my dishes, and in doing so, I think how lucky I am to live in a world that has allowed us to travel and share cuisines, stories and techniques.
I always try and learn as much as I can about what I cook or the ingredients I cook with; I give thanks to the people I have learned recipes from (even if it’s on my own in the kitchen as I murmur through a mouthful of food, eyes rolling to the back of my head as I think, “Sweet lord thank you for introducing me to this way of eating!”).
In October last year, Melissa Thompson wrote a fantastic, honest and real article for The Guardian about fried chicken. Some of what she said was well known, such as the plight of the birds used for fast food chains and the ubiquity of these bright coloured, garish shops in low-income areas of cities. But a lot of what she said was not so well known. Or perhaps, if we are honest, it was known, but we shoved it deep down into the depths of denial because, let's face it, it’s a lot easier for white folk to enjoy that boujee fried chicken from a pop-up converted shipping container without giving two thoughts to the enslaved African Americans who used innovation and creativity to bring it to their white master’s table, from which it has trickled down to ours.
Chickens were the only livestock black slaves were allowed to keep. They would cook the chicken for their masters and later, post-emancipation, would sell fried chicken through the windows of trains at stations. Vinegars or buttermilk (the by-product of churning butter) were sometimes used to soak the chicken, tenderising the protein of the tougher birds. The chicken would be fried in Crisco, a cheap vegetable shortening found in kitchens all across the southern states.
All these things, we as Westerners have taken in one of the biggest demonstrations of cultural theft we have seen. And I can hear people now saying: “Stop being so sensitive, it's not theft.” It is theft. Just as if you were to take a photo of someone else's art and share it as your own. You may credit it, and you may say you were inspired by it, but if you refuse to acknowledge its origins, it’s theft.
As we continue to better ourselves and unpick the racism that is so intertwined with so many things we have come to assume as ‘white’, we need to learn where things come from, we need to be made to feel uncomfortable, we need to understand unconscious racial bias and what it really means. It is 2021; we can no longer continue to appropriate things that aren’t ours. But we can appreciate them. We can also give thanks to the people who created them; and we can honour those who went through unimaginable hardships in a world that we can’t begin to fathom.
So I urge you to make this chicken burger, I encourage you to moan in ecstacy with every messy, juice bite. But I implore you to think about the evolution of this dish. To ask yourself: “Why it is okay for one group of people to be the butt of every chicken joke but for another to eat the exact same thing and watch the Likes roll in on their social platforms?” If we refuse to educate ourselves, how can we ever progress and change the error of our ways and acknowledge those who came before us?
Enjoy this burger. Please! Enjoy this burger. It deserves it. And remember those who laid the foundations of this dish, they deserve it even more so.
WanderSups Ultimate Chicken Burger
Tipple of choice - the oakiest Chard(onnay) you can find
Spotify Playlist - WanderSups Dirty Dishes
What you need:
1 jar of Mrs Elswood pickles
2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (you can use 4 here if you want to double stack)
1 baby gem lettuce
4 slices monterey jack cheese
4 slices of pancetta or streaky bacon
2 brioche burger buns
100g plain flour
Salt and peps
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp peri peri spice blend (Suffolkites - The Suffolk Spice company Peri blend is the best here)
Veg oil for frying
For the chipotle bbq sauce:
4 tbsp mayo
4 tbsp sour cream
2 tsp chipotle paste
2 tsp bbq sauce
Dash of chipotle hot sauce
How you do it:
The night before you intend on eating your burgs, drain the pickle juice into a non-metallic bowl or tupperware. Submerge your chicken in the pickle juice and leave to brine in the fridge overnight. Make sure you keep your pickles for garnishing your burger.
Morning of burger night, remove your chicken from the pickle juice and discard the liquid. Return the chicken to the bowl and cover with buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
Preheat the oven to 180.
When it’s time to cook get your garnishes ready. Finely slice your baby gem, slice pickles (if whole). Fry pancetta till crispy.
Make your chipotle bbq sauce by combining all the ingredients and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust as needed.
Put the flour in a shallow, wide bowl along with the garlic & onion powder and peri peri blend. Combine.
Heat your oil to 175c.
Whilst your oil is heating, slice your burger buns and toast in a dry frying pan. Keep an eye on them as the sugar in the brioche means they burn easily.
When the oil is hot, lift the chicken thighs out of the buttermilk and let any excess drip off. Dredge in the spiced flour and ensure the thigh is fully coated. Do this in turns with the thighs or it gets a bit messy.
With tongs, carefully lower the chicken into the hot oil. Very carefully shimmy it in the oil, this is what creates the gnarly bits of batters around the edges. Cook for 5 minutes until golden and drain on the kitchen towel. Repeat with the other piece of chicken.
Increase the heat of the oil to 180, put the cooked chicken back in the fryer for 3 minutes - that’s right. Double dipping here. Remove from the oil and drain.
Place the chicken thighs on an oven tray, lay the cheese slice on top and pop into the oven for 2 or 3 minutes until the cheese has melted.
To assemble the burger, smooth some BBQ sauce over the bottom half of the bun, place on the shredded lettuce, some slice pickles, then the cheese covered chicken, the pancetta and finally another spoon of BBQ sauce before topping with the bun.
Hannah reached the quarter finals of BBC MasterChef last year. She hosts WanderSups supper clubs serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf. Her ethos is simple - have fun, enjoy it, make it an occasion. To find out more follow @WanderSups or visit wandersups.com
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