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  • Writer's pictureMegan Jarrett

The Relationship Test

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

I never expected that one day the fate of my relationship would depend on fried chicken. Yet, last Sunday night, Jordan and I risked it all for our chance at frying a perfect chicken dinner.

One Monday afternoon about eight months ago, I was flipping through one of my Joanna Gaines cookbooks and stumbled upon a recipe for Chicken and Dumplings. Hmm, I have some chicken in the fridge I need to use up and even have a can of biscuits, I thought to myself. I’ll give it a shot.

Innocently, I shot a text off to Jordan offering him dinner. At this point in our relationship, I had only cooked for him once or maybe twice. I actually told him when we started dating that I would never cook for him, so we'd already made some progress. Even so, he asked what I was making and I told him Chicken and Dumplings. He seemed skeptical — but not skeptical enough to turn down a free meal.

Later that evening, I began dinner and we were chatting about our days when he started to tell me about his conversation with his mom and his sister from earlier. "I told them I was coming over for dinner and they asked what you were making," he said. "I told them Chicken and Dumplings, and they were shocked."

I must have worn a confused look on my face, because he continued.

"If she even thinks about making Fried Chicken, you have to break up with her," he laughed, as he repeated his sister's earlier quip. Still completely unaware of my apparent-to-everyone-but-myself faux pas, he started to explain that coming from a family who grew up on their Granny’s Southern cooking, foods like Fried Chicken and Chicken and Dumplings are a bit untouchable — or at least they aren't an easy dinner to impress with as an outsider.

Fortunately, I didn't roll the dumplings into balls, which is apparently the biggest Chicken and Dumplings sin, in case you (like me at the time) didn't know.

Naturally, it transitioned into an opportunity to learn more about Jordan's family history and childhood memories, which I always enjoy. His mother's side is from Kentucky, and his Granny is known for her delicious Southern cooking. Fried Chicken, Banana Croquettes, Ham, and Chicken and Dumplings were all something to look forward to when they would visit Granny while growing up.

Sure, the food itself was great, but to Jordan, it wasn't just good eats. It is a reminder of happy childhood memories with his late Granny and with his sister and mom. It's also a reminder of his heritage, where his mom's side of the family came from, and what makes them unique.

It was also an unexpected reminder to me that you can learn so much about other people, other families, other cultures when you learn about their cuisine. In the Hays family kitchen, it might have been the old, well-seasoned cast iron that gave the fried chicken its flavor and crunch that we one day hope to recreate. In the Jarrett family, it's the sprinkle of salt in our chocolate icing that cuts the sweetness just enough.

No matter where you go, there are endless memories to make through time spent together in the kitchen, and that's one of the reasons we love to find and enjoy local foods when we travel. Even if you don't share a spoken language, you can enjoy a meal together and perhaps for a brief moment, speak a shared language.

Last weekend, about eight months after my accidental discovery of the high esteem that the Hays family holds for their Fried Chicken, Jordan and I decided to give it a shot. A "relationship test," we jokingly called it, remembering back to Morgan's comments months ago.

I did some research and decided that soaking the chicken in a seasoned buttermilk brine was critical, so on Friday night we prepared the chicken for Sunday. We combined a few different recipes and innovated a bit as we went, but we worked primarily from this Serious Eats recipe.

We mixed together buttermilk, egg, salt, and a slew of spices including paprika, garlic power, cayenne, creole seasoning, and black pepper and then added the chicken thighs and legs to soak until we were ready to fry it. It's common for us to add in extra spices as we go, knowing that we prefer a much more seasoned dish than most recipes plan for. Don't hesitate to use what's in your cabinet when you're cooking!

A couple of days later, we heated up Jordan's large cast iron pan with the peanut oil we'd used a couple of time already. We also started pre-heating the oven since we decided to finish the chicken in the oven after getting it crispy. While the cast iron was heating, we mixed up flour, cornstarch, baking powder and a whole bunch of spices. We decided later that going a bit rogue and adding way more seasoning than any of our recipes called for was a key element in our final dish turning out so well. We ended up using a mixture of black pepper, lemon pepper, creole seasoning, celery seed, cayenne, and paprika.

We let the liquid drip from the chicken then tossed it into the spiced flour mixture. We made sure to closely monitor the oil's temperature this time, which was a critical mistake in our experiment with a Fish Fry. After six minutes in the oil, we flipped the chicken and cooked another few minutes. We then finished the chicken in the oven until it reached 165 degrees. We didn't have a rack to set the chicken on so we put it directly on a baking sheet in the oven, though I'd recommend using a rack on top of a baking sheet for maximum crunch.

After it rested, we took a bite. It was incredible! The skin was crispy and the inside was so juicy. Just how you want your Fried Chicken to taste. The extra spices we threw in gave the skin wonderful flavor and soaking it in the buttermilk brine kept the inside so juicy.

In the end, we were pretty darn pleased with ourselves and our chicken. We were a bit nervous going into it, knowing what was at stake. But it goes to show, with a little bit of preparation and intention, you can work out most things together.


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