Confession time. I love to eat. Come on, admit it, so do you. I can eat Mexican cuisine three times a week. Ditto with Asian. Bar food turns me on. I love a good burger, medium rare, with a variety of toppings. Italian? Oh, my God, YES!!! And since I live in Memphis, that means I have access to the best barbeque in the world--pig, of course. Do not, however, try to serve me Greek, Indian, or what passes for cuisine in Britain. Not fond of German food either. I don't like lamb, honey, or curry.
As a result of my lovefest with food, I watch a lot of cooking shows on TV. My husband is not as enamored as I am, but humors me by watching along. Last week, we were tuned in when one of the contestants served up a pile of something swimming in oil. (I think the show may have been Worst Cooks in America.) When questioned as to the cooking method, the lady simply stated, "I'm from the South."
I had to laugh because it's so true. Southerners love their fried food. We take a perfectly wholesome, healthy offering and turn it into a pending heart attack. If it's edible, it hits the deep-fat fryer.
So I got to thinking about those fried foods we all love and their origins.
Let's start with the obvious--fried chicken. Nothing is more Southern than fried chicken, right? Well, sorta. West Africans were frying chicken in hot oil long before it became a staple in the South. The basic recipe came over with them on slave ships. Somewhere along the line flour, buttermilk, and seasonings were added. I can't think of any restaurant that advertises Southern cooking not having it on the menu.
Chicken fried steak is one of my favorites. Visually, it resembles the German dish, Wiener Schnitzel. But it took a Southerner to add Southern spices, cover the thing in gravy--lots of gravy--and have the guts to serve it as a breakfast meat.
Let's move on to another Southern delicacy--corn dogs. The corn part says it all. Jam a hot dog on a stick, dip it in a thick coating of cornmeal and milk, and then pop it in the fryer. Garnish with lots of mustard. I know some people who consider this gourmet dining.
And who hasn't heard of fried Twinkies? This dessert was supposedly invented by an Englishman in Brooklyn, New York. Doesn't matter. It took Texans to embrace the concept and make 'em famous.
One of the newest fads in Southern cuisine is deep-fried turkey. People all over the country have been frying turkey in hot oil for years, but it took someone from Cajun country down in Louisiana to think up dropping the whole bird into a vat of boiling oil. Cuts the cooking time of an oven drastically. Make sure, however, that the turkey is completely thawed before attempting this method. I'm sure many of you have seen the YouTube video of what can happen if you don't. BOOM!!! Exploding deep-fat fryers and turkeys launched into orbit. I've heard that there are even competitions being held to see who can send those buggers the highest. Now, I can't confirm any of this, but if it's one thing Southerners like more than food, it's competition, so I can see it happening.
Last, but not least, is the ultimate in deep-frying cuisine. Here in Memphis there's a restaurant called Dyer's. It was opened in 1912. Burgers are their specialty. The buns are dipped in the fryer as are the burgers, the burger is assembled, and then redipped. A total glorification of fat. You haven't lived until you feel it run down your arm as you take that first bite. It is rumored that the grease has never been changed. Yep, not once in over a hundred years. It's strained daily and new oil is added from time to time, but that's it. Whenever the owners change locations, they hire an armored car and a police escort to transport the fryers to the new establishment. I kid you not. The last I heard they are located on Beale Street, so if you ever visit do the tourist thing and give it a try. You can do cardio workouts later.
All this talk of greasy food has made me hungry. Luckily, it's noon. A burger--fried, of course--sounds like an option. A damned good option.
Happy eating and I'll be back next month.