I was curious. When my friend, Joel, showed me a video of how fried chicken was cooked in England back in the 18th century, I couldn’t resist trying it. From a blogger’s point of view, how can anything beat a title like “18th Century Fried Chicken”, right? If curiosity killed the cat, this is going to get a lot of cats killed.
I mean — aren’t you curious? Consider that in France, classical French cooking was on the rise after the 1651 publication of Pierre Francois de la Varenne’s Le Cuisiner Francois. In England, the diet was largely carnivorous.
Meat made up a large portion of the diets of residents of eighteenth-century England. An example of this is a meal served to Queen Anne in 1705 – selections included were: Oleo, Pigeons, Sirloin of Beef rost, Venison, Chyne of Mutton, Turkey, Snipes, Ducks, Partridge. The consumption of meat was hardly restricted to the upper classes, however: while Queen Anne was feasting on the aforementioned foods, her servants had two kinds of meat per person. [Citing Mennel, Stephen. All Manners of Food. New York: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 1985.]
Meanwhile, in colonial America:
English settlers in the seventeenth century ate three meals a day, as they had in England…For most people, breakfast consisted of bread, cornmeal mush and milk, or bread and milk together, and tea. Even the gentry might eat modestly in the morning, although they could afford meat or fish…Dinner, as elsewhere in the colonies, was a midday, through the wealthy were like to do as their peers in England did, and have it midafternoon…new England’s gentry had a great variety of food on te table…An everyday meal might feature only one or two meats with a pudding, tarts, and vegetables…The different betweeen the more prosperous households and more modest ones might be in the quality and quantity of the meat served…Supper was a smaller meal, often similar to breakfast: bread, cheese, mush or hasty pudding, or warmed-over meat from the noon meal. Supper among the gentry was also a sociable meal, and might have warm food, meat or shellfish, such as oysters, in season. [Quoted from Food in Colonial and Federal America, Sandra L. Oliver [Greenwood Press:Westport CT] 2005(p. 157)]
So, of course, I was going to try cooking the 18th century fried chicken which, according to the video, is based on Nathan Bailey’s 1736 cookbook, “Dictionarium Domesticum”.
Not that I didn’t have my doubts.
The marinade, as simple as it is, is made with a lot of lemon juice and vinegar. Won’t the texture of the chicken meat change? If you’ve made ceviche, you’d probably understand my apprehension. And with all that acid in the marinade, won’t the meat taste too sour? I wouldn’t know unless I tried so I went ahead and marinated three chicken leg quarters.
The batter (yes, it is a battered fried chicken recipe) made me even more curious. Flour, wine (I substituted lemon-flavored beer) and salt…
… And egg yolks (I used one whole egg instead). No water at all.
Dip the chicken in the batter and fry.
But the most intriguing part of the dish is the garnish. It is quite common to chop up a sprig or two of fresh parsley and sprinkle it on cooked food. The bright green specks add visual freshness and the parsley itself gives an added depth of flavor to food. But in garnishing the 18th century fried chicken…
The parsley is fried. Yes, fried! The crispy leaves are then crumbled over the ready-to-serve fried chicken.
All my doubts were unfounded, it turns out. The chicken was richly flavored but not sour at all. Somewhere remote in your palate, there is a very subtle but unmistakable flavor and aroma of cloves. The acid in the vinegar and lemon juice didn’t dry out the meat either. While the batter created a crispy and tasty coating, inside the chicken was moist.
And the fried parsley is a touch of genius! You know how you feel kinda sorry after you’ve eaten all the crispy parts of the chicken? Well, when you’re done with the skin and crispy batter, all you have to do is eat the moist and tender meat with the fried parsley. You’ll never run out of crispiness in this dish.
Intrigued? Try making this 18th century fried chicken. It’s delicious!
18th Century Fried Chicken (I Kid You Not)
For the batter:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- enough white wine (like I said, I substituted lemon-flavored beer) to make the batter the consistency of pancake batter
- 2 egg yolks (or 1 large whole egg)
- cooking oil for frying
- a small bunch of fresh parsley
- Wipe the chicken with paper towels.
- In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, ground cloves, bay leaves and scallions. Add the chicken pieces and mix. Cover the bowl and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for three hours (yes, the original recipe specified three hours).
- Mix the flour, salt and enough wine (or beer, in my case) to make a batter with the consistency of a slightly thin pancake batter.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan. If you have a deep fryer, I recommend you use it.
- Dip each piece of chicken in the batter and fry over medium heat (too high heat will burn the batter before the chicken is cooked through!) until the chicken pieces are browned and cooked all the way through. If you're not deep frying, you will need to flip the chicken over.
- Scoop out the chicken and move to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low. Fry the parsley until crisp. Scoop out and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, crumble the leaves (discard the stalks).
- Serve the 18th century fried chicken sprinkled generously with fried parsley.