Sunday, March 03, 2013

Fried Chicken, from West Africa, Traveling from Black Celebrations During Chattel Slavery, Throughout the Americas, Including The Barbados, to Southern Roads as a Gris Gris, to My Humble Kitchen on a Cold Winter's Night.

I finally managed to properly make fried chicken.  Ive been attempting it for years, only succeeding in producing "nuclear explosions" that dismally coated my stove, counter tops, and floor, with thick grease and flower, that I'd immediately clean up as if I were hiding all traces of a crime. 

Fried chicken was common in West Africa using batter and palm oil. But it's first introduction to America came from Scottish immigrants who used lard to fry small diced pieces of chicken as a fritter in the mid 1700's. 

Enslaved Black people reformatted it, frying whole pieces of chicken and adding spices similar to how it was done in West Africa. 

I used a Bajan recipe from the vendors who fry chicken and fish in huge cast iron pots atop 
provisional braziers fueled by wood fires along Baxter's Road in Bridgetown, Barbados. Some people compare Baxter's Road to the backstreets of New Orleans in the 1930's or an Afro-Caribbean version of Porgy and Besse's" Cat Fish Row".

The Bajan way to fry fish and chicken starts with fresh; scallions, red onions, and garlic, sliced so fine as to be art, combined with a mixture of spices and herbs, that produce a spring green swampy looking mixture, (all in a small mason jar I purchased especially for the occasion), with a "tip" of sea salt added to preserve the concoction in the refrigerator for long term use, which is good because I want to put it on every thing.  I let it sit for about a week before I scored and then marinaded the chicken over night, in the pungent highly aromatic secret concoction.

I am proud that on this could winter's night, my home has the good smell associated with the frying of chicken and that I finally mastered the loud crackling hisssssss as each piece of the chicken, coated with flower, and this time mixed with Blue Corn Meal  ( preferred by the Afro Caribbean's and the original non spanish natives of Latin America)  is laid in bacon lard. 

For me fried chicken is not just comfort food in-bedded in the memories of my child hood memories. It's a link to resistance of my ancestors who were able to coax intermittent joy out of the terror, pain, and insanity of chattel slavery. Unlike cows and pigs, chickens though expensive for enslaved Black people, still was affordable enough to be purchased, raised, and eaten, for special occasions. To be ready for these celebrations, the cooks honed their skills by experimenting on the chickens they fried for the white families who in slaved them.

During segregation, traveling for Black people was fraught with the deadly hazards of Jim Crow laws that changed from town to town and state to state, as well as local racists customs unknown to weary travelers,  so often, it was simply best, not even attempt to eat at roadside food shacks.  Therefore fried 
chicken became not just a hold over meal to keep stops to an absolute minimum, but as sort of   
gris gris  where Black folk at the beginning of their journey, by either bus or car, prepared a batch of fried chicken, (which traveled well because of the spices) in a shoe box for the long journey generally to visit family, who then prepared for them another shoe box of fried chicken for the the long journey home.

No comments: