Saturday, May 19, 2007

Trailer Park Gourmet, Pt. 2

Since leaving Vancouver Island, I've lived in a couple different places in the USA: a couple in the Midwest, and now in the South.

I already mentioned indigenous Vancouver Island fare: the casserole. We won't mention indigenous Midwest food: I personally found the food in the Midwest to be almost inedible; although to be fare (heh), the people are very nice.

But here in the South, trailer park gourmet means, you take some form of meat, coat it in some form of flour, then cook it in hot fat. That's right, you need to fry in the South.

Of course, Southerners also excel in grilling. It's not at all atypical to sit down to a meal in the South made almost completely either by frying or by grilling. I may or may not discuss grilling at some point in the future; right now, I want to discuss frying.

If you've never eaten fat back, you've never experienced the South. What's fat back ? you ask. It's basically salt pork, but with no trace whatsoever of any meat (well, they're not exactly the same: salt pork is from the belly of the pig, fat back is from the pig's back). That's right, it's just cured pig fat. How do you eat fat back? There are a few different ways, but I prefer it deep-fried.

Yup, here in the South, we actually eat deep-fried pig fat. And if we really want to get good flavour, we fry it in lard.

We also use it to season vegetables. In fact, I doubt very much that a true Southern vegetarian exists: if you eat vegetables in the South, you're eating meat; or at least you're eating the fat from the meat.

So what sorts of things will a Southerner deep fry? Here's a short, incomplete list:
  1. Chicken. Every Southerner will eat fried chicken. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Southern vegetarians define chicken as a vegetable, so they can eat it fried.
  2. Turkey. Thanksgiving turkey is frequently cooked in the deep-fryer. Of course you can still have gravy: you use a combination of the oil from the deep fryer and the giblets to make a gravy. You can't eat turkey without gravy.
  3. Pork chops. Yup, nothing like a battered, fried pork chop. My mother-in-law refers to this as a "light meal".
  4. Fish. Southerners love fresh fish, but they only eat it deep-fried. I have no idea why they care if it's fresh, since all they plan to do is batter it and fry it anyway...
  5. Frogs and frog legs, gator, snake. Need I say more?
  6. Organ meat. Chitlins, chicken gizzards, chicken livers, you name it.

The moral of the story is, if it ever walked, crawled, flew, jumped, hopped, or swam; you can deep fry it.

But frying isn't limited to meats, you can also fry your cornbread, your hushpuppies, even your vegetables! Frying is an art form in the South.

I've noticed Southerners take certain health precautions to make up for the impact all that fried food has to have on their bodies. So far as I can tell, the precautions mainly consist of the following:
  1. Large amounts of cola. We all know a nail left overnight in a bottle of coke will dissolve: Southerners leverage that power to help them digest the largely indigestable fried food they live on.
  2. Large amounts of sugar. We all know sugar can give you heartburn and acid reflux. That's right: sugar increases your stomach's ability to digest. Once again, Southerners lead the rest of America in natural health remedies.
  3. Dipping snuff, chewing tobacco, smoking. Southerners tend to use a lot of tobacco. This is almost certainly because the curing affect of smoke helps them digest the fried food they eat.

My mother-in-law has a number of wonderful recipes. All of them start with "Take a little of the oil you used to fry your chicken". Fried chicken oil is the basis of gravy, potatoes, collards, and all forms of Southern gourmet cuisine. Indeed, all good things come from fried chicken oil.

If you don't live in the South, you can still enjoy fried food! You only need to obtain some oil, a suitable vessel for frying, and a heat source. Personally, I dislike the smell of frying, so I only fry outside. I used to use a wok on my grill, but I've now settled on a turkey fryer: a propane-powered burner with a huge stockpot. My fryer's capacity is in the several gallon range: enough to completely submerge a decent-size turkey in boiling oil; although I've never personally fried a turkey. But we did make some awesome fried chicken in that fryer a couple weeks back.

How did we make that chicken? Well, we started with my mother-in-law's recipe: "Take a little salt, a little pepper, a little flour, and put it on your chicken, then fry it". So we mixed up salt, pepper, and flour with a little water to make a paste. Then we put the paste in a Zip-Lock bag, and put in the chicken, a piece at a time, and made sure it got good and covered. We heated up our fry oil to around 400F, and dropped in the chicken.

Now the key is to keep the oil temperature constant. So I kept an eye on the thermometer, adjusting propane flow as needed. Twenty minutes later, we pulled out the fired chicken: it was moist, tender, and slightly crispy. Excellent.

Now, one thing every Southerner will tell you is, food safety is your top priority. So you need to keep your oil clean and fresh. Personally, I change the oil in my turkey fryer about once a year, whether it needs it or not. You can't be too careful about food safety.


Shan said...


I bet the sidewalks of the South aren't exactly crowded when you go out running, are they?

Gwen said...

Well, it's been a good long time since I've eaten Marillin's food, but this post still made my mouth water! Call me 20lbs overweight, but I could seriously work with a deep fryer like yours. I've been eyeing a smallish one up in Save-On, but I know that it will be a slippery slope once I get that thing on my counter.

Am dying to come back and eat more of your steak, by the way.

clumsy ox said...

Actually, I just found a picture of my fryer at Amazon.

Apparently it's a 34-quart fryer. Cool. I would know that if I took the trouble to dig up the papers that came with it.

Ames wouldn't let me buy one, but a buddy gave it to me as a gift. Wasn't that nice?

I once went to a Lumbee cookout, where there several men cooking chicken, quail, and ribs on an enormous grill. They were pre-boiling the chicken and quail in water in a couple turkey fryers. Once they were done, they poured some 10-pound bags of rice, handfuls of hot peppers, a lot of salt, and some onions into the water and boiled it all up. That was some of the best chicken bog I've ever eaten.

And the grilled meat was awesome too; as were the collards cooked with fat back.

Precious memories...

Ames said...

I am quite certain that if total strangers read some of these posts, they be able to guess that we are, how can we put it delicately . . . candidates for the Chubbles Brigade.

KingJaymz said...

Hey, I can tell the difference between old catfish deep-fried and fresh catfish deep-fried. I love me some deep-fried blackened catfish with deep-fried hush puppies and fried okra. Man, it's been too long since I had that!

Talking about "Coke" in the south, if you come visit the area here, could you bring me, like, 4 cases of Cheerwine? I'll more than reimburse you for it. Dang I miss that stuff...bad...really bad...desperately. I could order it off of their website, but It'd cost about $45 for 4-12 packs. I get good beer cheaper than that.

I miss souther kwizeen. Dang it! Now I'm cravin' a Mint Julep. I gotta get outta here!

Dapoppins said...

I worked for a family from the southern part of Texas who made some fried cat fish. It was tasty. I try to fry the trout the boys bring home, but it just tastes like oil. How do you get flavor in there? Why kind of oil is best? I tend to bake everything. If you put a fish in milk and bake it, it gets rid of all the smell and fishy ness, but no flavor unless you have some fresh lemon on hand. Which I don't.

Dapoppins said...

Do they every grill the veggies in the south? Or did that idea come out of California?

clumsy ox said...

Grilling vegetables is certainly not a Southern innovation, unless you consider corn a vegetable.

If vegetables can't be deep fried, or pan fried with pig fat, they're not fit to eat.

As one Lumbee friend of mine famously remarked "Salad ain't food: salad's what food eats"

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