“Fried chicken and cornbread are about as deeply rooted in Southern culture as kudzu and sweet tea. When I lived far away and flew home to visit, it didn’t matter what time of the day or night I arrived, my grandmother Meme would be at the stove frying chicken to welcome me home.”
—Chef Virginia Willis
- Season chicken generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Place flour in a shallow dish and season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with brown paper bags or several layers of paper towels.
- Heat shortening in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat to 375 degrees (on deep-fat thermometer).
- To fry chicken, start with dark meat (since it takes longer to cook). Working one piece at a time, dredge chicken in seasoned flour. Completely coat and shake to remove excess. Reserve any leftover flour for gravy.
- One piece at a time, slip chicken into hot fat without crowding; fat should not quite cover chicken. Adjust heat as necessary to maintain temperature at 375 degrees. Note: a splatter guard (a wire cover laid over the pan, one that lets steam escape) may prove useful.
- Fry pieces, turning them once or twice, until coating is a rich, golden brown on all sides, 10–14 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low and cover skillet. Continue cooking until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear when pricked with a knife, an additional 10–15 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170 degrees.)
- Remove pieces to drain on prepared baking sheet. Note: Do not keep in a warm oven as it will get soggy.
- To make gravy, remove skillet from heat. Pour off most of the grease, leaving 2–3 tablespoons and any browned bits. Lower heat to very low. Add butter and cook until foaming.
- Add 4 tablespoons of reserved, seasoned flour and stir to combine. Cook, whisking constantly, until golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Whisk in stock.
- Increase heat to medium and bring to boil. Cook, stirring often, until gravy is smooth and thick enough to coat back of spoon. If needed, add more stock or water to achieve correct consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.