Day 3: Chicken – Celebrate American Food History

Cover Bailey

On June 20, 2016, Jas. Townsend and Son posted a remarkable video on YouTube. Over 1 million people have since watched Mr. Townsend cooking fried chicken, based on a recipe from an English cookbook from 1736: Dictionarium Domesticum, by lexicographer Nathan Bailey.  Bailey’s greatest work appears to have been his Universal Etymological Dictionary, published in 1721. [Note that there appears to be no freely available full-text version of Dictionarium Domesticum.]

What struck me as I watched this video was this: The argument for Southern roots of American fried chicken suddenly took flight. It also negates the assumption that the English did not fry their foods in pots of oil until taught by Native American or African slave cooks. It suggests that while American-style fried chicken is often breaded, dipped in buttermilk, and then flour, etc., the idea of chicken with crispy crusts was probably nothing new. The thought of Portuguese-inspired tempura also crosses my mind, but that’s fodder for another, future post.

The batter for this recipe – flour, white wine, and egg yolks – is very similar in construction to crepe-like pancake batters, as well as fritter batters. Marinating the chicken first, or any meat  for that matter, was/is thought to help to tenderize and flavor the flesh. When I lived in the tropics, many cooks rubbed chicken and other meat first with lemons or sour oranges, saying that it helped to “clean” them, possibly as a way of sanitizing or removing impurities?

Here’s the recipe as it appeared in Mr. Bailey’s book, listed under “Marinade”:

Fried chicken recipe 1736

Note:  It’s soon to be a big, big day for Gherkins & Tomatoes – on July 28 G&T will celebrate eight (8) years (!) of writing about food and food history. Why, that’s 1,181 posts. Yes, there could – and should – have been more lots more, but we must take into account the time spent writing the mushroom book and other stuff.

To celebrate, I’ve decided to post a recipe a day until July 28, and not just any recipes. No, no quick tricks for the kitchen, no instant no-bake cheesecakes, sorry. Each day I will feature a small insight into American food history.

See the other days:

Day 1: Tuckahoe

Day 2: Oysters

Day 4: Corn

Day 5: Tomatoes

Day 6: Beef

Day 7: Squirrel

© 2016 C. Bertelsen