My Uncle Clarence debuted a deep-fried recipe that became so popular in my parents’ Italian restaurant in the 1950s that they had to put it on the regular menu. After their restaurant went out of business, Mom adapted it to an “oven-fried” version to capture the same flavors but with an easier and (marginally) healthier variation for home cooks. The key is to lightly glaze the top with some kind of fat over the chicken before it’s put into the oven. Mom used margarine; you can use butter or a mixture of equal parts olive oil and melted butter. I’m not talking a token drizzle; every inch of the top of the chicken should be moistened.
Mom says: “Sometimes I add cinnamon to the flour instead of sage or poultry season, just for a little different flavor.” This works best with fresh paprika; if yours is vintage, use extra. You can use whatever pieces you want for it if you purchase pre-cut chicken, but if your chicken includes extra-large breasts, cut each one (ribs and all) into two portions. This will make them appropriate serving sizes and assure they’ll cook more evenly.
Note: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own by adding a tablespoon (15ml) white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup (240ml) milk and let it sit for about five minutes. No poultry seasoning? Check out the recipe for a salt-free homemade version in “Extra Recipes.” Makes four to six servings.
6 tablespoons (90g) margarine or butter, melted
About 11/2 cups (375ml) buttermilk
11/2 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10g) coarse salt
1 teaspoon (5g) ground black pepper
1 cup (125 g) crushed corn flakes
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) poultry seasoning, or dried thyme and/or sage
3 ½ lb. chicken, cut into 8 to 10 pieces (about 1.5kg)
1 tablespoon (8g) paprika, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Using about 2 tablespoons (30ml) of the margarine, coat the bottom of a roasting pan or a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken pieces in one layer without touching.
Place the buttermilk in a shallow bowl or dish. In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, pepper, corn flakes, and poultry seasoning. Dip each chicken piece into the buttermilk. Shake off excess and roll in the flour mixture to coat. Place the chicken pieces in the prepared roasting pan, skin side up.
Drizzle the rest of the margarine evenly over the chicken. Dust the chicken liberally with paprika. Put the roasting pan on the middle rack of the oven, uncovered. Bake for about an hour, until the chicken is golden and cooked through. (Small pieces may be done at 45 minutes, so check.) To confirm, push an instant-read thermometer into a meaty section; it should register at least 165˚F (74˚C). Serve warm. Leftovers reheat nicely in a toaster oven.
Excerpted from: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Love and Food from an American Midwest Family (Viking/Penguin 2014)