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Fig Travels: Nashville and Fried Chicken

You haven’t been to Nashville if you can’t come home raving about your favorite “meat ‘n’ three” spot. The hometown of Country Music is also the birthplace and epicenter of this heavenly rich comfort food package. A meat ‘n’ three consists of one meat, fish or poultry dish and three “vegetables,” (i.e. baked beans, cole slaw, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fried okra and, yes, macaroni and cheese). Nothing in the world is more comforting or more delicious and as for calories, with food this good, honestly, who’s counting?

 

Ask 20 Nashvillians their favorite place to have this uniquely southern meal, and you’ll get just as many different answers, but The Loveless Café was, hands down, our favorite. The biscuits served with all natural homemade jam, and fried chicken that blew us away. You have to taste it to believe it, and fortunately, we’ve included our own perfected version of their fried chicken below so you can!

 

Locals and tourists have been coming to Loveless from miles around for more than 50 years, ever since Annie Loveless first started serving her unusually light and tasty biscuits. An anointed “keeper,” most recently Carol Fay Ellison who sadly passed away in April, guards the secret recipe. No biscuit comes close to being as flavorful and airy as a Loveless Biscuit, and our (perhaps impossible) dream is to one day recreate the taste in our own test kitchen. And after devouring our little pieces of heaven with peach and blackberry jam, our immense platter of golden fried-to-perfection chicken arived. Thank goodness we ordered it family style because we just couldn’t stop eating.

Here is our version of this classic southern comfort food inspired by the Loveless Café’s own cookbook. But first, please keep in mind that there are some essential ingredients and tools that are important to assemble if you want to make your chicken truly special. We are just as health conscious as many of our readers, but we believe in cultural food immersion, and that means eating like the locals. After the jump you’ll find a breakdown of what you may need to make these and many other first-rate southern dishes.

Kitchen Essentials and Ingredients for great Southern Meals and Desserts:

Self-rising flour: I know, sounds like it has some mysterious power, but self-rising flour is just cake flour with salt and baking powder already added. Southern cooks swear by self-rising flour brands such as White Lily, and Martha White since they are made with flour from soft winter white wheat that has lower protein levels, and just the right proportions of salt and baking powder. It is used in many southern cakes, biscuits, and quick breads because it makes a lighter, fluffier batter, but it’s also the key to great fried chicken because it makes the crust light and crispy. Self-rising flour is difficult to purchase outside of the south, but it’s available at www.southerngroceries.com or www.smuckers.com.

Cast Iron Skillet: This is the easiest item on the list. You can buy a decent cast iron skillet almost anywhere cookware is sold, and even at hardware stores. You can’t kill these naturally non-stick pans, and they get better with time. True southerners say you can’t make real fried chicken without one.

Brine: Brining is nothing more than placing the chicken or meat in salty water (the ratio is 1 gallon of water to ½ cup kosher salt – don’t use table salt or your brine will be too salty) for a minimum of one hour, but it takes the chicken to a whole new level of flavor. I like to squeeze one lemon per gallon and put the rinds in the water too. While the lemon is not a vital component (in fact, Gabrielle advises against it), it does give the chicken a very subtle refreshing dimension that contrasts very nicely with the delectable but heavy crust.

Buttermilk: Not all recipes require that you soak the chicken, after brining, in buttermilk, but we think it is critical. It adds a great tangy taste to the meat and the crust, but just as important, the seasoned flour mixture will not adhere very well to the chicken without the buttermilk.

Free Range Organic Chicken: This may sound bit picky, but if you are going to go through the time to make this southern delicacy, make sure the chicken is worth eating. It isn’t always feasible, I know, but use organic farm fresh chicken whenever possible. If it isn’t, see if your supermarket sells Smart Chicken. It is a commercial brand, but they offer an air chilled organic chicken that we learned about from a local humane farmer. Here in Connecticut, Big Y supermarket chain sells Smart Chicken, and the company’s store locator can tell you where their birds are sold elsewhere.

And so, without further ado, here are the recipes!

Seasoning Salt

Ingredients
1/3 cup fine kosher salt
4 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons celery salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Preparation
Mix ingredients together. Save any extra salt to season fried fish, pork chops, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Southern Fried Chicken

Ingredients
2 whole chickens cut in pieces, or approximately six pounds of your favorite chicken parts (ie, breast, legs or thigh)
2 ½ cups self rising flour
3 ½ tablespoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 quart buttermilk
2 gallons water
1 cup fine kosher salt
2 lemons, juiced and split in half (optional)
Canola oil

Preparation
1. Place two gallons of water in a large bowl and put one cup of salt that has been diluted in boiling hot water into the water. Mix well and let cool.
2. Wash chicken thoroughly and place in large bowl of salt water.
3. Put the lemon juice and the rinds in the water and set aside for an hour.
4. Rinse chicken and bowl from the salt water, and pour buttermilk over the chicken.
5. Refrigerate for at least four hours but no more than 12 hours.
6. Combine flour, seasoned salt and pepper. Mix well.
7. Take each piece of chicken out of the buttermilk individually, and dredge through the flour.
8. Pour at least an inch of canola oil and heat in a cast iron pan until oil starts to bubble.
9. Place chicken gently into the hot oil and make sure the pieces are not touching each other so you have room to gently turn them over without breaking off the batter.
10. Fry at a medium to high temperature until one side is browned.
11. Turn over the chicken pieces and cover pan, reducing the heat to low-medium.
12. Cook chicken covered for 15-20 minutes, or until they are almost browned.
13. Take the cover off, and increase temperature until chicken is done to desired crispiness on both sides.
14. Place chicken pieces on paper towels to absorb the oil.

Serving suggestions: Serve hot, room temperature, or cold, it’s your choice. Real fried chicken is delicious at any temperature. Our favorite side dishes include mashed potatoes with crispy shallots, creamed corn, and fried okra.

Written by Heide

4 Responses to “Fig Travels: Nashville and Fried Chicken”

  • Thanks for posting this.

  • Erica from Mississippi:

    This is an amazing recipe! Leaving the chicken in the brine and then soaking it in buttermilk made all the difference. Your instructions are so thorough that I had no trouble following them. I cooked this chicken tonight, and my husband said it tasted as good or better than any “eat-out” fried chicken. What’s more? I am a Southerner who has never fried chicken because it seemed like too much work for something that would never come close to tasting as delicious as that from a restaurant. Well, my eight-year-old son begged me to cook his idea of a “country dinner” tonight, so I Googled “Loveless Cafe recipes”. Because we love to eat there when we visit Nashville, I thought their recipes might satisfy my child’s specifications for a really delicious “country dinner”. Thank you for making a fabulous Southern fried chicken recipe so easy to duplicate. The photos on this website are beautiful. I think the fried chicken image was the final straw that convinced me I had to use your recipe. :)

    • Gabrielle:

      Erica –
      Thank you so much for your kind words! We’re so happy you liked the chicken (and our pictures), and that everything came out well :)
      Best,
      Gabrielle and Heide

  • Alex:

    I’ve never been so homesick. My favorite meat’n’3 is in Murfreesboro – Kleer-vu Lunchroom. The Saturday ribs were not to be missed and it was hell dragging myself out of bed at 10:30, hungover as all get out to be sure I made it before they ran out.

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