Mrs. Rowe's pan-fried favorite

By Sheryl Julian
Globe Staff / June 24, 2009

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Mildred Rowe, who began Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bakery in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in 1947, fried her chicken in a cast-iron skillet or electric frying pan (both keep an even temperature) using Crisco solid vegetable shortening. Her son, Michael DiGrassie, now runs the restaurant. He says, “Last year, with the hubbub over trans fat, we went to trans-fat-free oil.’’ Cooks at Mrs. Rowe’s now use canola oil and larger pans because they’re cooking in such great quantity. They still pour a shallow amount of oil into the pans.

His mother’s way of making gravy, says the son, was to tip the fat out of the pan after the chickens were cooked. Then she whisked flour into the fat remaining in the pan, followed by milk and homemade chicken stock. “We’d make our gravy in there, deglazing the pan. Pieces of brown crispy stuff ended up in the gravy,’’ says DiGrassie.

To make fried chicken at home, DiGrassie suggests using a cast-iron skillet. Begin with a 3 1/2-pound chicken and cut it into 8 pieces (or 10, if you want to halve the breasts horizontally). Or begin with 3 1/2 pounds of chicken pieces and remove the backbones from them if still attached. Soak the pieces in buttermilk, dust them with flour seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, and fry them in hot oil. To test the oil temperature, pick up a pinch of the coating flour and toss it into the hot fat; it should sizzle immediately. Fry the chicken for 10 minutes on a side, then cover the pan and continue cooking for 5 minutes. (A word of caution: The fat is hot; stay close to the stove while frying.) This recipe, which uses two skillets - the chicken pieces should not touch - includes Mrs. Rowe’s pan gravy, which is loaded with meaty flavor. The fried chicken is all crunch and juiciness.