Can Latin fried chicken beat your mama’s?

Published 1:54 pm Sunday, September 2, 2012

“Nothing says ‘South’ more than fried chicken,” says Sandra Gutierrez, who was born in the U.S., grew up in Guatemala, and now lives in Cary. She is author of “The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South” and a recent guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.

Gutierrez celebrates the coming together of food cultures. As peoples from the various countries of South and Central America introduce us to their delicious dishes, we are learning from them, and they are learning from us.

But something more is happening, she says. Not only are we learning from each other, we are also blending the traditions, and a whole new and changing regional menu is developing. All this is described in charming detail in “The New Southern-Latino Table.”

She shares 150 recipes that illustrate what good things can happen when cooking methods from one tradition are applied to the typical dishes of another.

But “The New Southern-Latino Table” is more than a cookbook. It also teaches us that not all “Latino” food cultures are the same.

She explains that the term “Latino” only exists in the context of the United States. It describes anyone with a Latin American heritage who lives in the United States.  “Outside of the United States, she writes, “you will not find ‘Latinos’ but Mexicans, Argentineans, Guatemalans, and dozens of their nationalities, each with their own nationalistic pride. We come in all different colors and have very different food histories.”

What difference does this make for this developing blended food culture?

Gutierrez answers, “The key implication here is that the Southern-Latino movement truly represents multiple cultures imparting changes and contributions to another. So, for example, the new Southern-Latino movement is not a Mexican movement alone—as is the case of Southwestern cuisine, in which Mexican elements do predominate. The Southern-Latino movement is, rather, catapulted by immigrants whose culinary contributions are as multicultural and multifaceted as they are.”

Rather than a melding of just two food cultures, it is “the marriage of the culinary foodways of more than two dozen countries with those of the entire Southern region of the United States.”

Now, back to fried chicken. Can this “marriage” of foodways improve a Southern favorite? Would Gutierrez dare to suggest that it could?

She does.

I was skeptical.

Now I am a believer.

To get the full recipe that opens the door to even better fried chicken than my mother made, a multicultural one, you will have to buy the book and find the recipe for “Latin fried chicken with smoky ketchup.”

But, using Gutierrez’s own words I can give you enough of her directions for cooking the chicken to make your mouth water and, maybe even, make you a multicultural foodie.

Here is her description. “Crispy, juicy, spicy, and moist, my version takes a bath in spiced-up buttermilk before it’s cooked. This is one of the most requested recipes in my cooking classes. Chicken is first fried, then blasted in a hot oven to finish cooking, creating a crunchy exterior. This cooking method prevents the spices and flour from burning and allows excess fat to render out. The result is chicken that is moist but not greasy. Made this way, chicken can be kept in a warm oven for a full hour before serving without becoming soggy. No more burnt coatings and undercooked chicken! My secret to a crunchy crust is to use self-rising instead of all-purpose flour.”

A short version of the recipe for Latin fried chicken is below.

Sandra Gutierrez’s Latin Fried Chicken

1 chicken (5–5 ½ pounds), cut into 10 serving pieces

½ cups buttermilk

¼ cup minced cilantro (leaves and tender stems)

2 tablespoons minced chipotle chiles in adobo

1 teaspoon adobo

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

3 cups self-rising flour

2 teaspoons paprika

½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil for deep frying (about 4–5 cups)

In a large glass bowl, combine the buttermilk, cilantro, chipotle, adobo, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat; cover and chill for at least 6 hours (or up to 24). Preheat the oven to 325°F. Fit two baking pans with metal cooling racks. In a large bowl, combine the flour, paprika, salt, coriander, garlic powder, cayenne, chile powder, and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and set on one of the prepared racks. Let the chicken air dry for 5 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven, heat 3 ½ inches of oil to 360°F. Working in batches, dredge the chicken in the flour mixture a second time; fry the white meat for 8 minutes and the dark meat for 10 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and reddish-brown. Transfer the fried chicken to the other prepared rack. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh of the chicken registers between 180°F and 185°F (the juices will run clear when the chicken is pierced with a fork). To keep the chicken warm (up to 1 hour), reduce the oven to 250°F.


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m.