The news of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s return to Guyana next week under a new franchise owner has a lot of people excited. I think SASOD’s Jairo Rodrigues summed it up in his Facebook comment, “It’s like the universe doesn’t want me to eat home-cooked food.”
I remember when KFC first opened in 1994 in the bustling Stabroek Square. Busy, traffic jam and congestion took on new meanings. Crowds hugged the building and the street corner making it almost impossible for vehicles to pass. Guyanese, well at least those in Georgetown had gone KFC crazy. Security had to close the doors and would only let in a certain number of people at a time. I know this because one afternoon, about a month after they had opened, I thought I’d pick up some KFC to take home for the family for dinner. One look at the scene and I knew that there was no way we’d be eating KFC that night.
We’ve had a long history of fried chicken in Guyana – at many small and large eating establishments such as the famous Brown Betty and of course Banks DIH’s Demico. I do not know what it is like now but Demico used to make really tasty fried chicken. Passing by the car park in the afternoons after work from Co-op Bank, the savoury smell of fried chicken and chips made one maddeningly ravenous. It is quite remarkable how fried chicken has a hold on so many of us all around the world. What is it about fried chicken that lights up our faces with smiles, makes us rub our hands in glee and always call for more chicken than we can eat? Honestly, I do not think that there is an answer; and I believe the reason is simple – it’s chicken, it tastes good and we love it.
Most of the fried chicken I ate growing up was made at home. I think that this was true for a lot of people too. Eating out was a treat and generally reserved for special occasions. My mom has always loved fried chicken and chips, up to now. Whenever I am in Guyana, I never make the mistake of arbitrarily deciding where I would go to buy chicken and chips, well at least not if I am taking it for my mother. I always call ahead to find out where to shop. She could be so fussy that she’d instruct us to buy the chicken at one establishment and buy the chips at another! What can I say… the lady knows what she wants. Mom was always good at making her own fried chicken. A crispy coating (the rough of chicken ‘n de rough) was something she prized and was always seeking new ways and techniques to achieve the outer crispness with meat remaining tender on the inside. It seems that fried chicken is one of those dishes that all of us are continuously learning the art of mastering. A few years ago I read in The New York Times about a “secret” revealed from a Southern home cook that guaranteed fried chicken with a crisp outer coating and moist tender meat on the inside. The “secret” was to cover the pan during the process of frying the chicken so that it could steam and then remove the cover to crisp the chicken. I whispered to my computer screen, “That’s what mommy does!”
While my mom’s fried chicken was more about texture, her eldest sister, my aunt Betty’s fried chicken was all about flavour. Auntie Betty focused her fried chicken skills on making a well-seasoned fried chicken, right to the bone. Mom’s cut chicken for frying was what we would consider standard fare – whole drumsticks, thighs, whole wings, breasts quartered. In other words, the cuts we find in our regular box of fried chicken. That was not the case with auntie Betty’s fried chicken, she cut her chicken into smaller pieces. For example the drumsticks would be cut into 2 as would the thighs, and wings (drummets and flaps separated); the breast would be cut into 8 pieces. I think auntie Betty cut the chicken into smaller pieces for 2 main reasons – the seasoning would work in faster and secondly, she had a better handling on the time it took for the chicken to cook. It makes total sense. One of the things people find most intimidating about frying anything, particularly chicken, is determining when it is done cooking. The outside may look gorgeously brown, but it could still be raw on the inside.
Auntie Betty’s fried chicken had the flavour of broadleaf thyme. I don’t know what else she would grind up to make her seasoning for her fried chicken, but that thyme was key; never overpowering. While mom’s fried chicken was always seeking to match or rival the kind you can get at a restaurant, auntie Betty’s fried chicken was definitely more of a homemade variety.
It is by sheer happenstance that I made fried chicken this week. I took out chicken from the freezer to thaw not sure what I was going to cook and then just like that I decided to make fried chicken à la auntie Betty. It cooked up well, but it did not taste like auntie Betty’s fried chicken. I don’t know if I didn’t put enough broadleaf thyme into the seasoning, and something else seemed to be missing. Oh well, maybe I can get her to make me some next week. But KFC is opening next week… Like Jairo was right, it’s like the universe doesn’t want me to eat home-cooked food.