Monday, January 29, 2007

The Mississippi legislature is banning fried foods from our school cafeterias.

At least we’re better off than Rhode Island. In that postage stamp of a state they’ve banned talking in the school cafeteria during lunch. Well actually only one school has barred talking, but you know how these things work— once one falls the others are sure to follow.

The legislature has been trying to outlaw soft drinks, too. Fried steak fingers and imitation veal cutlets, I can understand, but I might have to draw the line at Diet Coke.

The legislature is citing our number-one-in-the-nation obesity rate as reason for the fried-food ban. Go figure, we’re always number 49 or 50 in every other statistical category, then we finally reach number one and the politicians want to take the designation away from us. We’re fat. So what, where’s the Lard Lobby when you need them.

My elementary school, Thames Elementary, had a great line-em-up-in-the-back-of-the-room-and-grab-your-tray-for-butter-beans-and-lime-Jell-O, and-a-yeast-roll cafeteria. We ate vegetables, cornbread, strawberry shortcake, and turnip greens on days when they mowed the playground. I don’t remember an inordinate amount of fried food being served, but that was in the 1960s, maybe things have changed.

In the sixth grade I was sent to a small private school in town. There, free of state regulations, we ate hamburgers and pizza and something called a steak sandwich, though I don’t think any form of steak was used in its preparation.

Note: The statement you are about to read is 100% accurate (I have friends who will verify it)— For four consecutive years of high school I ate a small frozen pepperoni pizza, two Coca Colas and an oatmeal cream pie every day, day in day out. Occasionally I would eat a Richeyburger (named after the lunch lady Mrs. Richey) with hot fries. Not French fries that were sliced from real potatoes and fried in grease, but light crunchy fried bits of potato parts, formed into French fry shapes and seasoned with some type of spicy powder, a side item in which— in the words of John Lennon— nothing is real.

The Richeyburger was cooked from a frozen state in one of the earliest examples of a microwave. The school microwave was as large as a desk and most of the mothers were a little suspicious of it. “How can it cook so quickly? It can’t be good for you. Don’t watch the food cook, you’ll go blind.”

My high school years were during the Cold War. No one had a microwave in their home kitchen in those days. The father of a friend believed that microwaves were a communist plot to embed radioactivity into everyday American civilization. My friend brought his lunch everyday.

The pizzas were made by a food vending company; they were frozen, and then shipped to the school to lay in wait in the deep freeze before being placed into the communist cooking apparatus. My friends at the public school were eating fish sticks, chicken fried steak, and fried burritos with a wiener in the middle. We were surviving on a steady diet of Richeyburgers, hot fries, oatmeal cream pies, and Coca Cola.

The man who owned the local Coca Cola bottling plant was on the board of directors at the school and all three of his children were enrolled there. We had Coke machines and snack machines in every hallway and break room. It was great. Public schools didn’t have vending machines in those days. Oatmeal crème pies were there for the taking, along with tubular packets of peanuts for adding to your bottle of Coke. There was no Diet Coke in those days, although some of the teachers drank Tab.

Ten years ago, I would have a field day writing a column against this new piece of legislation. Today, I as a father of two children and in the middle of a three-month diet, it seems like sound reasoning, though I could be suffering from a lack of sustenance.

I don't want my kids eating hot fries, microwave pizza, and burritos with a wiener in the middle. Could we amend the bill to include a once-a-month serving of fried chicken? Actually, that should be a requirement in every Southern school, though I will officially go on record as being in favor of doing away with steak nuggets forever.

At least our children can talk while they eat, hopefully not with their mouths full.

Fried Chicken

3 lb Whole Chicken (fresh)
3 cups Buttermilk
2 tsp Salt
1 Tbl Black pepper
2 cups Flour
Crisco for deep frying

Wash chicken well in cold water and cut chicken. Place chicken in a bowl with ice water to draw out excess blood. Pat chicken dry and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and marinate in buttermilk for two hours in the refrigerator.

Season flour with salt and pepper. Heat Crisco in a large cast iron skillet to 350 degrees on a deep-fat thermometer. There should be just enough grease in the skillet to come up just around the edge (halfway) of each piece of chicken. Drain chicken thoroughly and dust with flour shaking off all excess.

Place chicken, skin side down, in oil and make sure none of the chicken is touching. Cover the skillet and cook for approximately five to seven minutes, turn and cover for another five to seven minutes. Uncover the skillet and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes. Only turn the chicken once.

Cook chicken in smaller batches if skillet is too small. Drain on a wire cake rack with a paper bag or paper towels underneath the rack to catch excess grease (draining straight to a paper bag causes the chicken to sit in the drained grease). Yield: 8 pieces

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