Fried Chicken, Done Right

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James Villas says that even fine dining restaurants are discovering the South's culinary traditions, and experimenting more and more with fried foods. (LexnGer/Flickr)
James Villas says that even fine dining restaurants are discovering the South's culinary traditions, and experimenting more and more with fried foods. (LexnGer/Flickr)

James Villas was the long time food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine. But his heart belongs to Southern food, the food he was raised on.

In his newest cookbook, "Southern Fried," Villas seeks to correct negative attitudes toward Southern fried foods. He says fried food is often prepared incorrectly, which is why people think all fried food is unhealthy.

If prepared correctly, fried food "will not be soggy and greasy and those things that people associate with fried food." Villas told Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "We Southerners are raised on how to fry food correctly, and if you fry food correctly, it's not only healthy, it's fun."

Villas shares recipes for "Fried Chicken Drumettes Parmesan" and "Carolina Okra Beignets":

Fried Chicken Drumettes Parmesan

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from "Southern Fried" by James Villas. Copyright © 2013.

James' Note: Most Southerners believe correctly that wings are the sweetest part of the chicken, and nothing is relished more on buffets and at cocktail parties than a platter of fried, spicy wings (“drumettes”) enhanced with tangy Parmesan cheese and intended to be eaten with the fingers. If the wings are especially meaty, they may require a minute or so longer in the fat, but be careful not to fry them so much that the interiors dry out. Do feel free to experiment with various herbs and spices in this recipe. The wings are just as good at room temperature as they are hot.

(Jason Wyche)
"Fried Chicken Drumettes Parmesan" by James Villas (Jason Wyche)

12 to 15 chicken wings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon paprika
1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard
1⁄4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup milk
Peanut oil for deep frying

To prepare the chicken wings, remove and discard the tips, separate the first and second joints with a sharp knife, and set the pieces aside.

In a shallow baking dish, combine the flour, cheese, paprika, mustard, oregano, and salt and pepper and stir till well blended.

Dip the chicken pieces in the milk, dredge in the flour mixture, tapping off excess flour, and place on a plate.

In a deep fryer, electric frypan, or Dutch oven, heat about 2 inches of oil to 365°F on a deep-fat thermometer. Fry the chicken pieces in batches for 8 minutes, turn with tongs, fry till golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes longer, and drain on paper towels.

Serve the drumettes hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Carolina Okra Beignets

James' Note: These spicy beignets were inspired by the ones Bill Neal fried up when he opened Crook’s Corner restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and, quite frankly, you’ll never taste a more delicious okra dish.

Just remember never to crowd the skillet when frying the beignets, and don’t try to keep them warm in the oven, which only makes them soggy. When shopping for fresh okra, always look for small, firm pods with no dark spots.

1 pound small, firm, fresh okra
2 medium onions, minced
1⁄2 small green bell pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1⁄2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon half-and-half
1⁄2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Vegetable shortening for deep frying

Rinse the okra, remove the stems, and thinly slice the pods. In a bowl, combine the okra, onions, and bell pepper and toss till well blended. Add the flour, bread crumbs, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and toss again. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, half-and-half, and Tabasco till well blended, pour over the okra mixture, stir till well blended, and let stand for about 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat about 1 inch of shortening to 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer, drop the okra mixture by tablespoons into the hot fat, fry till golden brown and crisp on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. If you like, sprinkle with a little extra salt. Serve piping hot.

Makes 4 servings.


  • James Villas, author of "Southern Fried" and former food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine.

This segment aired on November 4, 2013.


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