The Commonsensical Delights of Fried Chicken

“What are we coming to? Whither are we drifting? And oh, times and oh, manners!”, writes Frank Crane in his 1920 collection of observations and ruminations, Adventures in Common Sense.

What — or who — occasions Crane’s lament? None other than the “chief high worshipful of the United States Food Research Department, Mary E. Pennington,” who in her research findings “deposes that FRIED CHICKEN is bad for us. That is to say, fried chicken that is fresh killed.”

The chief high worshipful decrees that all chicken “should be ripened from three to ten days in a temperature of 32 degrees.” Only then is the fowl fit to eat.

Crane considers this insanity. He writes that he “cannot get over the conviction that these scientific people are set upon robbing us of our most delectable things to eat. Naturally we would not strike a woman, but why does the Pennington lady attack us at the very core and citadel of our national gustatory treasure?”

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Thrifty Winter Delights: Gribenes

The Chanucah table is laden with culinary delights. The 1914 Jewish Life in Modern Times, by Israel Cohen, lovingly documents the festivities and tasty dishes associated with this winter holiday. “Apart from his own peculiar dishes,” Cohen writes, “the observant Jew also adopts those of his native country so far as they can be allowed by his dietary laws, and he imports them into any land to which he may emigrate. Thus in the Jewish quarter of a Western city, one may see displayed in the shop windows the large dark-brown loaves reminiscent of the Russian Pale, the kegs of olives, cucumbers and gherkins that hail from Holland, and the tureens of sauerkraut and variegated sausages that owe their origin to Germany.” Despite these influences from other lands, during Chanucah traditional dishes are served by Jewish families. The “cuisine in Jewry,” Cohen continues, “is as distinctive an element in its social life as in that of any nation living in a land of its own.”
Below is a recipe from The Second Ave Deli Cookbook for gribenes, a dish popular during Chanucah. It is a dish comprised of fried scraps of fowl (the name literally means “scraps”) and is served with potato pancakes or rye bread. It is a wonderfully thrifty way to use up leftover chicken.


4 cups chicken fat and skin, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or smaller
Kosher salt
Pinch of pepper
1 cup onion rings, about 1/8-inch thick

Wash fat and skin well in a colander, and pat dry. Place in a heavy skillet, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, over low heat (you can turn it up a bit once the fat has begun melting). When the fat starts to melt and get slightly brown, add onions (and garlic cloves if you like), and continue cooking until onions and cracklings are golden brown and crunchy. When partially cooled, strain over a bowl to remove onions and cracklings, and refrigerate them in a covered glass jar. Poor schmaltz into another jar, cover, and refrigerate.

From the Cantabrian Mountains: Pollo Campurriano

Spain’s Cantabrian Mountains stretch from the western limits of the towering Pyrenees to the borders of Galicia. They follow the sea as far as the pass of Leitariegos and afterward break off, trending southward toward Leon.

Savage and ruthless, the ancient tribe of Cantabri once found refuge among the Cantabrian’s magnificent peaks. There they defied the Romans, who wished to subdue the region and its wild mountaineers. Not until the bloody campaigns of Agrippa and Augustus (29-19 CE) did the Cantabri suffer defeat and become partially Romanized, their fierce history made the stuff of fireside tales.

Carlos de Haes, Los Picos de Europa, 1860


But despite the defeat of the Cantabri, a tenacious sense of independence burned in the hearts of the people of Cantabria. Described in nineteenth-century guidebooks as “reserved in speech and conversation,” the Cantabrians spoke in a “Mountain language” not recognized outside the region. They were said to be insensible to changes of heat or cold, and defended their homes not by sword or knife, but by an oaken shillalah, a walking stick fortified with lead. Expert oarsmen, they fished the Bay of Biscay’s treacherous waters by day and at night danced to the jangling sound of the tamboril and pito. They bred superb race horses and silkworms.

Cantabrian cuisine was spartan but nourishing. Inside their small cottages, the Cantabrians knew not the pleasures of beer and cooked their food in hog’s lard and olive oil, vast cisterns of which could be found in the kitchens of most homes. Their cheese was prized for its delicacy, and the sea provided them with swordfish, squid and hake. Cantabrians were especially fond of sweets and their cattle gave them the cream necessary for their beloved rice puddings and custards.

Here is a dish from a farming community inland from the city of Santander, the capital of Cantabria. Should you wish for more Spanish recipes, visit

Pollo Campurriano (Santander Chicken)

4 small corn-fed chicken quarters
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon flour
5 oz streaky tocino or raw ham, cubed
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
8 fat white spring onions or pickling onions
1 bay leaf
16 fl. oz chicken stock
1 spanish onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
7 fl. oz rice
9 fl. oz dry white wine

Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. Salt and pepper the chicken well, rubbing the flesh with 2 teaspoons of paprika, then dust with flour. Fry skin side down over medium-high heat, for 5 minutes on each side, until golden. When you turn the chicken, add the tocino or chopped ham, peppers and spring onion bulbs.

Move to a casserole in which the chicken will fit tightly in one layer. Pack the chicken in neatly and sprinkle with the remaining flour. Tuck the spring onion bulbs, ham and peppers into any spaces with the bay leafs. Add just enough stock to cover the ingredients — about 6-8 fl. oz. Put on the lid and simmer gently.

Add the onion to the oil remaining in the frying pan and fry until softened, adding a little more oil if needed. Add the chopped garlic cloves and the rice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of paprika and stir gently. Pour in the wine and bring gently to the boil. Add 10 fl. oz of stock and cook gently for 15 minutes. The stock should just be absorbed. Small quantities of rice can dry out so watch for this and add another couple of spoonfuls of liquid from the chicken pot if necessary.

When the rice is done, cover with foil and leave to stand off the heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the chicken too. Serve the two dishes together. You can sprinkle a little chopped green onion top over the chicken to garnish.