I can’t possibly celebrate National Fried Chicken Day without paying homage to Colonel Sanders.

I won’t remark on his culinary legacy, because I can’t honestly recall what KFC chicken tastes like.  I remember when KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I remember liking the chicken, and I remember that for a long time they had the worst fries in the fast food world (think a soggy, grainy brick of fries mashed into the form of the cardboard box that held them).  I remember the sickening mush that passed for coleslaw.  I remember playing with the large inflatable bag/windsock that somehow passed for a gimmicky toy giveaway.  I remember the excitement of eating popcorn chicken, chicken fries and the Big Crunch sandwich as they were each added to the bare-bones menu.  I remember being mightily disappointed when I ordered delivery one day and the greasy cold mess that came out of the familiar cardboard boxes was nearly inedible.

No, it’s not his food I will celebrate, but rather the man himself (or at least his myth).  Harland David Sanders was a determined, hard-working fellow.  I won’t parrot his entire biography/legend, but even Tony Robbins uses this guy as an inspirational anecdote.  His Dad died when he was five and his Mom worked, so he helped out by cooking for the family.  He dropped out of school in 7th grade and soon fled home to avoid his step-father’s beatings.  He worked several odd jobs and at the age of 16 lied about his age to enlist in the army.  At age 40 he was working in a service station, and his entrepreneurial spirit led to him cooking chicken for his customers.  When his chicken’s popularity grew he moved to a restaurant space and spent 9 years perfecting his recipe.

At age 65, with a $105 social security cheque and a failing restaurant he knew he needed a fresh start.  He had faith in his recipe, but the construction of Interstate 75 had decimated his customer base.  So he decided to approach restaurateurs to franchise his recipe.  He offered his chicken with a commission of 5 cents per piece sold.  As the story goes he approached 1009 restaurateurs before one agreed to his proposal.  So began one of the largest fast food franchises in history.  He remained involved in the company and charitable activities into his 80’s.

I’m sure some people would be horrified that KFC is my overwhelming association with Fried Chicken.  But I don’t live in the south, I live in Western Canada, and I was raised by parents who valued healthy food and exotic flavours.  And so, to this day, I am baffled by the Paula Deen philosophy of cooking.  Not that I am disparaging Southern cooking, mind you – it’s just alien to me.

I hope that some day I can claim to have endured 1009 no’s in pursuit of a dream.  In the meantime I’m going to leave the 11 secret herbs and spices to KFC and take today’s fried chicken in a new direction.  While Vancouver can’t claim to have invented fusion cuisine it is certainly home to a fine culinary community which plays with multiple gustatory heritages.  In that spirit I chose a recipe for Crispy Five-Spice Chicken as my dish for this blog.  It is adapted from a Donna Hay recipe.

Crispy Five-Spice Chicken Fingers

2 Chicken breasts cut into 4 fingers each
All-purpose flour (for coating)
2 eggs, beaten
oil, to shallow fry

1.5 tsp cumin seed
1.5 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
.5 tsp sea salt
.5 tsp cracked pepper
1.5 cups Panko breadcrumbs

Sauce for dipping

Toast the cumin and coriander and grind them fine.  Combine with five-spice, salt, pepper and breadcrumbs, set aside.

Dredge the chicken fingers in flour, then egg, then the breadcrumb mixture.  Pat the crumb mix firmly onto the chicken.  The spices tend to settle under the crumbs, so make sure you’re getting the chicken well seasoned.

Heat oil 1/2-3/4″ deep in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Fry chicken in batches 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and cooked through.  Drain on paper towel.  Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice (plum or honey-mustard would be great).

This recipe results in a very crispy-crunchy texture.  If you’re careful with your cooking times the interior will be moist and juicy too.  Donna includes finely chopped parsley in the batter, which I didn’t have on hand but would be nice too.

I guarantee you won’t need 9 years to perfect this recipe.

~Sage

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