Time to get tough at the tailgate

We’re deep into football season. Now is the time for all good tailgaters to come to the aid of their teams. To bring out the big guns. To bring out the fried chicken.

Don’t even start with me about the stuff in boxes and buckets. That is not real fried chicken, and, frankly, offering it shows a lack of respect for your fellow fans and team. Don’t you want to feed folks better than soggy stuff encased in greasy cardboard? Making your own fried chicken is not difficult, and it will change your tailgating life. Homemade fried chicken is great hot or cold. Do what I do: Cook the chicken the night before the game and have it for dinner (make plenty, you’ll need it). Wrap the remainders and refrigerate for taking to the tailgate the next day. You can also select the pieces you prefer, whether it’s wings or thighs or breasts – no mystery chunks like you find with commercial fried chicken.

Here is my technique for fried chicken, Southern style. I can’t guarantee a win if you cook it, but I can say that you’ll be happy at the tailgate. This is from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” published by Harvard Common Press.

Better-than-the-Bucket Fried Chicken

1 cut-up chicken or 8 of your favorite chicken parts

1 quart buttermilk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 tablespoon paprika (optional)

2 cups all-purpose flour

Oil or vegetable shortening for frying

1. Place the chicken parts in a large bowl and pour the buttermilk over them, making sure all the pieces are covered. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

2. When ready to cook, drain the chicken but do not rinse. Sprinkle the chicken lightly with salt and black pepper. Combine the cayenne pepper and paprika, if using, then sprinkle it on the chicken pieces.

3. Place the flour in a large plastic bag. Add 3 or 4 pieces of chicken at a time, toss to coat, then shake off as much excess flour as possible when removing pieces from the bag.

4. In an electric frying pan or a heavy frying pan on the stove, pour in enough oil to come to a depth of about 2 inches and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.

5. Gently place the chicken pieces in the pan, in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pieces. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes or until the undersides of the pieces just begin to brown. Then, uncover and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the undersides are completely brown. Turn the pieces over and repeat the process for the second side. (You can leave the pan uncovered for the entire process, using a splatter screen to keep down the mess. Do not cover for the entire cooking time or the crust will be soggy.) Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil temperature at 325 degrees to 350 degrees. Be sure that no pink juices run when the chicken is pricked with a fork and that the internal temperature is 180 degrees when checked with an instant-read thermometer.

6. Place the chicken on wire racks set over plates or newspapers to drain. Cool completely before refrigerating.

Deviled egg days

You know you’re really in the South when deviled eggs are on the menu at three out of four meals. Even besides the deviled eggs (which y’all know I have an affection for), I was well fed during the 22nd Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration in Natchez, MS. The theme was sports in the South, so I was asked to talk about tailgating and my book “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home.”

Yes, North Carolina is the South, but not in the same way as Natchez, which is nestled by the Mississippi River and covered with antebellum homes that would make Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood look like a trailer park. The bed-and-breakfast where I stayed, Pleasant Hill, was built in the 1830s. It was moved about a block down the street in the 1850s, using large logs as rollers. It took nearly two years to move the house, completely furnished, and the owners lived in it the whole time (a baby was even born in it, in the middle of the street).

Yes, this is a different place. If you ask for water during cocktail hour, a genial host always asks, “Don’t you want a li’l vodka in that water?”

After my talk, the chef of the Carriage House, which is on the grounds of Stanton Hall mansion, prepared a lunch inspired by tailgate food. Chef Bingo Starr – he mispronounced Ringo as a child – has cooked with Emeril Lagasse and John Besh in New Orleans. I had crispy fried chicken, a burger slider with pimiento cheese and house bacon, then pecan tart. And deviled eggs.