By Robert St. John
The Meridian Star
I read a news article last week that described how the owners of Kentucky Fried Chicken were starting to serve boneless chicken. I am not a KFC customer, but it puzzled me for a moment because I thought they were probably already selling a lot of boneless chicken.
After a little more research I discovered that the new deal is serving their “original recipe” chicken without bones. So, I guess what that means is that in addition to white meat chicken strips, they are serving larger portions of white and dark meat chicken without bones.
It doesn’t really matter to me because I like my chicken to have bones. Period.
For 2,000 years we ate chicken with bones in it. Over the last 20 years, we’ve thrown all of that culinary heritage out of the window as younger members of the dining public have demanded all white-meat chicken with no bones.
Actually, people should be eating exactly the opposite. The best-tasting chicken is the dark meat, and it should always be served with bones as God intended. Seriously, God doesn’t like boneless chicken. It’s in the Bible somewhere— probably one of those Old Testament chapters with a lot of begats in it.
America has lost its culinary compass. I don’t know the exact date when we sold our poultry souls to the fast-food succubus, but I grew up on fried chicken— with bones— cooked in a cast-iron skillet. It’s a beautiful thing.
All of a sudden in the 1980s we began seeing “chicken strips” or “chicken tenders” which are small portions of breast meat, without the bone, deep-fried. At the time it probably seemed like a quicker way for full-service restaurants to served fried chicken, and it was probably in response to Gen Xer’s demand for chicken nuggets which had been rolled out by McDonald’s in 1983.
Seriously, does anyone who was born before 1966 remember eating boneless chicken as a kid, ever? Even the soggy chicken in those crappy TV Dinners of our youth had bones in it. Granted, they also had neon-green, perfectly round peas, mashed potatoes that seemed as if they had been injected with oxygen, and an apple dessert that tasted like steamed chicken, but there were bones in the chicken.
In the 1990s fast-food franchises began popping up that served nothing but boneless white-meat chicken. At that time, I knew we were doomed and our poultry fate was sealed. There was a glimmer of hope when the buffalo wing craze started, because it was bone-in chicken— white meat, yes, but with bones. Now even restaurants that specialize in hot wings sell boneless wings. Millennials don’t know a world without boneless chicken and they are lesser people for it.
Two weeks ago I ate some of the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my 51 years on the planet. Stuart Gates, a friend and fellow restaurateur, had been telling me about a local fried chicken joint for a few weeks. Finally I picked him up at his restaurant and we drove to the Hattiesburg/Forrest County Industrial Park, not your typical restaurant row, to eat at the Home Style Restaurant.
If there were such a thing as having a PhD in fried chicken, Ms Brenda— the owner of the Home Style Restaurant— would be a summa cum laude graduate. This chicken is the real deal. She and one other helper (except on Mondays when she works alone) are the entire staff of the restaurant. That’s it two ladies, six or eight vegetables, and the best fried chicken I’ve eaten in years.
The Home Style Restaurant— a converted mobile home trailer— is 100% no-frills. She only has room for about six seats inside, but the place is very clean and is a meat-and-three that should be listed at the top of Mississippi’s fried chicken hall of fame.
The dark-meat chicken at the Home Style Restaurant is as close to what my grandmother served as I have ever eaten, and might even be better. Sorry, Mam-Maw.
My kids don’t like dark meat and they don’t like bones in their chicken. That cuts me deeply. They have eaten food all over the world, but when it comes to fried chicken, they are products of their generation.
With small diners like the Home Style Restaurant, I am optimistic about the future of fried chicken. I am hopeful too, that one day my kids will see the light and discover the pure joy that comes from eating a perfectly fried chicken leg or thigh. Until then, that just means more for me.