I’m no culinary genius although I did some very creative things with ramen noodles, ground turkey, and a slice of cheese while an undergraduate at Georgia Southern University (Go Eagles!). Anyone who has been to college knows that the average college student’s cooking ability goes as far as the pizza delivery magnet stuck to the empty refrigerator in the dorm or apartment or, of course, Ramen Noodles. But there was always the occasional exception where there would be someone from down in the country somewhere (especially at Georgia Southern) that has been cooking full meals since she was 9 years old and everybody wanted to be friends with that theml because you knew that if you didn’t feel like going to the cafeteria they were the only way you were going to get close to a vegetable that semester.
I am a city kid. I was not that student. I am not that guy.
I mentioned in passing to some friends that I attempted to cook fried chicken for the first time in 16 years which was met with a goodly measure of disbelief from those gathered. It’s a common misconception that some things are just hardwired into the DNA of Black folk like: We can all play a bass guitar within 3 minutes of having picked one up. We can all dance effortlessly. We can’t shut the hell up in a movie theater (ok, that one’s true)…and we all have prowess with the fried yard bird. Based on their disbelief that I hadn’t attempted that in my kitchen I think that they had fallen victim to the final of those theories. But it’s true, not because I don’t have the occasional prowess in the kitchen, simply because…it’s because fried chicken almost killed me. To be totally free of the pain I must sit on my version of Oprah’s couch and release these memories so I can be completely free of my fear of fried chicken.
It was Super Bowl Sunday 1994. I didn’t often have company because I lived in a small one bedroom apartment off campus that was barely big enough for me but this particular Sunday I was having my boys over for some food and football in my tiny living quarters. It was gonna be three of us which was perfect since I could only fit three chairs in the entire place. We had decided after class the previous Friday that we’d go to the grocery store and buy a couple of 5 pound bags of frozen wings since it was more cost effective than getting them prepared. One of my buddies, Rick, said he knew how to make the sauce so it would be just like the real thing; we would have wings and beer, and be man’s men while watching the Super Bowl. It was going to be epic…in theory.
I’m not completely sure how I was placed in charge of wing preparation seeing as though I’d never once cooked a single solitary wing before in my life but my attitude was how hard could it be? You get a pan, you get oil, you get the oil hot, you insert chicken, chicken cooks, dip in sauce…game, set, match. That morning the three of us pooled our meager funds, went to the Piggly Wiggly on Highway 67, and did our shopping. Before long we were back at my apartment ready to release our inner chefs. We had mozzarella sticks in the oven and I was pouring oil in the pan to start the chicken wing process. It was at this moment that I had my first moments of trepidation as the oil started the slow process of heating up. I hadn’t cooked anything more intensive than a hot dog all semester and here I am trying to cook chicken wings for me and my boys. My apprehension must have been evident through my expression as Rick asked, “Hey man, you alright? Need another beer?” I told Rick that I was cool, just needed to let the oil get hot and then I could get the chicken party started then accepted his offer for another beer since I was two or three behind anyway and had a seat to watch some TV.
Ten or fifteen minutes had passed when I was reminded by popping oil that I had a task at hand other than talking loud and throwing back Budweisers. Rick clasped his hands together and said, “That oil is good and hot now. Let’s get this chicken on.” He went to the freezer, retrieved the bags of chicken wings and placed them on the counter next to the pan which at this point was swirling and crackling evilly. I opened the bag and retrieved a couple of the ice glazed chicken wings and looked over to Rick and Kev before asking, “Yo, should we have defrosted these before cook ’em?” to which Rick answered, “Nah, homie, throw dem ******* in!” Figuring Rick had cooked a chicken wing, or seen a chicken wing cooked, more recently than I had I decided to take his advice. I removed about ten or twelve of the wings from the bag, all frozen solid but potentially golden brown and delicious in about 8-10 minutes, and slid them into the seventh circle of hell swirling in the pan on the eye of my stove.
It is at this time in this tale that I want to tell you about the logistics of my apartment at the time. I told you it was small which is accurate. It consisted of a carpeted living room which housed my desk and chair where I didn’t study enough, TV, stereo, my Sega Genesis video game (the source for me not studying enough), and another chair. On the opposite end was my bedroom, carpeted, just big enough for a twin bed, a chest of drawers, and another chair. The ten feet between those two rooms consisted of the kitchen on the right hand wall and my bathroom on the left. All told it measured about 35 feet long by about 20 feet wide so in all so not a roomy place but still big enough that boiling oil couldn’t splatter on all four of my walls…or could it? What follows next is a tale of fear and loathing spangled with the profanity of panicked twenty-somethings and shouting reserved only for the most frightened of collegians. Parental guidance is advised…
What I remember most was the initial pop – no, bang – and subsequent splatter. It was like the oil was angry at all three of us for even considering the act of cooking. What Rick didn’t know was that ice crystals introduced to oil causes a considerable amount of splatter so when you introduce 10-12 chicken wings dressed as bigger than average ice crystals you get, well, an explosion. I was closest to the incident so obviously I was in retreat mode quicker than right now and sooner than right away. Rick was in full on “Oh ****!” mode and scrambling away from the kitchen, Kev was furthest away enamored with the Super Bowl pre-game activities on TV before being startled by the small explosion in the kitchen 5 feet away. I’m face down on the kitchen floor until I feel liquid heat in the form of hot Mazola flying out of the pan and onto my back in small but still incredibly hot globs; even through my shirt it was no picnic. I rolled over onto my back thinking that the cool tile in the kitchen would soothe the pain but figured immediately that being face up underneath a popping quart of grease wasn’t the best of ideas.
Kevin spoke, or screamed rather, for the first time in the ordeal, “The chicken is flying out the fryer, man. Why is the chicken flying out the ******* fryer, man!” It wasn’t really flying out of the fryer but the introduction of the frozen solid chicken into the bubbling oil was violent enough to eject one or two of the wings on the floor nearby. I got up from the floor deeming it not the safest place to be what with oil and hot frozen chicken flying all about and backed up towards the opposite end of the apartment near my bedroom. Rick yelled out, “Fire, man! On the stove.” I had two oven mitts that I kept moreso for kitchen decoration than anything else. Normally they would have been in their normal spot hanging on the hook over the stove except for the fact that we had put mozzarella sticks in the oven and would need the mitts to take them out. So they weren’t on the hook over the stove, they were on the stove on fire. Rick yelled, “Put that s*** out man! Put it out!”. I’m standing against my bedroom door panicking and when you’re panicking everything is magnified; in actuality what we had was two oven mitts on fire and some hot grease popping and splattering all over the place. Simple; turn off the pan, put out the fire. However, what I SAW was a roaring hellacious flame and a pan full of grease that was sure to eject and impale me with a weaponized drumstick so because my perception was far scarier than my reality I just stood there. THEN a stroke of genius. In my apartment the sink was directly adjacent to the stove, I ran to the sink and started the cold water in the faucet then grabbed the spray nozzle so I could put the fire out from distance except…
Kev: “That’s a grease fire, A-hole, don’t do that…
It was too late. I hit the trigger on the spray nozzle and directed it at the stove which did nothing but turn a fire on the stove into a fire on the stove and now on the adjacent counter where my new roll of paper towels and brand new cordless phone live. So now there’s a symphony of “Oh s****” and “What the f****” between the three of us then Rick screams, “Where’s your flour, C?!?!” I pointed to the pantry and he ran through the kitchen to get it but wait, grease makes a tile floor extremely slippery so guess what happens? Rick slips and falls. There’s a fire on the stove and the counter, I’ve lost an entire roll of Bounty paper towels, Rick is laying on his side on the floor at my feet, the antennae on my new cordless phone is melting in front of my eyes, chicken grease is having its own personal 4th of July on my stovetop and what do I scream?
“Yo! Unplug my Genesis”
Me: “Unplug my f****** Sega Genesis and get my games, man! Now!”
That’s right, I’m potentially losing all my collegiate belongings, screw my clothes, pictures or the books I paid an arm and two legs for, just get my video games and we’re outta here.
Rick had managed to stop wallowing on the kitchen floor and get back to his feet and grabbed the flour from the pantry and ripped open the bag and started throwing flour on the fires, wait, that’s not accurate, Rick ripped open the bag of flour, grabbed hold and FLUNG the flour throughout the kitchen and countertop. The whole bag. Meanwhile Kev had ignored my orders regarding the Sega Genesis and gone to the bathroom, grabbed some towels and was unmercifully beating what was left of the fire that hadn’t been floured out by Rick.
After a few seconds it was done. My kitchen was charred and I had half an antennae on my cordless phone now, Kev was breathing hard and sweating from beating the fires out with one of my good towels, Rick was covered in flour and was checking a bruise on his arm from when he had fallen on the kitchen floor. There was no sound except for the crackling of the chicken wings in the pan that none of us had still thought to turn off. It was like I was standing in the middle of a Three Stooges episode. We said nothing for a while, I would have taken the Mozzarella sticks out of the oven but I no longer had oven mitts, I figured I’d let them cook some more. Finally Rick broke the silence, “Yo, ummm, I got first on those wings in the pan, dude.”
So pardon my tears when I prepare fried foods, don’t mind me if I shudder when I experience a flashback, for it is not out of cowardice that I do these things but from an experience that to this day has held it’s grip over me for nearly two decades and more importantly threatened to kill my Sega Genesis and extensive game library.
But hey, last week’s attempt at fried chicken was awesome so take that!
~thanks for reading 🙂
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