So many of our most cherished memories arise from simple, mundane moments. One of my fondest childhood recollections, for example, comes from watching my mom fry chicken. I would run into the house on a warm summer evening, breathless from playing outside, and find her reaching for a large vat of Crisco. I knew great things were to follow.
When she scooped the white animal fat out of the tub, it would curl like an ocean wave. She’d plop it into a black, hot pan on the stove, and then begin rolling the chicken in white flour, seasoned with herbs and salt. By the time she had dusted all the chicken pieces with the flour, the heated pan had alchemized the Crisco into golden, bubbling liquid. She’d deftly throw the pieces into the pan, somehow avoiding being spattered by the scalding grease. I can still remember the sizzling pssssssh sound the chicken would make when it hit the pan. Within minutes, I was enjoying one of the best meals of my life.
I was reminded of all that when I visited Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken in Culver City, California. I wish I could say that Honey’s Kettle chicken was as good as my mom’s, but I’d be lying. It was better.
Vincent Williams, owner and chef, has spent the past 40 years perfecting the art of frying chicken. He inherited the recipe from Willie James Stennis, founder of the legendary Golden Bird Chicken in Los Angeles. Williams has personally fried millions of pieces in that time. He has literally cooked more birds than anyone in history. He knows what he’s doing.
Instead of frying it in a pan like my mom did, he uses deep stainless steel kettles to cook the chicken, which has been hand-battered in a mysterious coating that seals in flavor and moisture.
The result is a marvelous creation. The outside is a golden shell that loudly crackles upon the first bite and has a touch of sweetness, almost like the crust of creme brûlée, but thicker. But, as with people, it’s the inside that counts. The chicken itself is perfectly seasoned–not too salty, but far from bland–and bursts with moisture and flavor.
And the rest of the offerings are exceptional as well. You can get freshly baked apple, pecan or blackberry pies and sweet, tart blueberry lemonade. They also serve intensely-flavored sautéed green beans. Best of all may be the flaky biscuits accompanied by little cups of warm, premium honey. Like the chicken, the biscuits have a crunchy, golden-brown outer surface, concealing a moist, tender middle.
On a recent visit, the bill for all this goodness came to less than 50 bucks. For three people!! That’s 8 pieces of chicken, fries, biscuits, three drinks, green beans, mashed potatoes and a slice of pecan pie. Can you find a better meal in L.A? Maybe, if you pay four times more. And it will definitely not be four times better.
Of course, nothing will replace the one best ingredient of mom’s meals–love. But it’s good to know that, even as adults, we can find experiences that equal, or even surpass, the simple joys of childhood.