Lee Witte--poet, Holmby Hills hostess and just plain good Southern cook--never turns down a chance to help her favorite charity, the Colleagues, an auxiliary of the Big Sister League of Los Angeles. Recently, for the volunteers at the group's annual bake sale, Witte cooked a batch of her special fried chicken, a dish for which she is well known.
"Listen, girl, I know when good is good," she says with feigned immodesty.
This fried chicken dish, made the North Carolina way (dipped in buttermilk, then flour), is loaded with tricks. Rice flour, added to all-purpose flour, helps the fried coating seal in juices and adds crunchiness. Once fried, the chicken is popped in the oven to dry and crisp further. "Cooking the chicken my way will keep the meat juicy and tender, and there is no greasy taste," Witte says. "Using rice flour lightens the product too." Witte came up with the idea of using rice flour after much experimentation. Rice flour, incidentally, can be found at any Asian grocery store, and most supermarkets now carry it.
Here is Levora's Southern Fried Chicken (Levora is the character in Witte's poetry book, "Levora," published by Mount Olive College Press). It's best served with biscuits and honey.
LEVORA'S SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN
1 (3 3/4- to 4-pound) chicken, cut up
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Chinese rice flour
1 cup buttermilk
Rinse and dry chicken pieces thoroughly. Season to taste with seasoned salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Refrigerate overnight.
Combine all-purpose flour and rice flour in paper bag. Set aside.
Immerse chicken pieces in buttermilk, adding as much as needed to cover completely. Remove chicken pieces, shaking off excess liquid. Place several pieces at time in paper bag with flour mixture, close bag and shake vigorously to coat well. Remove chicken, shaking off excess flour.
Fill large skillet with oil, 1 to 1 1/4 inches deep. Heat oil until thermometer reaches frying temperature. Add chicken pieces few at time to avoid crowding pan, and fry until light golden brown on all sides, turning several times to brown evenly.
Place cooked chicken pieces on rack in roasting pan. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes to completely cook and drain fat. Makes 4 to 6 servings.