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Wikipedia claims origins both in Scottish and West African cuisine. The problem I have with that is that the story I tend to see about the Scots-Irish who immigrated to North America is that they settled the highland upper south, not the deep south where the plantations (and thus most of the West African slaves) were. So the two cultures may well have not had much chance to interact.

So how much contribution, if any, did the Scottish and West African traditions of fried chicken really have with modern Southern Fried chicken?

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Fried chicken was popular in the south at least a decade before the Scots Irish arrived in the colonies. David Hackett Fischer identifies fried foods with the tidewater settlements, not the highlands settled by the Scots Irish.

For example, William Byrd (1674-1744), a wealthy Virginia planter,

. . . enjoyed fried chicken, often cooked with bacon or ham . . . As early as the first decade of the eighteenth century, fried chicken had become a distinct regional favorite in Virginia. Later in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, some Virginia cookery books dismissed fried chicken as a vulgar dish. But that view was not shared by the Byrds and Carters, who tucked into fried chicken with high enthusiasm. (Albion's Seed, p. 351)

Fischer goes on to note that

. . . quantitative surveys of regional cooking in England have found that frying, roasting, and grilling continue to be specially characteristic of the south and west of England, as baking is of East Anglia and boiling of the North. (p. 351)

And the tidewater gentry did tend to hail from the south and west of England.

By contrast, in the highlands backcountry settled by the Scots Irish,

. . . one important staple of this diet was clabber, a dish of sour milk, curds and whey which was eaten by youngsters and adults throughout the backcountry, as it had been in North Britain for many centuries (pp. 727-728).

In the highlands, they tended to boil instead of fry, consuming many soups, stews, potpies, and porridges--again, demonstrating a continuity with the settlers' origins in North Britain (p. 730).

So fried chicken and slavery in the Americas seem to have similar geographical origins, which could explain West African influences on the dish. No doubt fried chicken spread quickly to other regions and cultural groups because, as Tom Au notes, it's inexpensive. However, I think the fact that it tastes really good also deserves some credit.

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I would say that the predominant roots of southern fried chicken was Scotch-Irish, with the "West African" part added later, almost as an afterthought.

The basic idea for "southern" fried chicken is "breaded" chicken, deep-fried in flour and/or corn meal. That part is Scots Irish.

One "related" example is "shortening bread" of Riley. That is bread made of flour, corn meal, eggs and "shortening."

A similar type of fried chicken is made in Tennessee.

And even "Colonel Saunders" himself, born in Indiana of Irish and English roots, made his name in "Appalachian" Kentucky, that is to say in the southern "highlands."

After the Civil War, fried chicken became particularly popular in the African-American community, because it was the cheapest dish, and because the fat that it generated could be used for other purposes. They took the above fried chicken ideas and added at least one more thing.

The (west) African contribution to "southern" fried chicken "battered" in the above way was the peppers. These had been indigenous to West Africa, and either migrated from there, or caused African slaves to finder similar peppers in the United States. Note the use of peppers in this West African recipe for fried rice, which often accompanies the chicken.

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This is answer was written by a woman named Gwendolyn as a response to another article The Real Roots of Southern Cuisine from deepsouthmag.com. I thought it would serve the same purpose here...Jamillah

Comments regarding the African contribution to southern cuisine are greatly lacking in substance, truth, and in a basic understanding that the enslaved Africans found themselves in a situation in which they were deprived of sufficient food, sufficient time to prepare it and sufficient equipment with which to prepare it period. The Chef’s answers were basically unformed ones, based on wrong assumptions and incomplete information. As one who has lived in West Africa for more than eight years, and who has observed Africans growing, preparing foods and cooking certain dishes; let me assure you that the saute, braise, simmer, steam, roast and bake are widely known and practiced cooking techniques which are there; however, it is very difficult to do exciting things to foods when you are limited to only one or two food items, a pot, some water and very little time!

I’m not taking anything away from the Indians or the Scandinavians, but it was the Africans who brought deep fat frying fried chicken, as well as one pot stews to this country. Fritters (batter-dipped and fried vegetables) are an African delicacy. Deep-fat frying has been attributed to Africa by many other sources. The frying of foods is found all over West Africa, as all throughout the continent. This is because African cooks have a number of different oils that in abundance at their disposal such as: Palm oil, Coconut oil, Sesame and Olive oil, all of which are indigenous to Africa; however none of these oils are indigenous to North America. in use now in this country.

Africans have many ways to preserve foods: drying, smoking, salting, packing in oil. fermentation, or packing with herbs and spices. As for the comment that Africans never ate any beef until they came here, that is a complete and total untruth. Herds of cattle (Beef), goats, sheep, hogs, chickens, ducks and other farm animals are raised for their meat. Beef though expensive is particularly popular. In fact, cattle were introduced to Europe from Africa; when the British and the Dutch went to South Africa, they found Africans herding, butchering, and eating beef! The same is true for Europeans who went to West Africa they found pastoral people with herds of cattle and other pastoral animals.

If you want to know more about what African slaves knew about food, you should travel to Africa where you would learn a lot.

Remember, in this country the slaves were given very few food choices by their masters — mostly those unwanted portion of foods, so the Chef made statements that were based on incorrect assumptions; the least he could have done, would have been to find out what food preparation/preservation methods existed in Africa, that may or may not have been practiced in common with Indians or Europeans. He cannot correctly state for a fact as to what African slaves knew and contributed to southern cooking, by citing what they did with their limited ingredients when they cooked for themselves, or by wrongly assuming and attributing African cooking methods to other ethnic groups. When slaves had access to their preferred ingredients, appropriate equipment, and sufficient oil, seasonings, and more than one pot or skillet, they contributed richly to southern cuisine! Think about it, the mere fact that southern kitchens that boasted of having the best in dining, were run by Black cooks, and not, say, native American or Scandinavian cooks strongly suggests that African cooks were perceived to be the best to be had in the South, and a white mistress who herself didn’t know how to cook, could not possibly teach this expertise!

  • Yet one could find, in the 1950/1960 timeframe, fried chicken (and fried vegetables such as squash) being a staple of Sunday dinners in areas of the rural northeast where many folks had never even seen an actual black person. Other types of deep frying of chicken, vegetables, and seafood are common in Japanese cooking, as well. I suspect there is simply a lot of convergent evolution going on. – jamesqf Jul 2 '15 at 1:35
  • If you properly paragraphed your answer I might be inclined to read it; at which point I might even up-vote it if I liked the research and argument. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 2 '15 at 21:54

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