Friday, April 17, 2015

In Search of the Original Maryland Fried Chicken

I could not spend time in Maryland and not at least mention Chicken à la Maryland, now could I? What is it about this variant of the ubiquitous fried chicken recipe that justifies a special name?

Culinary historians are constantly and competitively in search of ‘first recipes for’ or ‘first mentions of’ various dishes, and I admit that I love making such finds myself. Well, I have read that ‘Chicken Maryland’ (which may or may not be the same thing as ‘Chicken à la Maryland’ is mentioned in a newspaper article of 1886, but so far I have not been able to track this down.

Fannie Farmer, cookery teacher and cookbook writer extraordinaire, who could have been expected to know, included a recipe for Maryland Chicken (and also Terrapin à la Maryland) in The Boston Cooking School Cook Book in 1896. Here it is:

Maryland Chicken.
Dress, clean, and cut up two chickens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, dip in flour, egg, and crumbs, place in a well-greased dripping pan, and bake twenty minutes in a hot oven, basting after first five minutes of cooking with one-third cup of melted butter. Arrange on platter and pour over two cups of Cream Sauce.

Even without the à la, it sounds pretty authentic - whatever that means - to me.

The famous chef Auguste Escoffier is said to have enjoyed the dish when it was served to him in a New York restaurant in 1908 -  so much so that he included a recipe in his seminal work Ma Cuisine, first published in 1934. Escoffier’s version has the chicken pieces fried in clarified butter in a pan, not baked in an oven, and he serves them with “a béchamel sauce to which a little grated horseradish may be added or tomato sauce,” surrounded by sweet corn fritters, potato croquettes, bacon, and banana.  

Perhaps the best explanation for the name and the fame is the following one, found in an article in the Maryland newspaper the Frederick News Post  of September 24, 1932.  The article was a review of a recently published cookery book called Eat Drink and Be Merry in Maryland by Philip Stieff.

“… but a customer discovered, much to her sorrow, that there is no definition, not even any recognition of chicken a la Maryland. She gave vent to her sorrow and anger in the words “What kind of book is this anyway?” …. After the customer had gone her way, the question was put up to the author of the book. His reply was “As a matter of fact I don’t think that the name chicken a la Maryland is original with Marylanders. I think it more likely that this was a name applied by outsiders who camt to our State, ate our fried chicken, which has always been of a superior quality, and then went away to tell other people about the fried chicken they had in Maryland – chicken the way they fry it in Maryland – chicken in the Maryland style, and hence, chicken a la Maryland.  I don’t pretend to be a cook. All I did was to act as an intermediary. That is, collect the recipes and have them published in a book. The recipes bear the original names under which they came to me. I do not remember that there was any recipes for chicken a la Maryland. There are half a dozen recipes for fried chicken, however, and one of them, no doubt, will answer the demand for chicken a la Maryland.”

The same newspaper published a recipe for the dish in its edition of February 18, 1936.

Chicken a la Maryland.
Disjoint chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dip in melted butter, then in fine dried breadcrumbs, then in egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water and again in crumbs. Place in single layer in a well-buttered baking pan.
Baste every five minutes with 2 tablespoons butter melted in 2 tablespoons hot water. It will take about forty-five minutes in a hot oven to cook the chicken. Serve each piece of chicken on a thin slice of baked ham, and pour over one or two tablespoons of sauce made by adding 1 cup of cream to pan in which chicken was baked. If fowl is used in place of chicken, parboil after disjointing for forty minutes.

Finally, how can I resist giving you the instructions for the dish from yesterday’s heroine, Wallis Simpson? This is how the famous ‘Baltimore Gal’ (or ‘That American Woman’) made the dish, according to the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1937.  Interestingly, she adds the corn fritters, as in Escoffier's version.

Maryland Fried Chicken.
Select young, tender frying chickens. Cut into halves, quarters, or smaller pieces according to your preference. Singe, wash, and dry thoroughly. Roll in flour to which salt and pepper have been added. Heat a large piece of butter in a deep pan with lid, or saucepan, and brown the chicken on all sides in it.  
The butter should half cover the chicken. Reduce heat, add a little water, cover closely, and let simmer until chicken is tender. Remove lid and continue cooking until almost all of the liquid has cooked away. Remove chicken to a warm place.
Pour off excess grease in pan; make cream gravy, allowing 1 tablespoon flour and 1 cup thin cream to each 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. Cook, stirring, until thickened, adding a little minced parsley.
If desired, return the chicken to the gravy for a few minutes. Serve with waffles or corn fritters.


Mantelli said...

I've seen a fair number of British recipes in which the dish is served with bananas, which just puzzles me

Victor said...

It's because Escoffier served it with a banana. Escoffier is considered The First Great Chef, and if Escoffier says it should be served with bananas, then you better serve it with bananas.

The Old Foodie said...

I personally would be far too scared to disobey Escoffier, Victor!

Anonymous said...

The Old Foodie might find it a bit ironic that he should write about Chicken a la Maryland just days after the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. On the lunch menu for April 14, 1912 we find this very dish was served. (A copy of that menu recently sold at auction, according to Yahoo News.)

Now, to go and make some -- it sounds delicious!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Anonymous, whoever you are! I wonder if the final dinner menu was already known at the time of article? As you say, a great dish, although I am not convinced about the bananas!

Robin Norton said...

Robin Norton UK(classically trained chef in another life) I am looking up Chicken Maryland recipe for a celebration meal for our 50th anniversary, having met and married in Australia in the 1960,s when Maryland was a then meal but is now Retro. The recipe was as Escoffier listed except no Bechamel ( Aussies loved gravy).

Robin Norton said...

A correction to my earlier post.The Maryland recipe used crumbed pan fried chicken breast

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Robin, I love it when a post strikes a personal chord for someone.