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The Surprising History of Fried Chicken

BY: SHANNON GRILLI | 4.12.2017 |

There are few foods as connected with the American South as fried chicken. But would you believe us if we said that America's most beloved comfort food was actually a sort of Scottish-African fusion cuisine? When it comes to the question of who invented the dish, the answer is not so simple. Follow along as we break down the basics and the history behind the food world's most delicious bucket-filler.

Who Invented Fried Chicken?

Americans weren't the first people to stick a chicken in a frying pan, of course. Europeans have a documented history of frying chickens as far back as the Middle Ages. But it was the Scots, specifically, who preferred to deep-fry their chickens in fat. Of course, they also typically ate their fried chicken without any sort of seasoning, so it's safe to assume Americans would find little similarity between the Scottish fried chicken of the medieval age and the salty, sometimes spicy, golden-brown magnificence they hold so dear.

Waves of Scottish immigrants arrived in America at the end of the 18th century, many of whom settled in Virginia, the Carolinas, and other areas throughout the American South and with them came their cooking traditions. But while Scots provided the ideal cooking method for fried chicken, it was African slaves who invented fried chicken the way we know and love it today. Many became cooks in their owners' households, but brought their own seasoning methods into the mix, reinventing the formerly bland dish and making it a famous staple throughout the South.

Southern Fried Chicken Goes Global

So, fried chicken came from Europe and Africa, and was perfected in America, but its evolution didn't end there. Mass chicken production and modern cooking technology made the dish easier (and cheaper) to produce, making it a staple of the American fast-food industry, and eventually popularizing it overseas. As different countries have acquired a taste for American fried chicken, they've put their own twists on the dish. Here's a quick brief on some of the more popular fried-chicken styles around the globe:

Korean fried chicken

Twice-fried so it's extra crispy. Korean fried chicken also owes its spicy kick to gochujang sauce.

Taiwanese fried chicken

These fried chicken bites are topped with salt, pepper, and chili powder and typically served from street carts.

Japanese chicken karaage

In this version, morsels of chicken are first marinated in soy sauce and other seasonings, then deep fried in potato starch, providing a light, tempura-like texture.

Indonesian fried chicken (ayam goreng)

Instead of breading, this chicken dish owes its crispy exterior to lemongrass, turmeric, and garlic, and is fried in coconut oil.