Living Off The Land (& Sea)
Kentucky Fried Chicken’s famous blend of “11 secret herbs and spices” was kept under wraps for more than 64 years, but a few years ago, Colonel Sanders’ nephew finally spilled the beans.
The saga of Colonel Harland Sanders and his delicious fried chicken is a story of persistence, creativity, and fruition of the American Dream.
Born in 1890, Sanders dropped out of school in seventh grade to work on a farm to help support the family. At age 16, he is said to have faked his age to join the Army. He was discharged just a year later, at which point he went to work on the railroads. He was soon fired for fighting with a co-worker. His career continued to flounder for the next 20 years.
But, not one to give up, at the age of 40, the Colonel bought a service station in Corbin, Kentucky, where Kentucky Fried Chicken, and his secret recipe, was born.
A kitchen was added to the busy gas station to sell food to the numerous travelers, and his fried chicken became a hit. Word spread, and folks were coming from far and wide to fill up on his distinct and delicious fried fowl.
But it wasn’t until the age of 62 that the Colonel realized the true potential of his recipe, and he set out to start franchising fried chicken.
It worked like a charm. By 1963, there were more than 600 restaurants, and his phone was ringing off the hook with franchise requests. The Colonel had finally won.
At the age of 75, Sanders sold the franchise for $2,000,000. Since then, the company has become a kingpin of the restaurant business – there are now over 18,000 KFCs throughout the world.
KFC’s success is a direct result of a quality product, and they have gone to great lengths to keep their unique recipe under wraps.
But a few years ago, Jay Jones, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, managed to finally crack the code.
He was assigned to write about the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, a shrine dedicated to the Colonel’s original restaurant location. Jones met up with Joe Ledington, the nephew of Colonel Sanders, who had an extensive scrapbook of the family’s history. The scrapbook contained the written last will and testament of his aunt, the Colonel’s wife. Handwritten on the back of it was a recipe, and written above it was “11 Spices — Mix With 2 Cups White Fl.”
The reporter immediately recognized the importance of the discovery, and asked Ledington if it was indeed the secret recipe.
Ledington, who had worked mixing the spice blend for his uncle as a child, confirmed his suspicion. “The main ingredient is white pepper,” said Ledington. “I call that the secret ingredient. Nobody in the 50s knew what white pepper was. Nobody knew how to use it.”
Jones’ article was published in the Chicago Tribune in 2016, at which point KFC officials vehemently denied that the recipe was accurate. However, they made several batches in a test kitchen, and taste-testers who tried the recipe, served side-by-side with a bucket from KFC, claimed it was indeed very similar. When they sprinkled on a small dose of secret spice #12 (MSG), the result was said to be spot-on. (KFC has acknowledged that it does indeed use MSG.)
You’ll be amazed at how much spice goes into the flour mixture. I must admit that I haven’t tried this recipe with chicken yet, but I did make it with some fresh tilefish, and the result was indeed finger-lickin’ good.
Kentucky Fried Fish
(Prep time: 40 minutes)
- White-fleshed fish (cod, haddock, sea bass, etc.)
- Canola oil
- 2 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons paprika
- 3 tablespoons white pepper
- 2 tablespoons garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon dried mustard
- 1 tablespoon celery salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2/3 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon basil
- 1/3 tablespoon oregano
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon Accent (MSG)
- Cut the fillets into 3-ounce pieces. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg, then add the fish.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together. Dredge the fish in the flour mixture, making sure to coat thoroughly, and refrigerate it for 1/2 hour (this will make the coating stick better.)
- Preheat the oil to 365 degrees. Deep-fry in small batches until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. (Your ears are the best tool for telling when the fish is done; when the bubbling subsides, it’s time to pull it.)
- Remove and place on a wire drying rack to cool, and sprinkle with salt. Serve with tartar sauce, coleslaw, and lots of napkins!
Any questions please feel free to email me at Andy@onthewater.com
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