Food in books: fried chicken and rolls from To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lees iconic character Atticus Finch not only inspired Kate Young to briefly dream of being a lawyer, but also to make this delicious breakfast

Gracious alive, Cal, whats all this? He was staring at his breakfast plate.

Calpurnia said, Tom Robinsons daddy sent you along this chicken this morning. I fixed it.

You tell him Im proud to get it bet they dont have chicken for breakfast at the White House. What are these?

Rolls, said Calpurnia. Estelle down at the hotel sent em.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

For the last two years, I have posted a recipe from To Kill a Mockingbird during this first week of July. It has long been my favourite American book a life-changing account (for me, at least) of one summer in Alabama, through the eyes of young Scout Finch. I first read it one hot, unforgiving January in Queensland, Australia, just before I started secondary school. Like innumerable other fans, I am sure, it sent me on an Atticus Finch-inspired exploration into law as a career; a few years later I would spend my work experience week sitting in on trials in Brisbanes courts, dressed in a 15-year-olds approximation of business attire.

Though I was fascinated by the trials I saw, I eventually decided that my future lay in drama teaching (and have since decided to be a little more relaxed about restricting myself to just one career). Despite my abandoning these early dreams, the book continued to provide my benchmark for properly decent human beings: Im not sure they come much better than Atticus Finch*. His joy at receiving this breakfast, fixed for him by Calpurnia, from ingredients sent by his neighbours in thanks, is one of my favourite moments.

Though I suggest below that you do as Atticus does, and eat this for breakfast, the recipe that follows is about as far from everyday breakfast as it is possible to be. Not only is it too time consuming to tackle before work, its the kind of meal you pretty much need a lie down afterwards to recover from. Im sharing it not because I think youll eat it regularly, but because its just too delicious not to encourage you to try at least once. Take your time making it on a rainy Saturday you want to spend indoors, and then plan for a long afternoon spent dozing under a book.

* Can we all please agree that the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman was a first draft only?

Fried Chicken and Rolls

Serves 4 for breakfast (youll have leftover rolls)

4 chicken thighs (bones in, but without their skin)
250ml buttermilk
100g flour
Pinch sea salt
Pinch ground black peppercorns
Pinch sweet paprika
500ml vegetable oil
1tbsp fast action yeast
125ml tepid water
125ml milk
1 egg
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp sugar
Large pinch salt
425g plain flour
1tbsp butter

Two mixing bowls
Roasting tray
Greaseproof paper
Pastry brush
Wide saucepan or frying pan, with a lid (I used a paella pan)
Shallow dish
Cooling rack
Kitchen towel

1. The night before you plan on eating this, place the salt, chicken and buttermilk in a bowl, squelching it around to ensure the chicken is covered. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

2. To make the rolls, combine the water and yeast in a jug, and whisk to combine. In a bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, oil, sugar and salt. Add the yeast mix, then the flour, and mix with your hand to combine. Tip the dough youve created onto the bench and knead until smooth and elastic – around 10 minutes. Lightly oil a bowl, place the dough back in and cover it, then allow the dough to double in size. This will take around an hour, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

3. Tip the dough out onto your bench and split into twelve evenly sized balls. I found that weighing the dough and dividing by twelve allowed me to divide the dough evenly, but you dont need to be this pedantic. Shape into balls and then place a centimetre or two apart in a roasting tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave for forty minutes to prove again. During this time, heat your oven to 180C.

4. Once risen again (its fine that the sides of the rolls are now touching – thats what you want), melt the butter and paint it over the tops. Bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and leave on a cooling rack while you finish with the chicken.

5. While the rolls are baking, you can fry the chicken. Heat 2cm of vegetable oil in wide frying pan/saucepan (with a lid). Mix the flour, paprika and pepper together in a shallow dish. Remove the chicken from the fridge and take the pieces out of the buttermilk, wiping them against the side of the bowl as you do, to remove any excess. Turn them in the flour until covered.

6. Once the oil is at 170C (or is hot enough to brown a small piece of bread in a few seconds) lower the chicken thighs into the oil, ensuring that you leave enough room between each one to turn them. Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down and cook for seven minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook for five minutes on the other side. If the coating doesnt look golden brown by this point, turn the heat up for a minute or two at the end. Remove the chicken from the pan and allow to cool slightly on some kitchen paper.

Serve with tomato or crisp lettuce – something fresh and cool. Leftover rolls should be eaten within a day or two, or frozen until needed.

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