You haven’t been to Nashville if you can’t come home raving about your favorite “meat ‘n’ three” spot. The hometown of Country Music is also the birthplace and epicenter of this heavenly rich comfort food package. A meat ‘n’ three consists of one meat, fish or poultry dish and three “vegetables,” (i.e. baked beans, cole slaw, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fried okra and, yes, macaroni and cheese). Nothing in the world is more comforting or more delicious and as for calories, with food this good, honestly, who’s counting?
Ask 20 Nashvillians their favorite place to have this uniquely southern meal, and you’ll get just as many different answers, but The Loveless Café was, hands down, our favorite. The biscuits served with all natural homemade jam, and fried chicken that blew us away. You have to taste it to believe it, and fortunately, we’ve included our own perfected version of their fried chicken below so you can!
Locals and tourists have been coming to Loveless from miles around for more than 50 years, ever since Annie Loveless first started serving her unusually light and tasty biscuits. An anointed “keeper,” most recently Carol Fay Ellison who sadly passed away in April, guards the secret recipe. No biscuit comes close to being as flavorful and airy as a Loveless Biscuit, and our (perhaps impossible) dream is to one day recreate the taste in our own test kitchen. And after devouring our little pieces of heaven with peach and blackberry jam, our immense platter of golden fried-to-perfection chicken arived. Thank goodness we ordered it family style because we just couldn’t stop eating.
Here is our version of this classic southern comfort food inspired by the Loveless Café’s own cookbook. But first, please keep in mind that there are some essential ingredients and tools that are important to assemble if you want to make your chicken truly special. We are just as health conscious as many of our readers, but we believe in cultural food immersion, and that means eating like the locals. After the jump you’ll find a breakdown of what you may need to make these and many other first-rate southern dishes.
Kitchen Essentials and Ingredients for great Southern Meals and Desserts:
Self-rising flour: I know, sounds like it has some mysterious power, but self-rising flour is just cake flour with salt and baking powder already added. Southern cooks swear by self-rising flour brands such as White Lily, and Martha White since they are made with flour from soft winter white wheat that has lower protein levels, and just the right proportions of salt and baking powder. It is used in many southern cakes, biscuits, and quick breads because it makes a lighter, fluffier batter, but it’s also the key to great fried chicken because it makes the crust light and crispy. Self-rising flour is difficult to purchase outside of the south, but it’s available at www.southerngroceries.com or www.smuckers.com.
Cast Iron Skillet: This is the easiest item on the list. You can buy a decent cast iron skillet almost anywhere cookware is sold, and even at hardware stores. You can’t kill these naturally non-stick pans, and they get better with time. True southerners say you can’t make real fried chicken without one.
Brine: Brining is nothing more than placing the chicken or meat in salty water (the ratio is 1 gallon of water to ½ cup kosher salt – don’t use table salt or your brine will be too salty) for a minimum of one hour, but it takes the chicken to a whole new level of flavor. I like to squeeze one lemon per gallon and put the rinds in the water too. While the lemon is not a vital component (in fact, Gabrielle advises against it), it does give the chicken a very subtle refreshing dimension that contrasts very nicely with the delectable but heavy crust.
Buttermilk: Not all recipes require that you soak the chicken, after brining, in buttermilk, but we think it is critical. It adds a great tangy taste to the meat and the crust, but just as important, the seasoned flour mixture will not adhere very well to the chicken without the buttermilk.
Free Range Organic Chicken: This may sound bit picky, but if you are going to go through the time to make this southern delicacy, make sure the chicken is worth eating. It isn’t always feasible, I know, but use organic farm fresh chicken whenever possible. If it isn’t, see if your supermarket sells Smart Chicken. It is a commercial brand, but they offer an air chilled organic chicken that we learned about from a local humane farmer. Here in Connecticut, Big Y supermarket chain sells Smart Chicken, and the company’s store locator can tell you where their birds are sold elsewhere.
And so, without further ado, here are the recipes!