Today one of the symbols of American cuisine, fried chicken has actually Scottish origins. Here's the origin of America's favourite recipe.

Kentucky fried chicken

The Italian stereotype of American cuisine being all burgers and fries might be misleading, since chicken is the most consumed meat in the United States. It is present in many recipes, from the cobb salad, a salad with chicken, bacon, egg, cheese and avocado, to the chicken corn chowder, a creamy soup made with egg, bacon, corn and chillies. But when it comes to chicken in America, it’s mostly about fried chicken. More particularly Kentucky fried chicken, made famous by the popular fast food chain that uses a secret recipe, more protected than the one of Coca-Cola. According to legend, it is kept on a 1940 handwritten parchment and hidden in a 350-kilo safe kept under constant surveillance by sensors and cameras.

The origins of American fried chicken

Beyond the famous brand name with Colonel Sanders’ big face, fried chicken is one of the most loved and consumed foods by Americans. However, the first written recipe appeared in a British cookbook published in 1747, ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ by Hannah Glasse, with instructions on marinating, an essential step in the dish preparation. Given the book’s great success overseas, there is a good chance that it was this recipe that made its way into the American homes. There are not many sources on the precise origins of fried chicken; certain is that it was invented by the Scots, who were known for frying various foods without seasoning, generically called fritters. Many of them emigrated to South America in the eighteenth century because of the ongoing slave trade, hence African Americans are credited with making the dish famous and popular, but above all, tasty.

Fried chicken, the iconic dish of American slavery

Slaves were only allowed to keep chickens, because of their small size they did not encroach on their owners’ property. However, they got the tougher and tasteless scraps, and so they began seasoning the meat with paprika and other spices imported from West Africa and frying it in hot palm oil. The result was a much tastier chicken than the one prepared by the Scots, who employed many of the slaves as personal cooks. And there was no shortage of fried chicken in the houses, consumed almost on a daily basis, since subject to a rapid deterioration: there were no refrigerators at the time, so the meat had to be cooked and eaten immediately.

The birth of KFC

It was only after the abolition of slavery that the recipe crossed the borders of the South and began to appeal to everyone. But it was a 25-year-old from Kentucky who, during the Great Depression, decided to embark on a new adventure by taking over a Shell gas station with a small restaurant. A typical eatery like any other that was the start of one of the most famous food ventures of all time, that of Kentucky fried chicken, which went down in history as KFC. The brand created in 1930 by Harland Sanders was officially born in 1952, while large-scale success began to spread from the 1960s. In 1964, there were already 600 KFC restaurants in the United States and Canada!

by Michela Becchi