Louis & Lucille Armstrong : Red Beans and Rice—-A Love Story

This year, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras fall on the same week.

And I cannot think of a better way to celebrate both days with a plate of red beans and rice.

Louis Armstrong was a native son of  New Orleans and loved red beans and rice – so much so, that he often signed his letters “Red Beans & Ricely Yours! Louis Armstrong.” When he and Lucille, a Northerner, were courting in the early 1940s, he asked her if she knew how to cook his favorite dish. Lucille laughed, thinking he was just teasing her. But then she realized the seriousness of his question – and his intentions. It was a litmus test. Louis had to make sure that Lucille was able to cook his favorite dish. Being from New Orleans where red beans and rice is a staple, Satchmo wasn’t joking. She said she didn’t know how to yet, but that she could learn and requested a few days to scramble for a recipe. Two days later,  she invited him to meet her parents over a dinner of home-cooked red beans and rice. He described her version as, “Just what the doctor ordered.” Not long after, the two became engaged and were married in October 1942.

While many know of Louis’ accomplishments on stage, little is known about his personal life. Louis was married four times, his first marriage occurring when he was only 17 years old. However, it was his fourth and final marriage, to Lucille Wilson Armstrong, that was his longest. This was the relationship that would define the rest of Louis’ life and his legacy.


About Lucille…….

Lucille Buchanan Wilson Armstrong was born in the Bronx, on January, 13, 1914, to the owner of a cab company. When the stock market crashed and destroyed her father’s business, Lucille was forced to drop out of high school and focus on becoming a dancer. 

In order to help pay the bills, Lucille worked the club circuit dancing in shows in chorus lines. Lucille found great success; she danced on Broadway in the show “Flying Colors” and became a regular dancer in the chorus line at the famed Cotton Club.

The Cotton Club was one of the best known clubs in New York City from 1923 to 1940. It was located on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue (1923-1936), then briefly in the midtown Theater District (1936-1940). The club operated during the United States’ era of Prohibition and Jim Crow era racial segregation. African Americans  initially could not patronize the Cotton Club, but the venue featured many of the most popular black entertainers of the era, including musicians Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb,  Count Basie, Fats Waller, Willie Bryant; vocalists Adelaide Hall, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Aida Ward, Avon Long, the Dandridge Sisters, the Will Vodery Choir, The Mills Brothers, Nina Mae McKinney, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and dancers such as Katherine Dunham, Bill Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, Leonard Reed,  Lincoln Perry (Stepin Fetchit), the Berry Brothers, The Four Step Brothers, Jeni Le Gon and Earl Snakehips Tucker.

At its prime, the Cotton Club served as a hip meeting spot, with regular “Celebrity Nights” on Sundays featuring guests such as Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, Sophie Tucker, Paul Robeson, Al Jolson, Mae West, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Langston Hughes, Judy Garland, Moss Hart, and Jimmy Walker, among others.

At The Cotton Club, Lucille received high praise and a local critic even wrote, “the most important contribution to the city’s ha-cha-cha is in the person of an obscure youngster, in the chorus, by the name of Lucille Wilson.”

Everyone performed there — and as you might have guessed, another notable name performed at The Cotton Club — Louis Armstrong.

After traveling throughout Europe for a bit, performing in the chorus line of various shows, and receiving world-renowned praise for her talents, Lucille returned to The Cotton Club.

Louis and Lucille met at the club in 1939, and Louis was smitten with her immediately. Lucille knew who the musician was – her mother was a huge fan and Lucille had been raised on Armstrong’s records. In an interview, Lucille said that she couldn’t imagine why a man who was 13 years older, with so much life experience, would be interested in her.

One night, when Louis was at The Cotton Club, he told Lucille that he wanted to buy all of the cookies that she would sell to the dancers and band members, in order to make some extra money. He and a member of his band would then take the cookies and distribute them to children at a local school.

From then on, Lucille and Louis were inseparable- at least when he was in town. Louis traveled frequently, performing in shows, but he did his best to keep the courtship going- he would call and wire Lucille regularly and married on October 12, 1942, after she passed the cooking  the red beans and rice test, of course.

Photo Courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives.





After they were married, Lucille quickly decided that life on the road wasn’t for her. She wanted to buy a house and put down roots of her own. She had an idea to buy a house, but Louis balked. She decided to buy the house anyway, and in March of  1943, Lucille put a down payment on a house in Corona, Queens, New York. The area was not far from the homes of other musicians, such as James Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

When Louis got back from tour, he saw the house that Lucille had bought and absolutely loved it.

After she purchased the house, Lucille spent less time on the road with Louis, and more time at home. Although she was happy to finally be settled in Corona, Lucille gladly joined Louis whenever he traveled abroad. 

Photo Courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives.

This three story town home at was built in 1910. Armstrong was an international superstar and he could have lived anywhere in the world. But always down-to-earth, he and his wife Lucille chose a modest house in an ordinary neighborhood in Queens.

This is just a regular Queens ‘Archie Bunker’ home, and it looks like the home of a working man with a wife who loved shiny things. The den was the one room in the house that he could call his own. Louis said he didn’t ask for much in life, and this is the room Lucille gave him. He let her have the rest of the house.

Even after a state-of-the-art modernizing and remodelling, the kitchen remained a cozy center of their home. where they’d live for the rest of their days. Although Louis’ demanding tour schedule kept him on the road much of the time, he still developed close ties with his community at home.


Kitchen Highlights

Can you imagine Mrs. Armstrong cooking in her kitchen. If walls could talk, what stories they could tell. 

  • All the doors on the glossy blue custom cabinets are mounted on piano hinges.
  • A Nutone food processor, outfitted with an assortment of attachments is built right into the counter top.
  • Covered dispensers for waxed paper and aluminum foil are built into the wall for easy access
  • Long before the era of Viking ranges, Lucille commissioned a deluxe stove from the maker, Crown.
  • The kitchen also boasts an early 1960s Sub Zero refrigerator, customized to match the cabinetry.
  • A chair converts into a kitchen step-stool with a flip of the seat. Lucille stood 5′ and Louis 5’4″ and frequently used the stool to reach high shelves.






Today, the neighborhood feels like a foreign country, predominantly Latin. On a recent visit, Caribbean music could be heard over the hum of a vintage window air conditioner in Armstrong’s second-floor, wood-paneled den. Shelves and cabinets with glass doors held reel-to-reel tape recorders and boxed recordings of Armstrong’s musings and practice sessions. Among the audio documents, museum staffers discovered tapes of the couple’s daily life in the house – a narrow brick place that they shared with numerous dogs.





Jazz great Louis Armstrong entertains neighborhood children on the front porch of his home in Corona, Queens. (Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum).















The Armstrongs had no children of their own, but Louis would often invite neighborhood kids over to hear him play. When the ice cream truck came by their street, he’d buy them all frozen treats, but only, as Louis Armstrong House tour guide, MacKerrow Talcott, recounts “if they’d finished all their homework.” However,  it was revealed in December 2012, 57-year-old Sharon Preston-Folta claimed to be his daughter from a 1950s affair between Armstrong and Lucille “Sweets” Preston, a dancer at the Cotton Club. In a 1955 letter to his manager, Joe Glaser, Armstrong affirmed his belief that Preston’s newborn baby was his daughter, and ordered Glaser to pay a monthly allowance of $400 (US$4,772 in 2019 dollars) to mother and child.

In the late ’60s, when Louis’ health began to decline, Lucille converted the den in their home, making it more comfortable for him, and dedicated herself to nursing him back to health.

By 1970, Lucille rarely left Louis’ side, even joining him for TV appearances, much to the delight of audiences. After Louis died on July 6, 1971, at the age of 69, Lucille dedicated the rest of her life to preserving his legacy. She began traveling the world, giving lectures about Louis’ work and life and met with musicians that Louis worked with (and some he didn’t have the opportunity to work with).

She also worked to have the Singer Bowl, located in Queens, renamed in Louis’ honor. The Louis Armstrong Memorial Stadium was dedicated in 1973 and held that name until it was demolished in 2016. The new stadium, located on the same site, was dedicated as Louis Armstrong Stadium in 2018.

In 1976, Lucille filed paperwork to have her and Louis’ Corona family home established as a National Historic Landmark and a plaque declaring it so was placed in 1977. The home is now the location of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, per Lucille’s request. The house contains all of the scrapbooks, photos and news clippings that the couple collected throughout Louis’ life.

Lucille passed away on October  3, 1983, in Boston, where she had planned to attend Louis Armstrong memorial events. Lucille’s willed everything to The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, Inc. and the family home was willed to the City of New York. Until the end, Lucille was dedicated to her Louis. Her love for the legend can’t be mistaken and will never be forgotten.

The home now serves the public as The Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark. The Museum is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of African American Museums, the Museums Council of New York City, the New York State Museums Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and NYC & Company. The Museum is a constituent of the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College.

The historic site is owned by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by Queens College under a long-term license agreement.

The mission of The Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives sustains and promotes the cultural, historical, and humanitarian legacy of Louis Armstrong by preserving and interpreting Armstrong’s house and grounds, collecting and sharing archival materials that document Armstrong’s life and legacy, and presenting public programs such as exhibits, concerts, lectures, and film screenings. The Museum seeks to educate and inspire people of all ages, origins, and locations.

Although the museum is closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, you can still visit on-line Make sure you check out the special virtual events that the museum will be hosting throughout the year.

In 1970, he wrote about early life with Lucille, as collected in Louis Armstrong In His Own Words: Selected Writings (ed. Thomas Brothers):

The Red Beans + Rice that Lucille Cooked for me was just what the Doctor ordered. Very much delicious and I Ate Just like a dog. I said forgive me after I had finished eating. I Just had to make some kind of excuse. She accepted it very cheerful. Because I am sure that Lucille has never witnessed any one Human Being eating So much. Especially at one Sitting. I had her to save the rest of the Beans that was left over. Then I’d come another time and finish them. We commenced getting closer “n” closer as time went by.

So satisfied was he with her take that when he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show — a daytime television talk show — in 1970, he brought on Lucille for a red beans and rice cooking demonstration.

On the May 26, 1970 episode of “The Mike Douglas Show,” Lucille Armstrong hosted a cooking segment on her recipe for red beans and rice while Louis, Mike Douglas, Caesar Romero and Joe Williams look on.


Louis and Lucille were the ultimate power couple in their day, as they were happily married for nearly three decades, until Louis’ death in 1971. I like to think that love and food kept them together for all of those years. 

Photo Courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives














And if you don’t know already by now…….

Red beans and rice is an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine, traditionally made on Mondays with red beans, For the most part, ham was traditionally a Sunday meal and Monday was washday. A pot of beans could sit on the stove and simmer while the women were busy scrubbing clothes. Besides the red beans, the seasoning  known as the bell pepper, onion, and celery along with spices such as thyme, cayenne pepper and bay leaf, and the pork bones as left over from Sunday dinner,  were also added to the pot and  all the ingredients were cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. Meats such as ham, sausage (most commonly andouille), and tasso ham were added to the recipe as many cooks adapted the dish to what was on hand at the time. In most modern restaurants, these meats are also frequently used in the dish. The dish is now fairly common throughout the Southeast. Similar dishes are common in Latin American cuisine, including moros y cristianos, gallo pinto and feijoada.

Red beans and rice is one of the few New Orleans style dishes to be commonly served both in people’s homes and in restaurants. Many neighborhood restaurants and even schools continue to serve it as a Monday lunch or dinner special, usually with a side order of cornbread and either smoked sausage or a pork chop or fried chicken. While Monday washdays are largely a thing of the past, red beans remain a staple for large gatherings such as Super Bowl and Mardi Gras parties. Indeed, red beans and rice is very much part of the New Orleans identity. 

Courtesy of The Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM), here’s Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s red beans recipe, verbatim. (It’s transcribed below.) It’s an all-day and all-night process, and vegetarians will have to substitute. But for those who have only known canned beans, an afternoon spent simmering in aromatic vegetables might just prove revelatory true love.

Louis Armstrong's red beans and rice recipe.

Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum




By – Louis and Lucille Armstrong

Creole Red Beans (Kidney) And Rice

  • (Use 2 qt. pot with cover)
  • 1 lb. Kidney Beans
  • 1/2 lb. Salt Pork (Strip of lean, strip of fat)
  • (Slab Bacon may be used if preferred)
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce (if desired)
  • 6 small Ham Hocks or one smoked Pork Butt
  • 2 onions diced
  • 1/4 green (bell) pepper
  • 5 tiny or 2 medium dried peppers
  • 1 clove garlic – chopped
  • Salt to taste


Wash beans thoroughly, then soak over night in cold water. Be sure to cover beans. To cook, pour water off beans, add fresh water to cover. Add salt pork or bacon, let come to a boil over full flame in covered pot. Turn flame down to slightly higher than low and let cook one and one-half hours. Add diced onions, bell pepper, garlic, dried peppers and salt. Cook three hours. Add tomato sauce, cook one and one-half hours more, adding water whenever necessary. Beans and met should always be just covered with water (juice), never dry. This serves 6 or more persons…..

To prepare with Ham Hocks or Pork Butts….. Wash meat, add water to cover and let come to a boil in covered pot over medium flame. Cook one and one-half hours. Then add beans (pour water off), add rest of ingredients to meat. Cook four and one-half hours. Add water when necessary.


For non pork eaters, chicken fat may be used instead of salt pork. Corned beef or beef tongue may be used instead of ham hocks or butts.


  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2 cups water
  • One teaspoon of salt
  • One pot with cover

Wash rice thoroughly, have water and salt come to a boil. Add rice to boiling water. Cook until rice swells and water is almost evaporated. Cover and turn flame down low. Cook until rice is grainy. To insure grainy rice, always use one and one-half cups water to one cup of rice….. “To serve”

On dinner plate — Rice then beans, either over rice or beside rice as preferred. … Twenty minutes later — Bisma Rex and Swiss Kriss.


 “Biography of Louis Daniel Armstrong”LouisArmstrongFoundation.org. Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. Accessed January 16, 2021.

 “Louis Armstrong: FAQ”Louis Armstrong House Museum. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Accessed 11 February 2021.

Goddard, Jacqui (December 15, 2012). “Louis Armstrong’s secret daughter revealed, 42 years after his death”The Daily Telegraph.

Jarenwattananon, Patrick, (August 4, 2011). “Red Beans And Ricely Yours: The Culinary Habits Of Louis Armstrong”. National Public Radio (NPR). Accessed 11 February 2021.

Marshall, Keith. (July 29, 2015), She snagged Satchmo: Peek into Louis Armstrong’s New York love nest”. Accessed 25 December 2020.

Maynard, Nora. (July 13, 2010). “Kitchen Tour: Louis Armstrong’s Cool Blue Haven Corona, Queens, NY”. Accessed 11 February 2021.

Songy, Marielle. (February 10, 2021). WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE LOVE STORY OF LOUIS AND LUCILLE ARMSTRONG”. ,  Very Local New Orleans. Accessed 11 February 2021.



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All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

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So, it looks like I ‘m stuck in France, at least in the Kitchen at home……….






There is no dish in the Southwest France more iconic and cherished, than the cassoulet.

This  rich and  hearty slow-simmered stew has peasant roots and is made with of  pork ,  duck or garlic sausages, confit (typically duck), pork, and sometimes mutton, pork skin (couennes) and Tarbais white beans (haricots blancs), originating in  the New World , more than likely first cultivated in Mexico and imported to Europe by Christopher Columbus. Subsequently, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, facilitated the mass importation of the white bean, which started to be cultivated extensively throughout Southwest France.

The dish is said to have originated in the town of Castelnaudary, and is particularly popular in the neighboring towns of Toulouse and Carcassonne. It is associated with the region once known as the province of Languedoc.The dish is  named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, conical e arthenware pot with slanting sides.

Legend has it that the first cassoulet is claimed by the city of Castelnaudary, which was under siege by the British during the Hundred Years’  War (1337 to 1453) . The beleaguered townspeople gathered up the ingredients they could find and made a large stew to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so hearty and fortifying that the soldiers handily dispelled the invaders, saving the city from occupation. But the origin of cassoulet is probably the result of more global interactions than the Castelnaudary legend would suggest.

Since its composition is based on local  availability, cassoulet varies from town to town in Southwest France. In Castelnaudary, cassoulet is prepared with duck confit, pork shoulder and sausage. In Carcassonne a cassoulet will typically have mutton, and the Toulouse version has duck confit, Toulouse sausage, and is breaded on top. In Auch, only duck or goose meat is used, and crumbs are never added on top. And each town believes they make the one true cassoulet. Regardless of the which town has the most complete recipe, the best versions are cooked for hours for  several days,  until the beans and meat meld into a dish of luxuriant, velvety richness.

The French have always taken their food  and the sanctity of cassoulet very  seriously that there is a brotherhood – the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet  de Castelnaudary– that defends the glory and quality of cassoulet in Castelnaudary, in part by conducting surprise taste tests of the cassoulets offered by local chefs. Since 1999, the Brotherhood has organized competitions and fairs featuring cassoulet . And there is an Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, whose members promote the cassoulet and its significant cultural heritage (they even have a theme song).

You will need plenty of time and patience when making a cassoulet, Prepared in advance, it’s an excellent option for entertaining — especially on cold winter nights when the  cold weather calls for a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. 


Bon Apetite!


Serves 4 to 6

1 pound dried Tarbias beans
2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken broth (10 cups)
3 ounces salt pork
2 duck confit legs
8 ounces fresh French garlic sausage
4 ounces boneless pork shoulder
4 ounces fresh pork skin
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper

Day 1:
Place 1 pound dried great northern beans in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 to 3 inches. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

Day 2:
Boil the beans for 5 minutes. Drain the beans. Place the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Drain again.

Bring 2 1/2 quarts unsalted chicken stock or broth to a boil over medium-high heat in the same pot. Add the beans, bring back to a boil, and skim off any scum. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook uncovered until the beans are just tender but still whole and unbroken, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Cut the meats. Dice 3 ounces salt pork. Halve 2 duck confit legs between the joint so that you have 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs. Cut 8 ounces garlic sausage into 2-inch pieces. Cut 4 ounces boneless pork shoulder or belly into 2-inch chunks. Cut 4 ounces fresh pork skin into 2-inch squares if using.

Make a salt pork and garlic paste. Place the salt pork and 3 garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process into a sticky paste, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, chop by hand into a paste.) Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sear the duck and pork. Place the duck skin-side down in a large frying pan over medium-low heat and cook until golden-brown, 5 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add the sausage to the pan and cook into browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Add the pork belly or shoulder and cook until browned on a few sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the plate. Refrigerate the meats until ready to use.

Cool the beans. When the beans are ready, remove from the heat and let cool until warm to the touch, about 1 hour.

Season the beans. Add the garlic-pork paste, 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the beans and stir gently to combine, breaking up the paste so that is it evenly distributed.

Drain the beans. Pour the bean mixture through a strainer fitted over a large bowl.

Line the cooking vessel. Use a French clay cassole if you have one. Otherwise you can use a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, oven safe pot. Line the bottom of the vessel with the cut pork skin if using.

Assemble the cassoulet. Layer half of the beans on top of the pork skin. Place the duck confit and pork shoulder or belly on the beans. Layer the remaining beans over the duck and pork. Top with the sausages, nestling them into the beans until just their tops are visible.

Top with cooking liquid. Pour enough of the bean cooking liquid into the cassoulet to barely cover the beans. Sprinkle a dusting of freshly ground black pepper across the surface. You can immediately move on to the next step and bake it for 3 hours, or the cassoulet can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Refrigerate the remaining bean cooking liquid.

Bake the cassoulet for 3 hours. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Bake the cassoulet uncovered for 3 hours. While it is cooking, it will develop a brown crust on top. Pierce the crust and moisten the surface by spooning some of the cooking liquid over it, taking care not to disturb the layers below. Allow the crust to re-form 2 or 3 times. If the beans start to look dry, moisten them with several spoonfuls of extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth. Let the cassoulet cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3:
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Uncover the cassoulet and bake for 1 1/2 hours, breaking the crust with a spoon and moistening the surface at least twice. If the beans look dry, add spoonfuls of extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth. You can serve the cassoulet now, or let it cool to room temperature and cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 4:
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325ºF. Heat the cassoulet for 1 1/2 hours, moistening with extra bean-cooking liquid or chicken broth as necessary. Serve immediately in its vessel, gently simmering and unstirred along with a simple green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette, a loaf of crusty bread, and a full-bodied red wine.



Cook’s Notes:

Beans substitution: Great White Northern beans of Cannelli Beans will work well with this recipe.

Garlic sausage substitution: Fresh pork sausage, such as a mild, sweet Italian sausage without fennel can be substituted for the garlic sausage.

Salt pork substitution: You can use bacon but it is not traditional and does add a distinct smokiness, which is not unpleasant but cassoulet purists would disapprove.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days.



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All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

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Nikki Giovanni’s Butter-Fried Chicken

Great food, a bottle of wine and great literature go hand in hand…….

New York Time journalist Elizabeth Harris interviewed the poet Nikki Giovanni for an article that appeared in the newspaper during the week of December 14,2020. Giovanni, 77, whose 19th collection of poems, “Make Me Rain,” came out this Fall. In the course of their discussion, Giovanni told  Harris about the butter-fried chicken she makes for dinner sometimes. That recipe didn’t make it into the final copy of the interview, but Harris did share Giovanni’s recipe with the rest of us in a .a brief excerpt found in the NYT Cooking column on-line.

It’s not so much a recipe as it is a no-recipe recipe, like the one’s our Grandmothers would hand down by word of mouth, and it results in an excellent chicken dish. The texture of the outer layer is crispy and the inner part is juicy and tender.  And in Giovanni’s own words:

“I’m a Southern cook so I use whatever is around. Cut the chicken up or if you are lucky and working purchase wings. There is no such thing as too much butter. A half stick is usually good, though. Put a couple of cloves of garlic in the skillet to let them simmer. I like to rub the wings with ginger but I forgot to tell you a shake or two of nutmeg really helps. If summer, get your rosemary from the garden or your tarragon or whatever is green growing. Do not roll a lot of flour on them. Just enough to cover then shake off. Do not batter them. You are not, after all, a chef trying to stretch your money.”
“Cook that floured chicken slowly,” Giovanni emphasized. “If you don’t have time to slowly fry,” she wrote, “then remember the old blues song: ‘Come back tomorrow and try it again.’   

It really takes the hand of an experienced cook to fry chicken in butter as it is a slow and tedious process. Scientifically, it is possible to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in butter, provided the temperature is kept below the 350° F frying point without danger of burning the chicken and the milk proteins found in the butter, as you find in Italian cuisine. As for bone-in chicken with the skin on, butter helps the skin to go brown because the milk solids in the butter brown, but it doesn’t make the chicken crispier by any means. Butter is used for colour and flavor. For that very reason, we adapted Nikki Giovanni’s recipe and we recommend frying the chicken in a combination of vegetable oil and butter, after thoroughly drying your bird, and reducing the temperature while frying the chicken to a slow simmer. This slow simmering of the chicken in butter is reminiscent of the term, à la meunière, which can be roughly translated as, in the manner of miller’s wifein reference to a French cooking technique in which a whole fish or  fish fillets are lightly dusted in flour and then sautéed in butter. The technique is easily adapted by replacing the main ingredients or incorporating additional elements.

Try it for dinner and see if it doesn’t suit your taste. We think it’s delicious, warm and fragrant, and is most  excellent when paired with  a nice Chardonnay! 

Serves 4 to 6

One 3-4 lb chicken cut up, or 3 pounds of thighs, drumsticks and wings
1 cup all purpose flour
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 stalk of celery
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 stick of unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 175 º F.

To prepare a draining station, set a wire rack in a rimmed baking pan. lined with paper towels; set aside.

Using clean paper towels, pat the chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside on a clean plate.

In a large bowl, add flour, salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, allspice and oregano. Mix them well until it is all incorporated.

Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and set aside on a rack to dry. Repeat the same dredging process for the remainder of the chicken pieces.

Add the  vegetable oil to a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the  oil  to 350 ºF. Add the butter, garlic cloves, rosemary and celery stalk. Add the chicken, and shallow fry for 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to fry the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn and rotate the chicken pieces every few minutes to ensure even cooking and prevent the skin from burning, until the chicken is golden brown in color and the internal temperature of the chicken is 165° F (See Cook’s Notes Below).  

Transfer chicken to the prepared paper towel lined tray, and drain the chicken. Transfer the chicken to the oven to keep warm and repeat frying the rest of the chicken.

Serve immediately with your choice of tabasco sauce and side dishes, like potato salad, coleslaw, collard greens, or green beans.


Cook’s Notes:

As an alternative to using a mix of vegetable oil and butter, you can also use Crisco Butter Flavor Shortening. For the record, Crisco shortening has 50 percent less saturated fat than butter and 0g trans fat per serving. It is excellent for frying, and great for baking – giving you higher, lighter-textured baked goods, in addition to adding  a rich buttery flavor to foods.

While frying the chicken, cook slowly of medium-low heat, just about to a simmer, to prevent the flour from burning.

Use thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken, being careful not to touch the bones. Don’t be afraid to break the chicken’s crust to take the meat’s internal temperature; it should read 165 ° F.  Drumsticks/thighs are also done at 175 ° F.  Being on the safe side, a broken crust is vastly preferable to undercooked chicken. Plan on the whole process of  frying chicken to taking around 15–25 minutes, keeping in mind that white meat will cook faster than dark.


Recommended Products:

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Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni 

Butter Flavor Crisco All Vegetable Shortening, 48 oz.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Combo Cooker, 2-Piece Set 

Saferell Instant Read Digital Food Thermometer



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