Southern Fried Chicken with Onion Gravy

2 1/2 to 3 lb chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
2 1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup plus 2 Tbs flour
1 1/2 to 2 lbs shortening
2 medium sized onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups water
1 Tbs white vinegar (or other vinegar)
2 to 3 cups cooked white rice (optional)

Tips for making excellent fried chicken:

1) Make sure the chicken is not more than 3 lbs. The higher heat required for creating the nice crust will leave a larger chicken undercooked on the inside. The exterior will be burnt by the time the inside is done.

2) Use a cast iron skillet if possible and a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil.

3) Do not place the cooked chicken on paper towels to drain, use a rack. Keep the chicken warm by loosely tenting with foil.

Pat the chicken pieces completely dry with paper towels and sprinkle on all sides with 2 tsps of the salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Dip the chicken pieces in the 1 cup of flour, one at a time, and shake off all the excess.

Melt 1 1/2 lbs of the shortening in a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is the best) at least 2 inches deep with a tightly fitting lid. The melted shortening should be at least a 1/2" deep; add more if necessary. When the shortening is at 350F carefully place the chicken pieces in the pan, skin side down, and cover. Fry for 5 minutes. Turn the chicken with tongs and continue to fry covered for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is evenly browned on both sides.

Remove the chicken to a baking rack.

Pour off all but 1 Tbs of the fat remaining in the skillet and add the onions. Sprinkle with 2 Tbs flour and cook over high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden brown. While stirring constantly, add the water in a thin stream and cook until the gravy thickens and becomes smooth. Stir in the vinegar and the remaining 1/2 tsp of the salt and a few grindings of black pepper.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter and pour the gravy over. Or, more traditionally, put the cooked white rice in a serving bowl, pour the gravy over it, and serve it as an accompaniment to the chicken.

Yield: 4 Servings