In our travels through Texas, we've found fried chicken seasoned with oranges, jalapenos, garlic, mustard, cayenne, and cumin. We've found it batter-dipped and cornmeal-coated, pan-fried and deep-fried, and cooked in lard, bacon drippings, shortening, and a multitude of oils, mainly corn, canola, safflower, and sesame. Forget the gimmicks. Nothing tops this recipe. We owe the secrets to a couple of serious pros, Lula Mae Austin, a Dallas cook, and the author James Villas, who devotes an entire chapter to frying chicken in his wonderful American Taste.
At least 2 1/2 hours (and up to 12 hours) before you plan to eat, mix the buttermilk, Tabasco, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken parts, turning to coat them well with the mixture. Cover the dish, and refrigerate it.
About 20 minutes before you plan to fry the chicken, bring it to room temperature. Sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper into a medium-size paper bag, and add the flour. Set the bag aside.
In a 10- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the shortening over high heat. Add the bacon drippings to the skillet. When small bubbles form on the surface, reduce the heat slightly. Place a large brown paper sack near the stove for draining the chicken.
Starting with the dark pieces, take a piece of chicken out of the marinade, shake off the excess liquid, and drop it indo the bag of seasoned flour. Shake the bag well so that the piece is coated thoroughly. Remove it from the bag, and lower it gently into the skillet, skin-side down. Repeat until all the chicken is in the skillet, arranging it so that all the pieces cook evenly. The pieces should fit snugly together, although they shouldn't stick to each other. Reduce the heat to medium, and cover the skillet. Fry the chicken exactly 17 minutes.
Lower the heat slightly, take off the cover, and use tongs to turn over the chicken gently. Fry it uncovered for another 17 minutes.
Remove the chicken with the tongs -- it will be a deep, rich brown -- and lay it on the paper sack to drain.
Serve the chicken hot with Mashed Potatoes and White Gravy made with the pan drippings.
Variation: Among all the possible variations on fried chicken, we're partial to the jalapeno-garlic versions we enjoyed a few years ago at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Just add to the buttermilk a couple of minced pickled jalapenos with 1 or 2 tablespoons of their pickling liquid and a half-dozen garlic cloves. Serve the chicken with pickled jalapeno slices.