Maryland Fried Chicken

Cover of "Tender Is the Night"

Cover of Tender Is the Night

“Nicole diver, her brown hair hanging from her pearls, was looking through a recipe book for chicken Maryland.  She was about twenty four, Rosemary guessed – her face could have been described in terms of conventional prettiness, but the effect was that it had been made first on the heroic scale with strong structure markings, as if the features and vividness of brow and coloring, everything we associate with temperament and character had been molded with a Rodinesque intension, and then chiseled away in the direction of prettiness to the point where a single slip would have irreparably diminished its force and quality.  With the mouth the sculpture had taken deliberate chances – it was the cupid’s bow of a magazine cover, yet it shared the distinction of the rest.”[2]                                                                                                         

  Tender Is The NightF. Scott Fitzgerald



Maryland chicken actually refers to a unique cooking method used to exploit one of the most important agricultural resources of the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore.  The method of cooking Maryland chicken is to fry the chicken, not in deep fat but rather in a small amount of fat or a term we call pan frying. The skillet is then sealed and allowed to steam as well as fry.  It is this combination of cooking methods that makes Maryland chicken unique.   A cast iron skillet is the traditional utensil for this, but any sautoir or straight sided pan will do.  You will want to stay away from the non – stick pans if you plan on making the cream gravy, as the bits of cooked chicken that stick to the bottom, or the fond, is the primary flavoring agent in the sauce.

Many variations of this dish exist.  There seems to be no consistent recipe or secret blend of herbs and spices that make up this dish.  Every year, the Delmarva Peninsula holds its annual chicken festival.  Delmarva stands for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia which all hold parts of the Eastern Shore Peninsula within their boundaries.

Maryland chicken is also known around the world in different forms.  In England it is served as fried chicken with fried bananas and corn fritters, in Australia, it is served with hush puppies and refers to just the chicken leg and thigh served with ham.  In Argentina it is a fried cutlet served with a fried egg on top and creamed corn.   Where or how these variations which differ so widely came from or how they developed is unknown.  The dish was extremely popular and was mentioned in the great French Chef Escoffier’s cookbook Ma Cuisine as well as being mentioned in classics such as Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

There is also a chain of restaurants which use the name of the dish and sell it along the east coast, but it is a relatively unknown chain and was actually started in Florida.

The dishes popularity extends all the way across the globe and was even served as a brunch item on the menu the fateful day that the Titanic sunk into the north Atlantic.

In 1920 a budding entrepreneur Arthur W. Perdue, gave up a career as a railroad agent to found one of the largest chicken interests in the world.  The company was founded on a small farm is Salisbury, Maryland on the eastern shore, where the headquarters of the company still stands to this day.  The company is still family owned and operated to this day and is the leader in the massive poultry industry in the Mid – Atlantic region.  Through three generations, the family has expanded and improved the business and today is one of the largest producers of poultry in the world.  The advertising done by the second generation leader, Frank Perdue is an iconic personality in the region.

His main contribution to chicken was the use of advertising to create a brand name chicken, the first of its kind for any meat product.  He personally starred in the spots with the tag line, “It’s takes a tough man, to make a tender chicken.”  His career spanned over 200 commercials and 51 years.  He turned the company over to his son in 1991.

The first recorded mention of the dish was on the menu of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York in 1878.  Before that it was usually referred to by many different names.  The main distinction of Maryland fried chicken is that it does not contain the multitude of seasoning and herbs that are found in most fried chicken recipes.  The traditional recipe is very basic and is often suggested to be eaten cold the following day.  In its earliest form, fried chicken was seen as a picnic food.

There are many concerns about the Mid-Atlantic poultry industry including the effect of runoff into the Chesapeake as well as hormones and other additives being used in the production of chicken.  There are also raising concerns over the welfare of the chickens being raised and the antibiotic being used to keep them healthy in unnatural conditions.  There are however, many organic and free range options available as well as more traditional poultry farming techniques which are used by the Amish and Mennonite communities.

Chickens have become an American dietary staple and these recipes can help you make the most of that resource.

The Evolution:

Fried Chicken, Maryland Style[3]



                Have the chickens killed the day before they are to be eaten and put on ice.  Cut the chicken in seven pieces, have them wiped dry, and then flour lightly, season high with salt and pepper.  Have your lard boiling hot, then put the chicken in, turning carefully, let it soak well, then take it out, and put in a pan to keep hot.  Then have some flour browned, and add the gravy to the pan with a good cup full of cream or rich milk with some parsley chopped, let it thicken, and serve it in a gravy dish.  Make mush cakes, fry separately, serve on the dish with the chicken. 

Here we see the dish as more of a pan-frying dish.  There is no mention of fitting a lid over the chicken while cooking.  If you choose this method, you can fry the chicken and then place it in the oven to cook through, or you can cut the chicken pieces smaller.  I would definitely cut the breast in half if you are pan frying or they will not cook all the way through without burning the crust.

Old Fashioned Fried Chicken – Maryland Style[4]



                Put an ounce of butter in a frying pan, and add four slices of lean salt pork dipped in flour; when turned to a golden color, take off the salt pork, add two and a half pounds chicken disjointed, also dipped in milk and flour.  Fry until cooked.  Take off chicken, drain fat from frying pan, pour in a cup of light cream and milk, reduce to half and add one cup of light cream sauce, boil a few minutes, strain over chicken sprinkled with chopped chives and parsley, garnish with two corn fritters, two sweet potato croquettes, two slices of fried tomato and the four pieces of crisp salt pork. – A. J. Fonk, Managing Director, Southern Hotel, Baltimore.

This recipe is again, more of a pan-frying method.  I like the addition of the salt pork.  It is a great way to test the heat of the oil as well as give it a little more flavor as well.  It also makes a delicious garnish.  This is served with hush puppies and fried tomatoes, which mean it may be more of a southern dish that was renamed in order to capitalize on the popularity of the Maryland Chicken dish.

Maryland Fried Chicken[5]



Cut young chicken into pieces and rub with salt, pepper and flour.  Fry in hot fat to half cover the chicken until right brown.  Serve with a cream gravy and waffles. – Albert H. McCarthy, Manager, Carvel Hall Hotel, Anne Arundel County.

This is a brief recipe which mentions not only the combination cooking method, but also the popular combination of chicken and waffles.

Chicken, Southern Maryland Style (My Mother’s Recipe)[6]



1:            Cut a frying chicken into serving pieces.  Put the neck and giblets into cold water.  Season with a little celery, onion, pepper and salt.  Cook to obtain a cup of stock for gravy.  Place a large piece of butter or chicken fat on a large skillet and when hot, drop in pieces of chicken that have been floured and seasoned with salt and pepper and brown quickly on both sides.  Reduce heat, add ½ cup water.  Let simmer slowly until done.  Remove lid and let fry down slowly.  Serve with creamed or stock gravy.  Remove chicken from pan.  Add 1 Tbsp. flour and 1 cup thin cream, or the stock.  Bring to boiling point, stirring constantly.  If desired, add a few button mushrooms.

2:            Chicken may also be seasoned with pepper, salt, and paprika to taste, browned in butter as above, covered and placed in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until done.

                                                                                Dello Jenkins Arnold

In this recipe we see the addition of water to the pan.  This is very dangerous, so if you attempt this dish let the pan cool and dip out some of the oil before adding the water.  This dish uses stock rather than heavy cream to make the gravy and is a lower calorie dish, but the oil should be removed from the pan before you add stock or water to it.

Poulet A La Maryland[7]



4 Chicken Breasts

3 Eggs

1 Teaspoon Water

2 Cups Very Dry Bread Crumbs

½ Pound Butter

4 Bananas

8 Thick Slices Grilled Bacon

Crisp Watercress

Crisp Corn Bread Sticks


                Have a butcher bone the chicken breasts, split them in half, and remove the first 2 wing bones, leaving the main wing bone.

                Put each breast between 2 sheets of waxed paper and pound thin with a flat side of a cleaver. 

                Lightly beat the eggs with the water.  Dip each halved breast in the eggs and then roll in the bread crumbs.  Place on a rack and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. 

                Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

                Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Remove from the heat and let stand for a few seconds.  Slowly and carefully pour equal amounts of the butter into 2 large skillets, leaving all the white sediment in the bottom of the saucepan.

                Heat the butter and carefully sauté 4 halved chicken breasts in each skillet over a low heat until the breasts are lightly browned on each side.

                Transfer the chicken breasts to a long, shallow baking dish.  Place in a preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, basting frequently with the butter from the skillets.

                Peel and cut the bananas in half 5 minutes before the chicken is ready to serve.  Reheat the remaining skillet butter and fry the bananas in it until lightly flecked with brown.

                Arrange chicken breasts and fried bananas on heated dishes.  Top each halved breast with a slice of bacon and pour a little skillet butter over them.  Garnish each plate with watercress and serve with corn bread sticks.

                Makes 8 servings.

                Note: The original recipe calls for 1 to 1 ½ pound whole broilers split and partially boned.  As such small broilers are rarely available in the general market, and few butchers are skilled at boning them, chicken breasts are the logical substitution. 


                Here we have the European version of the dish.  Bananas are one of the few foods that cannot be grown in the Mid-Atlantic region.  How they came to be associated with this dish is not clear, but fried bananas or better yet plantains or “tostones,” are a great addition.

Delmarvalous Fried Chicken[8]



1 (2 ½ Lb.) Chicken, Cut Up                                                         

¼ Tsp. Black Pepper

2 Eggs                                                                                                   

½ Tsp. Pepper

2 ½ Tsp. Salt                                                                                      

2 C. Ritz Crackers, Crushed

2 ½ Tsp. Celery Salt                                                                        

1 C. Wesson Oil


                Beat eggs; dip chicken in eggs.  Sprinkle with salt, celery salt, paprika, and pepper.  Roll in cracker crumbs.  Brown in Wesson oil in frying pan, turning frequently until done (approximately 35 minutes).  Serves 4.


A prime example of the industrial food movement, this recipe calls for Ritz crackers and a brand name oil.  Again, this is more of a pan-fried chicken rather than a Maryland chicken.  There is no mention of the sauce here and it shares little in common with the traditional dish.  It would be easier, as I mentioned before to brown the chicken in the skillet and then finish it in an oven.  The possibility of burning this, especially with the ritz crackers is very high, so if you choose to make this, try it in the oven.

Maryland Panfried Chicken[9]



1 Frying Chicken (3 to 4 Lbs.), Cut into cut into Serving Pieces




1 Qt. Buttermilk                                                                             

2 C. All Purpose Flour

1 Tsp. Salt                                                                                           

1 Tbsp. salt

1 Tsp. Chesapeake Seasoning                                                   

2 Tsp. Chesapeake Seasoning

½ Tsp. Cracked Black Pepper                                                     

1 Tsp. Freshly Ground Black Pepper

½ Tsp. Tabasco Sauce                                                                    

1 Tsp. Rubbed Sage

3 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and Cut in Half                                 

½ Tsp. Powdered Thyme

Juice of 1 Lemon                                                                             

½ Tsp. Cayenne Pepper


Vegetable Oil (and Lard, Optional, 3 parts Oil to 1 part Lard), for Frying

Cream Gravy for Accompaniment


                Place the chicken pieces in a shallow dish.  To prepare the marinade, pour the buttermilk in a bowl and add the Chesapeake seasoning, cracked black pepper, Tabasco, garlic, and lemon juice.  Mix well and pour the mixture over the chicken to cover.  Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight. 

                For the coating, put the flour in a bowl and add the salt, Chesapeake seasoning, ground pepper, sage, thyme, and cayenne.  Mix together well and transfer to a strong paper bag or large heavy duty plastic bag.  When ready to fry, remove the chicken in the bag of seasoned flour and shake to coat well.

                Pour vegetable oil into a cast iron skillet to the depth of about 1 ¼ inches.  Heat until very hot but not smoking.  Add the chicken and brown on both sides, turning frequently.  Do not crowd the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium and cover the skillet.  Cook the chicken, turning occasionally, for about 25 minutes.  Remove the chicken with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain.  Reserve the cooking fat.  Serve with cream gravy on the side. 

As much as I hate to admit it, John Shields has given us a great recipe for Southern fried chicken cooked Maryland style.  If you are a purist, then this dish is a fraud, but it will make a really good dish none the less.  There is nothing wrong with adding additional seasonings to the dish and changing it anyway you want.  I could even envision a version of this dish stuffed with Smithfield ham and fried like a cordon bleu.

You should never feel as though you have to be “true” to an authentic recipe, cooking should never be about limitations, but rather possibilities.  So experiment with this dish and the cooking method and see what serves you the best.

[1] Eat, drink & be merry in Maryland: Frederick Philip Stieff, john Hopkins University Press 1998

[2] Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1933

[3] Maryland and Virginia Cookbook: Charles H. Gibson of Ratcliffe Manor, Easton, Talbot County, Maryland.  John Murphy & Company 1894

[4] Eat, drink & be merry in Maryland: Frederick Philip Stieff, john Hopkins University Press 1998

[5] Eat, drink & be merry in Maryland: Frederick Philip Stieff, john Hopkins University Press 1998

[6] Treasured Recipes of Old St. Mary’s 1634 – 1959: compiled by the alumni of St. Mary’s Academy Leonardtown, Maryland: 1959

[7] The Newport Cookbook by Ceil Dyer: Hawthorn Books 1972

[8] Peninsula Pacemaker Cookbook: A Treasury of Recipes from Cookbooks Showcased in Delmarva’s Little Recipe Book during the past 20 years Compiled and edited by Suzanne Sheffield: Peninsula Pacemaker Magazine 1989

[9] Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields: John Shields 1998, Broadway Books

About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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5 Responses to Maryland Fried Chicken

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