When I heard that New Orleans is home to the best fried chicken in United States, I vowed to gain at least 10lbs in my quest to consume this so-called "equivalent-to-experiencing-euphoria-on-earth" chicken.
Recognized by the James Beard Foundation and dubbed by Bon Appetit magazine, the Washington Post, and thousands of New Orleans locals as serving the "best" fried chicken in America, Willie Mae's Scotch House is a beacon for the people of New Orleans. Willie Mae's Scotch House was devastated in the Hurricane Katrina, but with the help of dedicated volunteers , the restaurant has recently reemerged with newfound vitality and vigor. However, if it hadn't been for the donations and the generous assistance of volunteers (many of whom were loyal customers), the famed New Orleans eatery would likely have ended.
Before coming to New Orleans, I knew of a Willie May who played for the San Francisco Giants, but I didn't know the Willie Mae who made fried chicken. I am glad that I do now. Willie Mae Seaton founded the legendary soul food outpost in New Orleans in the 1950s and has maintained or overseen the family-run business till today. Now, in her early nineties, she is one of the most lovingly regarded individuals in the New Orleans community, not only because of her welcoming and gracious demeanor, but also because of her uncanny ability to cook up unbelievably good-tasting food.
Her simplified, no-frills menu offers the staple soul food items. Although there wasn't even a menu when I was there, but the waitress adeptly communicated the restaurant's offerings via word of mouth. Based on the offerings, my dining companion and I ordered white rice, shredded green beans, and butter beans to accompany our fried chicken.
At Willie Mae's, each side worked in tandem with one another. The fork-fluffed grains of white rice acted as perfect sponges to sop up the warm and hearty gravy exuded by the slow-cooked butter beans. And the shredded green beans were just as I like them, cooked for a long duration of time until limp and slightly yellowed, but flavorful and tender to the bite.
In appearance, butter beans are shaped like a flattened, pressed bean, with a structure akin to a lima bean, but beans are the color and consistency of a rich seafood bisque.
But, as to be expected, the chicken took center stage. One nibble of the crackly fried batter cloaking the chicken, and I understood that the fried chicken is "hella" good. And the gorgeous appearance of the chicken correlates with the unreal taste. When I closely inspected my thigh piece, I was amazed by the intricate patterns the batter made when it solidified in the bubbling oil. The golden-fried chicken skin had formed into gnarled, paisley-patterned wisps, and was crunchier than a bubbly pork rind. Each battered nib that I picked off of the hot chicken piece packed a full-bodied, spicy bite, and thus channeled the classic "heat" unique to the bayou. Furthermore, the chicken flesh hidden snugly wrapped within the crackly skin exterior was tender, supple, and literally exploding with juices and flavor.
At Willie Mae's, there is nothing to debunk as unceremonious hype--Willie Mae's recognition for serving the "best" fried chicken in the United States is well-deserved. In San Francisco, the cuisine is provocative, edgy, and innovative. In New Orleans, the cuisine is soothing, generous, and homey. Thanks to people and time-honored institutions like Willie Mae's, I hope it will remain that way.