top of page

Till We Eat Again: Got Chicken?

This article first appeared in the December 2023/January 2024 issue of eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI magazine.

By Jay Reed 

till we eat again chicken

Twelve short years ago I wrote my very first “Till We Eat Again” column in this magazine. That issue was delivered at the same time of year (the hap-happiest season of all), and in it I talked about the unique mains my family eats for Christmas dinner: fried chicken and homemade ice cream. Sides vary. I won’t take the time to re-hash the whole scenario and backstory but suffice it to say that once we crossed that road with chicken in hand (now you know how it got to the other side), we have never wavered.   


In the early days, I was living under the assumption that everybody else had turkey and dressing on Christmas Day - more or less Thanksgiving 2.0. And a lot of people did. Still do. Since then I’ve learned that Christmas meals show a lot more diversity than I realized. Some folks are tired of turkey but not quite ready for ham.  I’ve heard more than one discussion about prime rib. Ditto tamales: they take a village to make, and the holiday season is when the village comes home. Some have steaks. It’s definitely easier to grill steaks outside when you can wear shorts on Christmas Day and that white you see is not snow, it’s the glare from my pale, sun-forsaken legs. 


Bottom line: customs of Christmas chow depend on families, cultures, location, and in our case, the fact that I got sick one Christmas morning and we couldn’t go to Granny’s house as planned. Plan B turned out to be fried chicken and from then on it has been Plan A. Until it wasn’t.

Related Recipe: Whole Roasted Chicken


Once marriage and in-laws came into the picture, plans changed. In our situation, I didn’t get the full chicken dinner on Christmas day if we were spending it with my wife’s family, but my mother would still call my in-laws and ask if they could arrange just one piece of fried bird (not turkey) for her eldest son. Then we moved overseas, and things got even more interesting.   


Perhaps the most interesting part of that story is how the script got flipped. We lived in Yemen for the better part of ten years, and for at least the first half of our time there turkeys were almost impossible to come by. No turkeys for Thanksgiving, no turkeys for Christmas.  Lots of little frozen chickens from France were in the grocery stores, so we had make-believe turkeys. (Maybe Santa’s elves were involved?) Also, there were no bags of self-rising corn meal to make the cornbread that would metamorphose into dressing. But it was easy enough to find a place to get corn ground into meal - just look for the dude covered in flour. With a little experimentation and enough expatriated Southern ladies guiding the work of the man in white, we could get it ground to a size Martha White would approve of.   


Beyond that, all the other sides were a bonus. We couldn’t get pork, so if we wanted bacon-wrapped green bean bundles (and we did), we had to think ahead and bring the pre-cooked, no-refrigeration-required bacon strips back from the USA in our suitcases. Corn casserole (aka souffle’ or pudding) was doable if you brought a Jiffy corn muffin mix back in that same suitcase.   


We also got to experience holiday foods from other countries thanks to our friendships with expatriates from around the world. I was not food-savvy enough back then to record what we ate and to ask a lot of questions about ingredients, whether it was an international dish or a local plate, and that drives me crazy with regret. But I do remember holiday potlucks that included Filipino, Russian, Indian, and Dutch dishes. Sometimes even British and Texan.   


Yes, I did get my fried chicken most of the time; that’s the B side of the aforementioned flip, and the B stands for “broast.” That’s what they called fried chicken in Yemen. I have no idea how that term developed linguistically. It was not braised, nor was it roasted - it was most definitely fried. And unless the broast place was closed for some reason on the day Christmas fell, I usually found a way to procure at least a drumstick.  And when Mama called, I could tell her I had kept up the tradition.   


bottom of page