What Puts Maryland Fried Chicken In A Class Of Its Own

Fried chicken is classic American comfort food. Whether it's paired up with macaroni and cheese or buttermilk biscuits, there's nothing like digging into a crispy, juicy, and tender piece of golden fried bird. Like most classic American comfort foods, it's not too uncommon to find different variations of fried chicken from region to region. You may be familiar with "Southern" fried chicken, which not only has roots in the American South but also in British cooking around the 1700s (via First We Feast).

One such variation of this classic dish is Maryland fried chicken. According to Preservation Maryland, the history of Maryland fried chicken (or as Preservation Maryland refers to it, "chicken a la Maryland") dates back to as early as 1886, with the recipe only becoming widespread after being published in a cookbook in 1934. What exactly makes Maryland fried chicken different? In short, Maryland fried chicken is simply fried chicken with gravy.

While this may sound rather run-of-the-mill at first, considering that well-established chicken kingpin Kentucky Fried Chicken serves gravy with its chicken dishes, the truth is that Maryland fried chicken actually is a bit more in-depth than just tossing chicken in a fryer and serving the pieces alongside gravy. What is it, then, that makes Maryland fried chicken, or "MFC" if you'll allow it, so unique that it deserves its own place in the world of American fried foods? The answer lies not just in its unique cooking process, but in the bird's unconventional garnish as well.

Maryland fried chicken is pan-fried with gravy

In most fried chicken recipes, you're typically told that you're going to have to drop your chicken pieces into a pot of ripping hot oil and fry them until golden brown. In all fairness, this is a perfectly good method that is the standard for your fried chicken needs. Maryland fried chicken, on the other hand, is somewhat different in how it's prepared.

According to Serious Eats' recipe for Maryland fried chicken, the dish is something of a cross between "chicken-fried chicken" and Southern fried chicken. This is because the pieces are dredged in breading and then fried in a shallow cast-iron skillet of oil rather than being dunked into a massive pot of oil or lard. The pan is then covered partway through the frying process to prevent heat from escaping, thus allowing the chicken to not only fry but steam as well. Once the chicken is finished frying and fully browned on all sides, most of the grease is drained off with the rest being combined with flour and milk (or cream) to create a thick white gravy that is poured onto the finished chicken. 

It is this addition of white gravy that gives Maryland fried chicken that signature "chicken-fried chicken" taste (via Cooking with Paula Deen), though, unlike chicken-fried chicken, Maryland fried chicken uses a seasoned flour coating that an egg-based coating. The brief steaming process also helps make the chicken juicier, rather than drying out in the hot oil.

Is Maryland fried chicken served with bananas?

Bananas? That may draw you back a bit. "I could understand white gravy and steaming fried chicken," you may be saying, "but who in their right mind puts bananas on chicken?" In some versions of Maryland fried chicken, you should expect to see this yellow fruit gracing the top of your cream gravy and poultry.

According to Visit Maryland, bananas were actually one of Baltimore's top imports as far back as the 1950s. The Baltimore Sun even reports that, in 2012, Baltimore was still a "Top Banana city," thanks to the unusually large amount of banana-loving citizens. It is because of Baltimore going bananas for bananas that these fruits began to find their way into different foods and drinks in the city over time. One way or another, someone had the idea to top their Maryland fried chicken or "Chicken Maryland" with slices of banana.

While bananas, gravy, and fried chicken might admittedly be something you thought you'd never see together, is it really that bad? Can't knock it until you try it, as they say. Forks and Vines describes the addition of sauteed bananas to Maryland fried chicken as being a surprisingly good combination, even noting that certain herbs like thyme, coriander, and dill that can be added to the chicken compliment the taste of the bananas.

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that Chicken Maryland, presumably with bananas, was served on the dinner menu of the RMS Titanic!