Is The Most Secret of All Recipes To Be Found in a Bottle?

Let me tell you a little story. It’s about a salty old fellow who owned a motel for many years. In this motel he served food to travellers to make a little extra money. One of the things he cooked was fried chicken. He cooked it in a pressure cooker, with a special seasoned breading of his own invention. Eventually, they moved the highway and he went out of business. So he went around selling the chicken recipe to people who owned diners. They used his name, his seasoning mix, and gave him a nickel for every chicken they sold. There was no contract. It was a handshake deal. The man’s name was Harland Sanders. The seasoning mix had eleven herbs and spices. You know the rest.

What you don’t know, and what I don’t know, is what those eleven herbs and spices are. Writing a book about Colonel Sanders, I’ve had occasion to read every effort to figure out the spice mixture. A man named Ron Douglas claimed to have figured it out, and wrote a book with what he claimed was the recipe. I made it. It isn’t the recipe. A group of obsessive crackpots in Australia have been working for years to “crack the code” of the eleven herbs and spices. They haven’t done it yet. But they have done the next best thing.

They discovered Marion-Kay’s 99X poultry seasoning.

Now, I’m not saying that 99X is the true Original Recipe, 11 herbs and spices and all. They do; but I don’t believe it. For one thing, I made fried chicken with it the other night, and it didn’t taste like the Original Recipe I eat almost daily at KFC. For another, no one, not even the CEO of KFC, knows the secret recipe, which is kept in a vault so secure that even the Mission: Impossible team couldn’t get into it. But there’s no doubt that Marion-Kay had the blessing and even direction of Colonel Sanders. He had them make his seasoning for Canadian KFC, and personally approved of the seasoning they produced. Is the seasoning now sold as 99X that same seasoning? KFC feels very strongly that it isn’t, as evidenced by a lawsuit brought against the company some years ago. The Australians have taken great pains to break down the contents of 99X, and have isolated ten of its eleven ingredients. The eleventh may or may not be cloves. There’s a lot of MSG, and a lot of something called “fine flake salt” that you also have to get from the Marion Kay company.

I will say this. If you make fried chicken with 99X seasoning, use the right proportions, as detailed here. If you don’t, you won’t be able to judge for yourself whether the greatest culinary enigma in American history has its answer in a $15 bottle of poultry seasoning available on the internet.

And by the way? If you want to honor the Colonel, make some pan gravy afterwards. That’s what he would have wanted, whether 99X is the real thing or not.

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