Marie’s Freedom Station and Crispy BBQ Chicken Thighs

Marie’s Freedom Tire Shop

Marie, in her sixties, ran Freedom’s Tire Shop in Freedom Indiana. It had been years since anyone bought tires but they kept coming for the gasoline. The station sat at the edge of town across the street from the only grocery. Marie’s husband had been dead 15 years when I met her in the late 1980’s. Her only source of income had been her husband and his business. When he died she decided she would run the gas station and each day, with walking stick in hand, she would walk to work. She had never had possession of a drivers license nor did she want too.

When I came upon the place I couldn’t for the life of me decide if it had been abandoned or not. Regardless of the disarray I had to try because I needed gas. Marie ran a full service station and as I opened up my door to get out to fuel up she was already at the pump. At 21 years old seeing a lady her age fill my tank was embarrassing but Marie would have it no other way, rain or shine.

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I came back to the station many times. At some point I started hanging around and taking pictures because somewhere in the back of my mind I knew a photo essay was at hand. Each morning a group of older men would congregate at the station for coffee, paying no heed to the thick smell of kerosine eschewing from the heater—they came to gossip. Sitting on an old school bus seat or a wooden picnic bench over by the window the stories got deep. The kind of stories for which it is best to keep your boots on. Marie sat in the lone porch seat facing the pumps so she could keep an eye out for customers. As the morning wore on, one by one the men would leave and by lunch Marie had the place to herself. I think she liked it best.

One day she started to feed me by bringing extra lunch and offering me the excess. I am pretty sure it made her feel bad to eat in front of me so to make things easy she just fed me. During a quite conversation one afternoon it came to light that this Hoosier boy had never eaten persimmon pudding. She she lit up. After I said it I sort of wished I hadn’t because I knew she would need to rectify this situation and she did. She invited me into her home for dinner.

Her white clapboard house was anything but fancy and I would never have expected it to be. The pot belly stove which sat in the corner of her living room radiated the same enveloping warmth as Marie. It wasn’t clean by any stretch of the imagination but it wasn’t dirty either. It was easy to feel comfortable in her house.

Marie’s food was simple but nevertheless delicious. I’d bet she cooked this meal many times in her life, enough that she had perfected it anyway, the skin of the thighs crispy with barbecue sauce and braised until tender, green beans silky from fat and soft by overcooking but heavy with the smoke of country cured bacon, and potatoes fried until the edges are brown and crunchy. Honestly, Marie’s chicken and persimmon pudding are really the only recipes one could ever need.

Marie’s Cast Iron Barbecued Crispy Chicken Thighs (Makes 4 servings)

8 (5-oz.) skin-on chicken thighs
1 cup Stubbs barbecue sauce or sauce of choice
1/4 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Lots of green onion

1. Season the thighs with salt and black pepper on all sides. Set the chicken aside while the salt absorbs into the skin and flesh.
2. Heat the oven to 400˚F.
3. Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, it will shimmer and shake. Add chicken thighs skin side down. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté thighs until crispy and dark brown on both sides, about 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Remove the thighs from the pan. Drain fat from the pan into a heat proof container. Place the skillet back onto the stove and deglaze the pan with chicken stock. Let the stock reduce to 1 tablespoon. Add barbecue sauce and let it reduce to [3/4] cup.
5. Nestle the thighs into the sauce being careful not to submerge them. Place them into the oven and bake until cooked through, tender, and the sauce has become sticky, 15 minutes. Top with lots of green onion and serve.

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