People have been frying all sorts of foods (meat, bread, vegetables) since ancient times. This fuel-efficient cooking method had several advantages, one of which was portability. Dredging meat with flour and spices before cooking tenderized the item and enhanced its flavor. Medieval European cooks built on this concept, creating fricassee. Fricassee is not fried, but simmered in butter and served with creamy sauce. In the United States, fried chicken is traditionally considered a Southern dish. Maryland-style fried chicken is traditionally served with gravy, reminiscent of fricassee. Chicken is a global food; recipes vary according to time, culture and cuisine.
What's the difference between fried and deep fried?
The trouble with researching the history of deep fried food (items cooked by total immersion in fat) is the term. Webster's New Unabridged Dictionary traces the term "deep fry" in print only to the 1930s. Prior to that, evidence regarding deep frying must be culled from a careful examination of instructions provided in cooking texts. References to boiling lard and notes on draining sometimes indicate the item was to be deep fried.
Food historians tell us one of the first foods known to be deep fried are fritters. Apicius provides recipes for sweet and savory fritters in his ancient Roman cooking text. Unfortunately, he does not describe in detail the method used for cooking them. This is not uncommon in early texts; it was assumed the cook already possessed this knowledge. Medieval texts contain a wide selection of fritter recipes. The Dutch were are said to have perfected this recipe, expanding it to crullers and doughnuts. Culinary evidence confirms these items were "deep fried."
Mrs. D. A. Lincoln in her Boston Cooking School Cook Book  provides detailed instructions for deep frying, although she does not use that term. Her notes on frying.
Karen Hess' definative historic notes on fricassee and fried chicken can be found in her transcription of Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, [Columbia University Press:New York] 1981 (p. 40-44).
ABOUT SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN
"Southern fried chicken
Chicken parts that are floured or battered and then fried in hot fat. The term southern fried' first appeared in print in 1925...Southerners were not the first people in the world to fry chickens, of course. Almost every country has its own version, from Vietnam's Ga Xao to Italy's pollo fritto and Austria's Weiner Backhendl, and numerous fricassees fill the cookbooks of Europe. And fried chicken did not become particularly popular in the northern United States until well into the nineteenth century...The Scottish, who enjoyed frying their chickens rather than boiling or baking them as the English did, may have brought the method with them when they settled the South. The efficient and simple cooking process was very well adapted to the plantation life of the southern African-American slaves, who were often allowed to raise their own chickens. The idea of making a sauce to go with fried chicken must have occurred early on, at least in Maryland, where such a match came to be known as "Maryland fried chicken." By 1878 a dish by this name was listed on the menu of the Grand Union hotel in Saratoga, New York..."
---The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 305-6)
[NOTE: this book has much more information than can be paraphrased here. Ask your librarian to help you find a copy]
"Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century descriptions of colonial foodways ignored the chicken for the most part. In the earliest manuscripts to enter America there are, of course, chicken recipes for roasts, stews, and pies, and none other than Governor William Byrd II was dining on the iconic southern dish of fried chicken at his Virginia plantation by 1709..." ---Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith editor [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2004, Volume 1 (p. 226)
Recipes through time
PULLUM FRONTONIANUM (Chicken a la Fronto)
(Apicius. 6, 9, 13)
1 fresh chicken (approx. 1-1.5kg)
200ml Liquamen, or 200ml wine + 2 tsp salt
1 branch of leek
fresh dill, Saturei, coriander, pepper to taste
a little bit of Defritum
Start to fry chicken and season with a mixture of Liquamen and oil, together with bunches of dill, leek, Saturei and fresh coriander. Then cook approximately 1 hour with 220 deg C in the oven. When the chicken is done, moisten a plate with Defritum, put chicken on it, sprinkle pepper on it, and serve.
"To Fry Chicken
Take your chickens and let them boil in very good sweet broth a pretty while. Take the chickens out and quarter them out in pieces. Then put them into a frying pan with sweet butter, and let them stew in the pan. But you must not let them be brown with frying. They put out the butter out of the pan, and then take a little sweet broth, and as much verjuice, and the yolks of two eggs and beat them together. Put in a little nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper into the sauce. Then put them all into the pan to the chickens, and stir them together in the pan. Put them into a dish and serve them up."
---The Good Housewife's Jewel, Thomas Dawson, 1596, with an introduction by Maggie Black [Southover Press:East Sussex] 1996 (p. 41)
After they are dressed, cut into peeces and well washed, boile them in good broth, and when they are almost sodden drain them, and fry them. After five or six turns, season them with salt and good herbs, as parsely, chibols, &c. Allay some yolks of eggs for to thicken the sauce, and serve."
---The French Cook, Francoise Pierre, La Varenne, Englished by I.D.G. 1653, Introduced by Philip and Mary Hyman [Southover Press:East Sussex] 2001 (p. 52)
"Fricassee of Small Chickens
Take off the legs and wings of four chickens, separate the breasts from the backs, cut off the necks and divide the backs across, clean the gizzards nicely, put them with the livers and other parts of the chicken, after being washed clean, into a sauce pan, add pepper, salt, and a little mace, cover them with water, and stew them till tender, then take them out, thicken half a pint of the water with two table spoonsful of flour rubbed into four ounces of butter, add half a pint of new milk, boil all together a few minutes, then add a gill of white wine, stirruing it in carefully that it may not curdle, put the chickens in and continue to shake the pan until they are sufficiently hot, and serve them up.
Cut them up as for the fricassee, dredge them well with flour, sprinkle them with salt, put them into a good quantity of boiling lard, and fry them a light brown, fry them a light brown, fry small pieces of mush and a quantity of parsley nicely picked to be served in the dish with the chickens, take half a pint of rich milk, add to it a small bit of butter with pepper, salt, and chopped parsley, stew it a little, and pour it over the chickens, and then garnish with the fried parsley."
---The Virginia House-Wife, Mary Randolph, Facsimile 1824 edition with historical notes and commentaries by Karen Hess [University of South Carolina:Columbia] 1984 (p. 252-3)
Cut the chicken up, separating every joint, and wash clean. Salt and pepper it, and roll into flour well. Have your fat very hot, and drop the pieces into it, and let them cook brown. The chicken is done when the fork passes easily into it. After the chicken is all cooked, leave a little of the hot fat in the skillet; then take a tablespoonful of dry flour and brown it in the fat, stirring it around, then pour water in and stir till the gravy is as thin as soup."
---What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Abby Fisher, In Facsimile (1881) with historical notes by Karen Hess [Applewood Books:Bedford MA] 1995 (p. 20)
[NOTE: This book is considered to be the first published cook book written by an African American.]
Prepare young chicken and sprinkle with salt and lay on ice 12 hours before cooking. Cut the chicken in pieces and dredge with flour and drop in hot boiling lard and butter--equal parts--salt and pepper, and cover tightly and cook rather slowly--if it cooks too quickly it will burn. Cook both sides to a rich brown. Remove chicken and make a gravy by adding milk, flour, butter, salt, and pepper. Cook till thick, and serve in separate bowl."
---The Blude Grass Cook Book, compiled by Minnie C. Fox, facsimile reprint 1904 edition [University Of Kentucky Press:Lexington KY] 2005 (p. 88)
Old Fashioned Fried Chicken-Maryland Style
Put an ounce of butter in a frying pan, and add four slices of lean salt pork dipped in flour; when turned to a golden color take off the salt pork, add two and a half pounds of chicken disjointed, also dipped in milk and flour. Fry until cooked. Take off chicken, drain fat from frying pan, pour in a cup of light cream and milk, reduce to half and add one cup of light cream sauce, boil a few minutes, strain over chicken sprinkled with chopped chives and parsley, garnish with two corn fritters, two sweet potato croquettes, two slices fried tomato and the four pieces of crisp salt pork.--A.J. Fink, Managing Director, Southern Hotel, Baltimore"
---Eat, Drink and be Merry in Maryland, Frederick Philip Steiff [G.P. Putnam's Sons:New York] 1932 (p. 86)