Monday, May 18, 2009
A Tale of Two Chicken Dinners
So what day is more perfect for southern Fried Chicken than a Sunday? I guess this tradition got started way back in the day when homesteads were isolated and preachers traveled on a circuit, only showing up in a persons area once in awhile. The visit of the preacher meant dressing up in your finery and hearing a "real sermon". An occasion like this or any other important visitor would call for killing a chicken, for a dinner worthy of such a guest.
Things are a little more modern here, the preachers voices pours in from the TV on an early Sunday morning if one is so inclined and you don't have to go chase a chicken around the back yard, axe in hand, you can simply buy one already plucked in a bag. I am definitely living the right era!
Since Dee ( my "nickname" for DD -dear daughter) was recovering from dental surgery to remove impacted wisdom teeth, my cooking spree on this fine Sunday morning actually began as a way to make her a healing type soup that she could manage to eat without pain.
But standing there looking at that plump bird in a bag my mind kind of took off in a different direction. That was a lot of bird for soup! Besides, the Hub (DH) hates soup on hot days which is basically any day past March here.
So down the Sword of Damocles came! Really it was a kitchen knife but that doesn't sound near as dramatic and decisive does it? So with the now split in half bird I separated the thigh, leg, wing, breast etc...
Half the bird went into a pot of salted water with celery (the leafy tops included) an onion, peeled and left whole and 4 cloves of smashed garlic. The reason for leaving the veggies whole is so they are easier to fish out and discard later. This needed to simmer for two or three hours. After that amount of time, strain out bones and veggies. Add shredded meat back to broth. Add some chopped carrots and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add dumplings. Cover. Turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir gently to seperate dumplings and it is ready to serve. Easy peasy.
Fried chicken on the other hand, is not a dish that I like to make. Its messy. All that flour and grease seem to go everywhere but I was committed at this point. My usual "sides" would have been mashed potatoes with gravy and cole slaw. That is "traditional" right? Maybe its where I am at in my head right now but lately all things traditional bore me. I mean where did it all start, a particular "tradition"? Maybe it was just what someone had laying around on that day. And here the rest of us go following it for a 100 years. That is my current opinion on "tradition" but I digress...
Working off of that thought about what a person might just have had lying around becoming tradition, I decided to peruse the fridge and see what I had lying around. Since I hadn't really planned a fried chicken dinner and this was impulse cooking I didn't have even one measly potato or any cabbage to work with tradition wise. I did have some lovely tender asparagus spears whose original destiny was to be paired with fish. Well, said fish was in deep hibernation in the freezer and asparagus was on a different time clock and needed to be used and so the decision was made!
I also had some fresh yellow squash from Dilly's (my little darling daughter in laws) garden. Squash is always a good idea around here as long as there is bacon involved!
I decided that if bacon was going to be involved that the "in for a nickel in for a dime" rule might just as well apply. I threw 4 slices of bacon in a heavy cast iron skillet. A little bit of heaven for ones nose! After it was cooked most of the way I poured the bacon and its grease into a bowl, leaving just a sheen of bacon fat in my skillet.
While that was all taking place I prepped my asparagus in a way that I consider unique and all my own but which is probably a well known culinary rule, involving some kind of mysterious word like parboil or something . I start a small pan of water to boil. I rinse the asparagus stems while leaving one of the purple rubber bands ON the asparagus (this is part one of my brilliance) then stand the banded asparagus in the boiling pan of water for just a couple of minutes. Come to think of it the correct term for this might be blanch, although to me that sounds more like the character in "A Streetcar Named Desire than anything involving water and a vegetable, but I don't make the rules.
After a quick bit of time I turn the water off and the asparagus over so the tops are sitting in the hot water for a minute. Then I drain on a paper towel (resist your urge to cut that rubber band) now my little green spears are perfectly ready to pan grill. The sheen of bacon grease will add flavor but I add a drizzle of EEVO (you all do know that means olive oil, right? If not, just watch Rachel Ray for 15 seconds sometime...anytime) this will insure a nice browning of the asparagus.
Heat the skillet and (this is step two of my brilliant plan) lay your spears in the skillet and NOW you can cut the purple rubber band off. This leaves all your spears with the tips facing the same way.
Gently flatten the spears with your hand or the back of a pancake turner so they are all in contact with the bottom of your skillet and none are stacked on each other. Let them sizzle for a minute or two. You can use tongs to lift a test spear and see if the browning is like you want it. When it looks good, use your tongs to turn half the spears over. Then turn the other half. If some don't look ready to turn just skip them briefly. You will be able to tell which ones need more time because they will now be facing in the opposite direction of the ones you already turned. This is not just wonderfully appealing to the OCD side of me it is also a very handy way to get a uniform look without overcooking such a delicate and tender vegetable. This whole grilling process took longer to type out than it will take you to do. Try it sometime if you want crispy/tender asparagus instead of one of the "mushier" types of preparation.
Time for the squash. Yellow squash is so easy it can make any cook look good. Throw in onions and the rest of the bacon and drippings in the bowl and it takes care of itself.
Now when it comes to that chicken, the star of our show, I have a confession. Not only do I hate frying chicken, it never turns out well. It isn't crispy enough. The last pieces burn and it is always either over done or undercooked. But today in the spirit of adventure, I am trying something new. While the other food has been cooking I put the cut up chicken pieces one by one in a bowl in the micro for a minute to 90 seconds, depending on their size and thickness. All except the wing, poor little thing, I just left it like it was. My goal here was to not have to depend on figuring out when that darn chicken is actually done. By partially cooking it my hope is that when it is coated and fried crispy on the outside - the inside will be just right too.
When I first moved to the deep country of the south and began learning all the "country ways" of cooking, I must admit I really tried with chicken. I have tried all the "tricks". I tried soaking it in milk. I tried milk plus vinegar. I tried the two dipping's of milk then flour then milk then flour again......
well today I stumbled on a trick that like most good ideas, was born out of necessity. While it breaks with all tradition to fry chicken when you know full well there isn't a potato on the premises to serve as a side, it is downright immoral to begin to fry chicken when you are (gasp) out of garlic powder!!! While most well bred southern women are a little afraid of real cloves of garlic and use them gingerly (and never more than one at a time) they are in love with their garlic powder and it is found in all self respecting recipes under the general term "seasonings". While I had the rest of the good stuff that makes fried chicken edible I did not have the star of the cast...garlic powder. So what to do???
Feeling something of a rebel ( fortunately for me, I DO keep fresh cloves of garlic) I decided to make my own seasoning. While everything else simmered and bubbled I ran 4 cloves of fresh garlic through my garlic press (the most wonderful tool you can own in a kitchen) and added it with some oil to a pan. I turned it as low as possible and just let it heat for about 15 minutes. After just that brief amount of time I had a wonderful infusion of aromatic garlicky oil.
I used that instead of milk, instead of milk with vinegar etc etc etc.. to dip my chicken pieces in. Then the flour. I made one more big break with convention here too. I didn't dump all my other spices into the flour. I was on a quest to see if I could not serve burnt on the outside raw on the inside chicken and I was deeply suspicious that spices (being that they are powdered) might be what was contributing to my burning problem. So the flour was just that, flour. I imagine good southern cooks everywhere turning over in their graves. No garlic powder! No milk with vinegar! No seasoned flour!
I felt totally on my own but I was too far gone to turn back now. I dropped my experimental semi southerly legal pieces of fowl into the hot oil. Because I had semi cooked them I didn't have to do the brown it, turn it, now turn it again nonsense of my previous chicken frying days. As a side benefit there was no giant popping explosions of fat and grease either. I think that must have all happened earlier in the microwave which has a door which closes instead of while my face was hanging over a hot skillet.
One quick quarter turn for each piece to brown and out of the skillet where I had my spices waiting to sprinkle on. I used a mixture of salt, pepper, paprika and sage. The spices clung to the hot chicken and dissolved leaving a nice paprika red tint that was gorgeous. I have never used the word gorgeous in connection with my fried chicken ever in my life before. Not only did it look good it was tasty and incredibly tender and juicy.
Move over KFC!
Posted by Indie at 12:19 PM