Posts Tagged ‘Recipes’

Chicken Obsession


Fried Chicken from Ad Hoc

One of my favorite traditions growing up was my Mother preparing our “favorite foods” for dinner on the occasion of our birthdays. Mine was predictable, and did not vary, at least in my memory, from year to year; fried chicken and artichokes with melted butter. Fried chicken remains one of my favorite comfort foods, and I have run the gamut from KFC Crispy Strips to Hooters wings and nearly everything in between. Fried chicken is one of those situational foods that seem to taste best under specific circumstances. For example, Hooters medium-hot wings somehow tasted the very best when enjoyed somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, usually in the company of a large group of loud and rowdy sports fans. Attempts to recreate this taste sensation at home fall short, no matter how accurate the recipe.
Of late, I have been in hot pursuit of the perfect recipe for fried chicken, reprising all the childhood memories of those special dinners. I have tried the “secret” combination of herbs and spices, ostensibly a la KFC, via the Internet, and derived from a package of Italian dressing mix combined with a package of tomato soup mix. I have tried Martha Stewart’s recommendations, which included an overnight soak in buttermilk and a four part dipping process with a half-hour drying period in the refrigerator. I ponder the ability of most home cooks to find the space for a full sheet pan of breaded chicken parts set on racks in a single layer in order to achieve the most succulent adhesion of breading to chicken skin. I must honestly note, that this breading, though so crisp it shattered to the touch, did not magically adhere to the skin, and in fact left the skin flaccid and soggy beneath the crunchy coating. Next, I went over current and back issues of Cook’s Illustrated, searching for Christopher Kimball’s infinite wisdom on this particular piece of Americana. This time, a complex brine was called for, extending the preparation time by an additional two days; one to prepare the brine and let its seasonings meld, and the second for brining the chicken pieces themselves. Again, this was followed by dipping in seasoned flour, again in beaten egg, and finally in a breading mixture of flour, panko and seasonings. This chicken, though delicious, was some how wrong, I believe as a result of the recipe’s complexity. I cannot begin to imagine a farm wife whipping up this little specialty after a long day’s work, especially if slaughtering and cleaning the chicken itself was also on the agenda.
Finally, I found the much publicized and printed recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, recently featured in Bon Appetit magazine. Equal in complexity to Kimball’s recipe, it included brining, using both egg and buttermilk in the process, not to mention a myriad of spices I seldom attribute to fried chicken, including Spanish smoked pimenton and nutmeg.  This chicken also had to “rest” before frying, of course in the thermal safety of the refrigerator, lest a stray bacterium ruin the entire experience. After frying, eating, and the two hours it took to wash all of the bowls, pans, and utensils and wipe the remains of the breading off of every surface in the kitchen, I was still left strangely dissatisfied. I actually considered my original place-based premise, and momentarily plotted a path to the restaurant itself. However, after careful research, this plan was discarded, as the name “Ad Hoc” implies; there was no set schedule as to when the chicken would even be on the menu!
I got a little closer to the results I was looking for when I tried a recipe for buffalo chicken fingers from Cooking Light. By using boneless and skinless chicken tenders, the entire skin issue was eliminated. The strips were marinated for an hour in a mixture of buttermilk and Tabasco sauce, and then dipped once in the breading. Salt and pepper were the only savory enhancements. Lo and behold, the chicken was crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, just spicy enough to make you want more, and tasted unequivocally of the chicken itself, rather than the seasonings. This recipe was manageable on a weeknight, though not necessarily historic.
Finally, I succumbed to nostalgia and produced the closest replica that I could of my mother’s fried chicken. Instead of using buttermilk, she dredged each piece of skin-on chicken in a mixture of Bisquick and Lawry’s seasoned salt mixed together in a plastic bag. This made it easy to shake the pieces in the breading before transferring directly to a pan full of bubbling peanut oil. The chicken pieces were fried until crisp and browned on both sides. The leg and thigh pieces were cooked first, so that they could finish cooking through in the warming oven while the wings and boned-out breast pieces cooked. The fat was drained off the crispy bits of breading in the bottom of the pan, and flour was added to make a roux. Milk was then stirred in to finish the gravy, which was served on the side over buttery mashed potatoes. Accompanied by the traditional steamed artichoke with melted butter, this meal satisfied every craving that had been plaguing me throughout the process.
And the truth at the heart of this chicken obsession? The best fried chicken is the one that reminds you of those special nights at home surrounded by special people. It was not about gourmet seasonings, nor complex recipes, nor the perfect means of manipulating the flavors and textures of this seemingly simple dish. It was mostly about the authenticity of the foods we have come to love over the years, and the people who prepared and shared them.


Post by Julia Conway on June 28th, 2009

The Olive Harvest


Last week, auspiciously, on the first day of real frost, we began picking the olives at the home ranch in the Anderson Valley. A crew of eight or ten arrived promptly at 7:00AM, meeting my partner with the trailer and the big wooden bins. The grass crunches under our feet as we proceed to the upper field. Most of the heavily-laden trees are in the lower field, but less exposed to the shriveling frost. The cold temperatures do little to the trees themselves, but the fruit is another story entirely. If a ripe olive freezes through, the outer skin puckers and it appears dried out and wrinkled. With its higher oil content, the pulp remains reasonably intact within the skin, with no degradation to the flavor of the oil. Unfortunately, this season’s unpredictable weather patterns meant that much of the fruit is still green, higher in water than oil, and susceptible to frost damage. It would be critical to get all of the fruit off of the exposed trees as quickly as possible. The pickers take on the small trees in pairs, the foggy clouds of their breath echo with sounds of laughter and the field blend of English and Spanish often heard in the vineyard.
The sun begins to warm our hands around ten, but we do not finish this field until the midday break. Hand picking is laborious work, and we move to the south field after lunch. Many of the Mission olives are already showing the discolorations from the frost, and we move quickly, using small plastic rakes and tarps to strip the more heavily laden trees of their fruit. The first of the 1100 pound bins fills; all shapes and sizes of fruit, the colors ranging from bright lime green to dark winy purple to almost black. We end the day around five, with a round of sodas, chips, salsa and chicharrones, pork rinds deep fried in their own lard, a by-product of the rendering process and a favorite snack of the crew.
The picking resumes the next morning, and, luckily, the temperature is about five degrees warmer, just enough, according to my partner, to keep the remainder of the green olives from spoiling before they are pressed. He and I take on all of the small trees, carefully stripping them of all their fruit. By early afternoon, all of the fruit is in, and we have almost filled two of the four large bins. The crew departs, delighted to be finished early, as many of them are preparing to travel south to Mexico for their annual family holiday visits. My partner and I caravan over the mountain to the press, and the second part of the annual process.
As it was last year, the press building is bone-chilling cold, the late afternoon sun already behind the ridge. We have almost a ton of olives, and they are weighed, washed, and carried up the conveyor to the press. As if by magic, a few hours later, the brilliant green stream of oil begins to dribble from the final separator. We place a plastic cup under it, and then stand in a circle, sipping the pungent new oil. The predominant flavors are those of leaves and grass, with a strong, underlying bitterness. There is little evidence of fruitiness, and we will have to once again blend this oil with those of other producers in warmer climates, where the olives ripen more fully. As we prepare to part ways, the big drum of oil is loaded on my partner’s truck, the bins are once again strapped down on the trailer, and he begins the long drive back to his ranch in the Sierra foothills. I securely belt down my gallon bottle of the new oil for the trip back to the coast, and for another year, this ancient process is completed. The annual cycle of the farm comes to a close as the crop is gathered in. The short days herald the season of dormancy for the trees, and I head home to a warm fire and a bowl of winter vegetable soup, drizzled with the new oil.
Zuppa Frantoiana (Tuscan Olive Mill Soup)
1 ½ cup dried shell beans, soaked overnight (cranberry beans are traditional)
1 medium carrot, cut in chunks
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 stalk celery, cut in chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 bunch cavolo nero (lacinato or dinosaur kale)
1 medium yellow potato, peeled and cubed
1 winter squash of pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 medium carrot, cut in large cubes
½ teaspoon crushed fennel seed and/or fennel pollen
6-8 slices rustic bread
1 large clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
New olive oil (olio nuovo)
Drain the beans and place them in your soup pot with about 3 cups water to cover, the first carrot, onion and celery. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered; at a bare simmer until the beans are tender (you can use a crock pot for this step). The time will depend on age and size of the beans, but will be around one hour.
Once the beans are tender, remove and set aside about ½ cups of the whole beans. Put the remaining beans and vegetables, together with any cooking liquid, through your food mill and return to the rinsed-out pot. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
In a saucepan, gently sauté the chopped garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil; when the garlic is softened but not browned, add to the pureed beans, along with the oil in the pan. Strip the tough center ribs from the kale, and coarsely chop the leaves. Add the kale, cubed potato, squash or pumpkin, and second carrot to the pot. Again bring to a simmer, and cook gently, covered, until the vegetables are tender, then stir in the fennel seed and/or pollen, the reserved whole beans, and additional salt and pepper if you wish.
Toast the bread slices, and rub with the cut garlic. When ready to serve, drizzle a liberal splash of new oil over the one side of each bread slice, and place in the bottom of your individual soup plates. Spoon the hot soup over the bread, and add another dollop of new oil to the center of each serving without stirring it in.  Serve immediately.
Post by Julia Conway on December 17th, 2008