Fried & True

When I was in grad school, vacation was a non-issue. Every 10 weeks, a quarter would pass us by and we’d be off for a bit – free to cause trouble in the big city, take a real vacation (as if one could afford that in grad school), or head back ‘home’. For most of my time in grad school, I was juggling gettin’ my learn on with planning a wedding that was to take place in North Carolina, so school breaks typically meant heading there for cake tasting, photographer shopping, and finding that-dress-I’d-never-wear-again-in-my-life. Although, if I find myself getting hitched again, I’ll do the green thing, and I’ll recycle it.

Having the luxury of being in my home state so frequently was certainly groovy for wedding planning, but it was also great for something else: indulging in, and by that I mean eating a hella lot of, my favorite foods.

It should come as no surprise to you dear friends of mine that one of the foods on that list was fried chicken. But let’s set the record straight so there’s no chance for confusion: not just any fried chicken. I’d happily eat two kinds, and those two were either given to me in a yellow box through a window along with sweat tea, dirty rice, and honey mustard sauce, or hand-dipped in buttermilk and flour and pan-fried by, on a good day, my Aunt Faye (on a semi-good day, my pops). And served with biscuits, clearly.

I dare you to find better. Double-dog dare you.

Many of you may remember my most recent trip back to North Carolina, a visit filled with emotions, both happy and sad. As would be customary when there’s a death in the family, the need for cooking is generally placed on the back burner, so to speak. And though my Aunt, in my mind, has probably made fried chicken at least every weekend of her adult life, that weekend was different, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the Bojang is relatively close by, therefore her kitchen counter was loaded with yellow boxes and about ten thousand other things as well.

I’ve had a hankerin’ for another piece of fried chicken since that time. I didn’t dare try to replicate Aunt Faye’s, though.

Unsure of whether I’d really make it or not, I’d clipped this recipe from a Saveur magazine I’d purchased a few months back, and remembered it when I opened the freezer and realized I had a whole chicken that was practically begging me to fry it. Following a perusal of the recipe, I’d deduced that it was relatively basic, straightforward, but spicy. It was right up my alley, and aside from the matzo meal (let’s be honest: does any non-Jewish person keep that around?!) I had all the ingredients. What the hell, right?

There’s something magical about dunking a lightly battered chicken leg into a container of crazy-hot oil. The oil, calm aside from a pop here and a pop there, is suddenly engulfing the meat, sizzling furiously, erupting dramatically, volcano-like. The smell – regardless of the differing recipe – immediately teleported me back to NC, back to the dome house my Aunt Faye has lived in for most of my life; I, yes I, was frying chicken that smelled like hers. Minutes later, the sizzling continuing, it’s cooked and transferred to a napkin-lined plate to cool (and sure, to drain a bit, too). Crisp to the touch, I can hardly wait for the oil to cool, but fearing burnt lips, I do.

When that moment arrived, that moment when I could finally feel that crunch I’d been staring at for at least 5 minutes, it was nothing short of remarkable. Crunch? Oh baby, yeah, and I thought, “Why doesn’t everybody fry with matzo meal?!”. The spices? permeating every bite – a bit of smoke proving the wise doubling of paprika, a bit of freshness from another wise addition of zest, and something clean and crisp, despite the oil bath it received. This was not my Aunt Faye’s fried chicken, that’s for sure. But over time, it might just become mine.

Spicy Fried Chicken
Adapted from Saveur, April 2010; serves 4

let me reiterate – this won’t beat the taste of your mom’s, or your gramma’s, or in my case, your aunt’s and dad’s fried chicken (though if you’re not from the South, it could, actually). but if you’re into a little spice and a lotta crunch, you must give this a try. Matzo meal = a new frying staple in this house. serve this with kale chips (a couple of posts back) and mashed potatoes. a biscuit isn’t a bad idea, either.

printable version

ingredients
canola oil, for frying
1 t hot smoked paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t Italian seasoning
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites, beaten
1/2 c flour
1/2 c matzo meal
1/4 t baking powder
1  3-lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper

instructions
Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 5 quart Dutch oven.

Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375 F. Combine smoked paprika through lemon zest; set aside. Put egg whites into a bowl. Combine flour, matzo meal, and baking powder in another bowl and mix half of spice mixture into bowl; set other half aside. Working with one piece at a time, dip chicken into egg whites, then flour mixture. Shake off excess; transfer chicken to a rack set inside a sheet pan.

Working in two batches (or more, depending on the size of your vessel), fry chicken until crispy and cooked through, 10-12 minutes each, trying to keep heat of oil as close to 375 as possible. Transfer to paper towels, and season with salt, pepper and remaining spice mixture. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Batter Up

It’s National Pancake Week, boys and girls! I truly, honestly had no freakin’ clue until around 12 PM on Thursday. Otherwise, I might have held off on the Vietnamese sandwich shop talk until later and instead provided some pancakes for you to mull over early in the week.

Do you just love love love pancakes? Growing up, we didn’t eat waffles or french toast; at least not that much and not enough where I can remember it. I do remember pancakes though – they were griddled on the weekends if my pops wasn’t making those bacon, egg, and cheese samiches that we all loved so dearly. Straight from the box of Bisquick they were, but they were all I knew and quite frankly, all I cared to know.

Aside from Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup, which was the only syrup I would eat as a child. To this day, I like it better than maple syrup on my flapjacks (although I don’t eat it now, because now I know maple syrup is “better”). In fact, I hated eating breakfast at other kids’ houses; they always had Log Cabin or Mrs Butterworths, or even worse, some generic brand that tasted like sugar water. In those instances, I’d eat my ‘cakes plain, no lie. There was no Aunt Jemima substitute when it came to the syrup and as I mentioned, there still isn’t if you can get past the ‘high fructose corn syrup’ taboo.

So, friends, it’s a good day to be reading my ramblings. I have two tried and true pancake recipes for ya and until today I wasn’t sure when I’d be posting them :). I whipped up one of these batches for company a few weeks ago (s’mores weekend) and they were demolished in moments, sorta like the way my cat scarfs down a nibble of bacon. I’d consider that batch as one of my very favorite pancake recipes of all time – and really, who wouldn’t adore a flapjack that tastes like a slice of carrot cake? Exactly.

The other is from pancake fanatic, Joy the Baker, who must have at least 15 different pancake recipes on her blog. I made these for my lover boy on Valentines day morning, as I just happened to have some lovely Michigan blueberries in the freezer and a couple of Meyer lemons in the fridge. These, I think, might be his favorite pancakes, as he didn’t leave a crumb behind.

So, here you are. If I were you, I’d be making some weekend breafast plans right. this. minute.

Carrot Cake Pancakes
Adapted from Cooking Light, January 2010; serves 6

printable version

ingredients
5.6  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4  c  chopped walnuts, toasted
2  t  baking powder
1  t  ground cinnamon
1/4  t  salt
1/8  t  freshly ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of ground ginger
1/4  c  brown sugar
3/4  c  low-fat buttermilk
1  T  canola oil
1 1/2  t  vanilla extract
2  large eggs, lightly beaten
2  c  finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
Cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 c brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 c carrot.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or pancake griddle over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter.

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Blueberry Meyer Lemon Pancakes
Adapted from Joy the Baker; serves 3 (12 small pancakes)

printable version

ingredients
1 egg
1 c flour
1 T sugar
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
1 c thawed and rinsed frozen blueberries (or fresh, if in season)
cooking spray
butter, for topping
maple syrup, for serving

instructions
In a small bowl rub the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until pale yellow and fragrant.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and butter.  Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Stir until just combined. Batter will be clumpy and not smooth, which is perfect.  Fold in the berries with a few strokes until barely combined.

Heat a griddle pan or large skillet over medium-hi heat.  Add a smidgen of butter or cooking spray and let melt.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons of batter to the pan.  Heat until bubbles form and start to pop.  Carefully flip over and cook through.   Place cooked pancakes on an oven proof plate and let rest in a 200 degree F oven while you fry the rest of the pancakes.

Top pancakes with maple syrup (or Aunt Jemimas!) or as Joy suggests, mascarpone sweetened with a dash of powdered sugar and the juice of one Meyer lemon.

 

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Want some more pancakes to choose from? Here’s a few from around the blogosphere:

Chai-Spiced Buttermilk Pancakes from Joy the Baker (I will totally hit these up one day)

Whole Grain Pancakes w/ Blueberry Maple Syrup from 101 Cookbooks

Gluten-Free Pancakes from Gluten-Free Girl & the Chef

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes from Smitten Kitchen

Uncle Austin’s Mexican Pancakes with Coconut from Homesick Texan

Strawberry Cardamom Blender Pancakes from Adventures in Shaw