Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pan Fried Chicken - Extra Crispy and Delicious

Summer seems to me the perfect time for pan fried chicken. I suppose that's because my mother made it regularly but only in the summertime, when she could prepare it early in the morning and then let it sit on the cook top until we wanted to eat. She said she did this as she didn't want to heat up the house in the hottest part of the day and neither did she want to be cooking over a hot stove then. We did have air-conditioning by the time I was born, but she had of course been raised and spent her formative cooking years when no such cooling appliance was available. So when I think of this favorite, I think summer.

Julian's Pan Fried Chicken - Extra Crispy
Making a great fried chicken is a easy, but it helps to understand the various options that face you in frying chicken. Many cooks have recipes handed down by family. I've tried the various methods and come up with one that I think provides a superior fried chicken. If after reading this you think the hot grease is too much for you, then use my crispy oven fried chicken recipe. Many have mistaken it for fried and it's equally delicious.

Buttermilk Bath vs. Brine
Some people believe strongly in using a buttermilk bath for a  chicken soak prior to frying. I've tried it both ways, and it does improve both flavor and texture, keeping the chicken moist. However, there is a difference between soaking chicken in a brine and soaking chicken in buttermilk. Soaking chicken in buttermilk is mainly used to tenderize, while at the same time adding a slightly tangy flavor and moisture. Whereas, soaking chicken in a brine is used just to add moisture to the chicken through osmosis. If you're doing a whole chicken, or lots of white meat, you definitely need to use the buttermilk or the brine. White meat simply dries out badly if not pre-soaked using one of these methods. If you are just doing dark meat, then you can likely skip this pre-step to frying. I soak chicken in butter milk for 1-2 hours, and brine 6-8 hours prior to frying.

My mother typically boiled the chicken before pan frying. This had two purposes. First, it cooked the chicken through, which meant frying took only the time to brown the exterior. Second, it made chicken stock for her to use in other dishes and soups. I rarely do this as I think it does remove some of the flavor and also dries out the chicken, as you might expect. But because I do not boil the chicken first, I also have to fry slower and longer, and then place the chicken in a warm oven afterwards to continue cooking through, especially for larger pieces.

As today I'm making chicken for a picnic and my diners prefer the dark meat, I'm only using thighs and legs. So these will cook more quickly. So I'll just finish them for 20-30 minutes in the oven to reduce greasiness, as noted below. Adapt your technique as necessary to ensure all of the chicken is well cooked through. No one likes under-done chicken.

Best Fat for Frying
My mother used only a small amount of fat for the frying. She preferred lard (rendered pig fat), which she accumulated from other cooking activities (usually bacon). If she didn't have that she dropped back to Crisco (a solid vegetable shortening-based lard substitute). Regardless of which she used, she used them sparingly. Her goal was to have enough fat in the pan (perhaps only 1/4 inch deep at the start) to brown the chicken while regularly turning it. When it was done cooking she sought to have no significant amount of fat left, as she would then use the drippings to make white chicken gravy. I also rarely make gravy for service with chicken, so I will use more fat in the pan than she would have which requires less turning and gives me more temperature control.

Like my mother, I prefer a type of lard as well. But instead of pork fat, I'm using duck fat, which is widely available now even on Amazon. However I'm using D'Artagnan brand duck fat as it was the first type I ever used and feel better about it always being refrigerated or frozen. Duck fat is one of those ingredients that cooks are deeply passionate about: it is one of the best animal fats for frying. It has a subtle flavor and a high smoke point, so it's perfect for pan frying chicken. As my mother though, if I don't have it on hand, I drop back to Crisco.

If you are frying a large batch of chicken, you will need to periodically stop and, using a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the solids that have been left behind in the hot grease.

Some fried chicken just seems to be greasy. That's usually because either a) the chicken piece had a good bit of fat under the skin to begin with or b) the fat you fried it in was absorbed into the breading, which is usually caused by a low frying temperature. To deal with this matter, I've tried several techniques, including draining on towels but this one seems to work best.

Keep the temperature between 325-350F
After the chicken is fried, place it on a baking sheet fitted with a cooling rack. Place the chicken on the rack and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for a minimum of 5-10 minutes. The grease will drip from the chicken onto the sheet below. As noted above, this method also helps if the chicken browns on the outside before it is fully cooked on the inside, as often happens with large pieces. In this case, keep the chicken in the oven as long as necessary (perhaps another 30 minutes or more) to cook through and also remove excess fat.

Flour, Breadcrumbs or Both
My mother just used seasoned flour on her pan-fried chicken, making it distinctly different than a deep fried chicken which she usually breaded or battered. After trying multiple methods, I recommend the classic breading technique, called “a l'anglaise” in French for “in the English fashion”. This involves, dredging dried pieces of chicken in seasoned flour, then an egg wash and finally into seasoned bread crumbs. If you are sometimes frustrated that your breading comes off of the chicken when frying, it is likely you are not following this culinary practice, which is noted below in the recipe.

Production Line
1 whole chicken, cut up or pieces as you prefer
1 quart or more, buttermilk

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons seasoned salt
fresh ground pepper
2 cups bread crumbs
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons basil, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons onion powder, chopped
2 cups milk
3 medium eggs

2 cups duck fat, lard or vegetable shortening (Crisco)

Note: Wash, cut up and dry the chicken and set aside the giblets for use at another time.  For picnics, I often just use legs, wings and thighs. For these small, juicy pieces, I sometimes skip the buttermilk bath as noted above. 

Place the chicken in a water tight container or zip locked back and pour in the buttermilk until covered. Rotate or turn the chicken periodically if not fully submersed in the liquid. Let rest for 24-48 hours.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator and drain. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes as you prepare for the breading.

In a pie plate or other similar dish, mix the flour and a generous portion of salt and pepper. In a similar sized dish, mix bread crumbs with the seasonings. Feel free to add more or less of the seasoning and to substitute them for your favorites.  In a pie plate or casserole dish, mix the eggs and milk.  Make an assembly line in this order: seasoned flour, egg/milk mixture, seasoned breadcrumbs. Keep the ingredients handy in case you need to make more of any of the items, as individual usage varies.

Place the duck fat, lard or vegetable shortening into a deep sided skillet (usually called a chicken fryer, black cast iron skillet or Dutch oven). The fat should be about 1/2 to 1 inch deep in the skillet. Heat over medium high but do not let the shortening start to smoke or exceed 350F. Use a candy thermometer and ensure it does not rest on the bottom of the skillet.

Cook the chicken in order (see production line photo above) based on this formula. Darker meat takes longer to cook than white, larger pieces take longer to cook than smaller. So if you are doing a whole chicken, thighs first, then breasts, then legs, etc.

Shake off the excess buttermilk from the chicken and, starting with the largest pieces of chicken first, dredge through the flour, then wet with the egg/milk mixture, then coat with the seasoned breadcrumb mixture, making sure all sides of the chicken are covered. Use one hand for the wet ingredients and the other hand for the dry ingredients. Keep a tub of dishwater handy to rinse your hands as needed throughout the process. Preheat your oven to 300F degrees.

Repeat to bread all pieces placing them directly in the hot skillet as soon as each is finished breading. While each piece cooks, quickly prepare another piece.

Using a candy thermometer, attempt to keep the melted shortening around 350F (not letting it go above 375F or below 325F).  Adjust flame/heat as necessary.  Add more fat/shortening as needed to maintain depth of 1/2 to 1" deep, which is usually only necessary for very large batches. Pause and allow fat to come back up to temperature if you add more to the skillet.

Place no more than 2-4 pieces of the chicken (meatiest side down) into the skillet, being careful not to splash yourself.  Do not overcrowd the pan as it will not be able to maintain temperature. Allow to cook until brown on the cooking side. Turn and brown the other side(s). Remove chicken pieces from the skillet and place on a cookie sheet with a wire rack and place in a 300F degree oven while you continue cooking the remaining chicken.  This will allow the larger pieces to cook through and remain hot while you finish the next batch and also permit excess grease to drain from the chicken. If you have a large quantity of chicken place the rack with the first few pieces in the hot oven. As more finishes frying, transfer to a plate then onto the oven rack.

Place the last pieces of fried chicken on the cookie sheet in the oven for a minimum of 5-10 minutes. Check to ensure the largest pieces are cooked thoroughly using a meat thermometer (white meat should be at 165F-170F degrees) or by breaking open the crust and checking to ensure it is not pink at the joints or near the bone. This could take up to 30-40 minutes for larger dark meat pieces. Remove individual pieces from oven when done (especially the white meat) and allow the larger pieces and dark meat to continue cooking. If it starts to become too brown, loosely tent with foil during baking. Remember, dark meat benefits from being cooked well done (195F degrees), because it contains a much higher amount of collagen which when it breaks down, makes the meat more juicy and tender.

If you are serving the chicken hot, remove from the oven and let it sit on the rack for at least 10 minute prior to serving. If you are serving the chicken cold, allow the chicken to cool to room temperature on the rack before placing it in container. Use parchment paper between layers for storage. Ideally storage for picnic service is best in a non-airtight container so as not to collect moisture and soften the chicken crust.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Zucchini Squash Bread

During the summer when squash is plentiful, I always make breakfast breads. The classic is of course zucchini bread, so today I'm reprising my sister's 2009 guest post with minor updates and new photos.

Julian's Zucchini Squash Bread Mini Loaves
Peel and Seed:  It seems our summer has created yet another banner crop of zucchini and yellow squash. Thanks to friends that have vegetable gardens, today's breads will be a combination of both summer vegetables. You'll note in the recipe it says to peel both types of squash before using, but actually for the zucchini I typically only partially peel them as shown in this photo. I like a little green color in the bread and I figure a little more fiber in the diet is always good. For the yellow squash, which has a more tough skin, I do fully peel it.  Also note that my zucchini are young and have few if any seeds. So I won't bother seeding those either. The large yellow squash on the other hand is very mature and is loaded with seeds, so those will be completely removed before I shred them.

Large yellow, peeled and seeding under way.
Small zucchini, half peeled not seeded.
Large Volumes:  Summer squash almost always comes in volume. And from the recipe below it's hard to know just how much squash you will yield from each piece. Today as you can see, I have two small zucchini and one large yellow squash. I recommend you prepare no more than 1-3 squash and then measure out the shredded version. My two small and one large squash yielded about 6 1/2 cups shredded, so I doubled the recipe. When doubling you have two choices; either mix two batches separately in the mixer as noted, or do the mixing by hand if you double the recipe. It will come out fine either way, but even the largest home kitchen mixer can't handle doubling this recipe. I did it by hand and if you do it this way, combine the dry ingredients in a very large bowl, then mix with a hand mixer the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Then stir them together with a large spoon. Add the squash, raisins/cranberries and optional nuts and combine with your hands.

Shredded zucchini and yellow squash.

Today I'm using small loaf pans as this bread freezes quite well and we don't like to have too much out at one time. You can simply wrap extra loaves in plastic wrap and then place them in a zippered plastic freezer bag and use them as you need. They only take a couple hours to thaw at room temperature.

The recipe below makes two standard loaves. Fill loaf pans about 2/3 full only.

Dry Ingredients
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar

Wet Ingredients
1/2 cup sour cream
3 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup vegetable oil

3 cups zucchini or yellow squash, shredded
1/2 cup raisins or 'craisins' (dried sweetened cranberries)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Peel and seed the zucchini or yellow squash.  Shred on a box grater or food processor, and set aside. Prepare two (2) standard sized loaf pans by spraying with food release or rubbing with soft butter. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Place dry ingredients in a mixer bowl with dough hook and mix on low speed until combined.  Add the wet ingredients and continue to mix, scraping bowl occasionally. The mixture will seem dry.  Add zucchini, raisins and walnuts (optional) and mix until thoroughly combined. (NOTE:  If doubling the batch and your mixer bowl is not large enough, stir the dry ingredients together by hand. Mix the wet ingredients with a hand mixer, and stir together with the dry mixture until well combined. The stir in the remaining ingredients.)

Scoop into prepared loaf pans and bake 45-60 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. If using smaller loaf pans (mini loaves) then check in 35 minutes as they will bake more quickly.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Macaroni Salad ~ An American Picnic Classic

Here in the States, the favorite summer macaroni salad is a pasta salad, served cold made with cooked elbow macaroni and usually prepared with mayonnaise. You'll find it at most every summer cookout and picnic, where it's frequently brought as a shared 'covered dish'.

Julian's Macaroni Salad
Recently I was asked for my recipe and referred to this food blog, only to discover I'd never presented it here. I suppose it never came up as I don't follow any written recipe just making it as my mother and sister do. It really couldn't be more simple but there is a trick to ensuring it comes out good each time. Pasta absorbs the wet ingredients, so it is necessary to make it a day before serving and then check it to ensure it doesn't require more of the wet ingredients. Just stirring in a little extra mayonnaise, mustard and/or relish 24 hours after making it will ensure a creamy, delicious side for your summer event.

While the classic version uses elbow macaroni, there is no reason you can't use other shapes. My sister prefers the shells, as they hold the sauce well. Just make sure that whatever pasta shape you select can stand up to being stirred in a relatively stiff sauce several times. You don't want a pasta that will break up during preparation.

1 pound elbow macaroni
3 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced bell pepper
1/3 cup diced celery
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Kraft salad dressing
   substitute with added mayo and 1 TBL vinegar
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
3 tablespoons (wet) yellow mustard
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
salt and pepper to taste

paprika (for garnish only)

Bring a large pot of water to boil adding 4 tablespoons salt and 1 tablespoon oil.  Add the macaroni to the boiling water and cook until tender, but not overly soft. Time will vary depending on your pasta shape of choice. Check package directions and taste to determine doneness. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Return to cool pot or transfer to mixing bowl.

Chop 2 of the 3 hard boiled peeled eggs, keeping one for a garnish, which you will slice. Finely chop (mince) the onion, pepper and celery.

Add the chopped onion, pepper and celery to the cooled macaroni. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Place in covered bowl in refrigerator overnight or at least 8 hours.

Prior to serving stir and taste. If the salad feels too stiff or dry, ad more mayonnaise, Kraft salad dressing, relish and/or mustard as needed. Stir to combine, transfer to serving bowl and garnish with the remaining sliced boiled egg, sprinkled with paprika.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Raspberry Dog Days Cooler

Celebrate the end of the Dog Days of Summer with this refreshing raspberry cocktail. It's simple to make, includes the fresh fruit they say we are supposed to have daily and relaxes you all at the same time. Perfection!

Julian's Raspberry Dog Days Cooler
 Ingredients (per cocktail)

6-8 fresh ripe raspberries
1 teaspoon sugar
juice from half a lemon
2 ounces raspberry flavored vodka
1 ounce cranberry juice
tonic water or lemon-lime soda

In the bottom of 6-12 ounce jar or cocktail glass, crush 2-3 raspberries with sugar. Stir in the lemon juice until the sugar is dissolved. Ad the raspberry vodka and cranberry juice. Add chunks of ice until the glass is about halfway full. Fill the glass with tonic water or lemon-lime soda. I prefer the soda, but either will work fine, as will ginger ale. Serve with a straw.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Seafood or Low Country Boil

With family visiting in the summer, there is no better time for a "Low country" boil. The "Low country" stretches along the coast from the Savannah river in Georgia north to Pawley's island in South Carolina.

Julian's Low Country Seafood Boil
However, this style of cooking seafood has become popular all along the southern shores of the United States, and has made its way inland as well. This one-pot seafood meal is also known by other names such as a Frogmore or Beaufort stew.

I make this summer delight using any good, readily available seafood from shrimp to crabs and everything in between. The standard ingredients include red-skin potatoes, corn and Andouille sausage. And it wouldn't taste right without a large dose of Old Bay brand seasoning. But feel free to substitute on any of these based on your availability and taste.

Specialty Pot with Basket Insert

I use a 30 quart pot that was sold as a Turkey Deep Fryer, which hooks up to a tank of propane gas and can deliver a high volume of heat quickly. You can do this on the cook top, but it will take longer and a very large pot on your cooktop cooked over high heat can cause surface damage. So it's best if you procure one of these pots made especially for this type of task and do the cooking outside. In the USA these are largely available in most hardware stores and sometimes COSTCO and Sams Clubs as a single kit with the burner and pot. Other places sell the pieces separately but as in all things, having the right tool for the job is important for success.

Ingredients (feeds 8-10)

1 large Spanish onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup Old Bay brand seasoning
10-15 small red skinned potatoes
8-10 ears of corn, shucked, cleaned and cut in half
2-3 pounds Andouille or favorite spicy sausage
5-8 pounds mussels and/or clams
1 pound raw shrimp, preferably in the shell
1 cup melted butter
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, lightly chopped


Fill the pot as noted on the vessel with cold water where indicated as 'maximum fill line'. Insert the basket and light the burner on high heat but not so that the flames are going up the sides of the pot. The flame should remain only on the bottom of the pot.

Add the cleaned onion and the Old Bay brand seasoning. Bring the pot of seasoned water to a heavy rolling boil. Add washed whole small red potatoes that have been pierced with a fork and Andouille sausage which has been cut into halves or bite sized pieces. Cook on the boil for about 20 minutes.

Add the corn and cook another 5 minutes. Then add the seafood. Clams and mussels take about 10 minutes total. Remove when they open. If using the raw shrimp, add them last as they only take 3-4 minutes maximum. They are done when they are pink. Don't overcook the seafood or it will be tough. Turn off the burner and using heat and water proof mitts/gloves, lift the strainer from the pot by the handle and hold above the pot to drain. Transfer the contents onto a very large platter or two platters. Take great care as the contents are very hot.

Pour the melted butter over the mixture and sprinkle with the freshly chopped cilantro. Place in the center of the table and let everyone dig in. (In the south they often just put newspapers down on the table and pour the mixture right on the paper and everyone eats without dishware. This is perhaps good for a seaside boil, but not for my dinner table.) Serve with my Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cucumber and Onion Salad - Food Processor Selection

Perfect in the hot summer weather, I had never posted this before because I had assumed everyone knew how to make it. But after several requests, that appears not be so.

Julian's Cucumber and Onion Salad
Really nothing could be more simple to make, especially if you are using a food processor. If you don't have one, a mandolin which I showed when I made a summer vegetable gratin, also works well. Of course a sharp knife can do the job but will take longer and unless you've been to a knife skills class, the cucumber will not be sliced quite as thin as I prefer.

Julian's new Cuisinart Food Processor
The recipe isn't really much. It's more about the technique and I'll review that below, then give you hints on food processor selection. You may think that this will make a large batch but really it will not. It certainly will make a salad (first course) for six people, but not much more. The method removes some of the water from the cucumbers and in the end you have less food than you might imagine.

Peeling or Striping the Cucumbers
While my recipe calls for the so-called 'seedless' cucumber (pictured above) you can use standard cucumbers as well. I suggest if you do that you slice them in half and run a spoon down the seed line removing most of the seeds. The seeds that remain the 'seedless' variety are soft and easy to digest.

Draining Cucumbers
2 large seedless cucumbers
1 medium red onion
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons simple syrup (or 1 tablespoon sugar)
pinch of dry dill weed
salt and pepper, to taste

Using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove about half of the skin of the cucumbers leaving a striped pattern as shown. Using a food processor, mandolin or sharp knife, slice the cucumber very thin. Cut the onion in half, and slice the onion similarly.

Place the sliced cucumber in a strainer and toss with 2-3 tablespoons of salt. This will help to draw out the water in the cucumber. Place this in the sink or a bowl to drain for about one hour. Turn periodically and press out excess liquid.

Rinse the cucumbers in fresh water to remove salt. Drain again and place in a salad spinner if you have one, and spin off the liquid. Otherwise just ensure the water is well drained from the cucumbers.

Transfer to a mixing bowl with the onion and toss to combine. Add the vinegar, simple syrup/sugar, dill weed and salt/pepper. Taste and add more seasoning or vinegar if needed. Let sit for 15-30 minutes before serving, or over night.

Food Processor Selection

When my small food processor bowl broke, I decided I would prefer to have one device that could do both large and small batches. However, my 25 year old Cuisinart brand food processor was still going strong. I talked with friends and fellow cooks and found this to be routinely true. Everyone had an older device that just seemed to never quit. So I decided that I would go ahead and purchase the new combination unit, but that it would be Cuisinart.

I chose the Cuisinart (FP-12BC) 12-cup Elite Food Processor in brushed chrome.  I've been using it for a couple months now and really do think it has many design improvements over the older models. It's easy to assemble and clean. The nested bowl design that permits you to process smaller or larger batches works ideally. You can even pull out the smaller bowl filled with food, then use the larger bowl immediately. There are no longer multiple slicing blades with variable widths. Rather, they have one adjustable blade which works very well. The shredding blade is similarly designed.

Julian's New Cuisinart
If you're in the market for a new food processor, I think the above model is highly recommended.