Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fried Chicken, Gravy, Mashers

Not very long ago my friend told me that Kentucky Fried Chicken was the most popular fast food restaurant in the world. I dismissed him immediately noting that nothing is bigger than the McMonster but KFC’s worldwide popularity did confound me. Fried chicken is one of those dishes that I love but can only bring myself to eat about once a year (for fear of dying of heart disease at thirty) and you can bet that once a year doesn’t come from a bucket with Colonel Sanders’ face on it.

Luscious, crispy, meaty, hot, salty, spicy. Fried chicken is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. If it didn’t make me fat, I would eat fried chicken in a dark room by myself every day for three meals until my fingers and lips glistened.

It’s kind of like cheating on your girlfriend. Once you start to think about eating fried chicken you feel guilty about how fucking bad it is for your body. Then you get a glimpse of it and then you get a whiff of it and it starts to seem like a good idea, and by the time you take that first bite you’re tearing into those golden breasts and thighs so hard you don’t stop till you need a cigarette.

This is a dish you can’t make for your girl because it will make her fat and she will think you are a slob. Make it for the guys, make it once a year and make it delicious by following a few simple steps.

You will need:

2 drumsticks and thighs (dark meat works best here)

3 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons oregano

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper

1 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons

3 cups canola oil for frying

3 large Idaho russet potatoes

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 and a half cups milk divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Begin by trimming excess skin from the chicken pieces with a sharp boning knife. In a medium-sized bowl, combine buttermilk, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and submerge chicken. Brine for one hour or up to overnight.

Make the potatoes:

Wash the potatoes and cut into one inch cubes. In a medium-sized saucepot, cover potatoes with cold water and toss in a child’s handful of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes. When potatoes are cooked through, drain and combine with two tablespoons butter, half a cup of milk, salt and lots of black pepper to taste. Mash then with a potato masher or a big spoon until they look like mashed potatoes.

Make the gravy:

In a small saucepan, melt two tablespoons butter and whisk in two tablespoons flour. Cook for two minutes over low heat stirring constantly. Add a cup of milk, whisking constantly until thickened. Add more milk if necessary and season with salt and lots of fresh ground pepper.

Fry that chicken:

Drain the chicken and discard the buttermilk. In a large cast iron skillet, bring the three cups of oil (or about half way up the pan) up to 325 degrees. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and coat all the way around. Place skin side down in the oil careful not to splash. The oil should slightly sizzle around the edges of the chicken but shouldn’t splatter or pop, if it does, the oil is too hot. After about ten to twelve minutes the edges of the chicken should be a medium brown and the top of the chicken out of the oil should be moist. Flip the chicken and cook for another ten to twelve minutes carefully watching the heat. When fully cooked through, remove the chicken from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gnarly Barley

I’ve been in the mood for really high alcohol beers lately, barley wines in particular. Maybe it’s the rich, malted caramel flavor I’m drawn to. Maybe it’s the intense hop characteristics that I’ve been known to seek out or maybe, I just like the idea of getting hammered off of just two pints. This week I stopped by the Beer Wall at my local grocery and chose the highest alcohol content beer they had to write about and I am happy to report that Lagunitas Olde Gnarly Wine Style Ale is more than just the quickest rode to getting drunk on beer.

Barley wine are beers with generally 8-12% alcohol like wine, but are made from grain instead of fruit and therefore cannot be classified as such. Referred to as “barley wine style ales,” barley wines are characterized by a bitterness offset by a strong hops flavor. Though not the only high alcohol beers on the market, barley wines make up for the majority of the over 8% alcohol beers sold in the world. Others include old ales, or “winter warmers,” that have a strong flavor due to cask fermentation. In the past few years, Samuel Adams has release a Utopias brand of over 20% alcohol beers. More like a brandy or a port, these also range amongst the most expensive beers in the world at about $100 a bottle.

Lagunitas’ Olde Gnarly Wine Style Ale is a dark chocolaty color and the first thing you smell is the rich, caramel malt followed by lots of piney hops. From the first sip this thick, almost syrupy beer is strong and demands to be sipped slow and savored. Striking an uncommon balance for this style of beer, this Gnarly Wine is a good introduction to high alcohol beers and a terrific example of a barley wine.

Una Fiesta Mexicana!

I love Mexican food. Nothing gets me all hot in the trousers like the myriad combinations of cheese, tortillas and hot chiles. Enchiladas, empanadas, tacos, burritos, chalupas, and my favorite, quesadillas, satisfy my soul and hit a hunger pang deep inside my belly that makes me sleep like a baby afterward. The Mexican version of the grilled cheese is better in every way than its American counterpart. The shredded cheese that goes into a quesadilla melts more evenly than Kraft singles. A crisp, barely there tortilla doesn’t mask the highlight of the dish, the cheese, the way a hefty slice of Texas toast can do for a grilled cheese. And finally, the quesadilla requires no press or fancy equipment, just a fold and a flip and you’re on your way to Mexican heaven.

While were on the subject of kick-ass Mexican appetizers, I’d like to give a shout out to the Jalapeño Popper. This cheese-stuffed, flavor missile is on every sports bar and wing-joint menu but here’s a little secret; none of them make them fresh. They open the freezer and drop a few X Brand Jalapeno Poppers into the fryer for a few minutes and serve them along side Hidden Valley Ranch. Try my recipe along with a guacamole and pico de gallo and you’ll never go back to these lackluster imitations.

Chipotle Chicken Quesadillas

You will need:

1 small can chipotles in adobo (smoked jalapenos packed in a vinegary sauce)

1 teaspoon each chile powder, cumin, paprika, salt, and Mexican oregano

1 chicken breast, cut into strips

Quarter lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Quarter lb Monterey Jack cheese, grated

2 burrito size tortillas

2 tablespoons pico de gallo (recipe follows)

Blend the can of chipotles along with the chile powder, cumin, paprika and salt until it forms a smooth paste. Reserve one tablespoon and pour the rest over the chicken and let sit for thirty minutes. After a half hour sauté the chicken pieces in medium sized pan over high heat until cooked through, set aside.

On a griddle or in a large skillet over medium-high heat, place one of the tortillas and cover half of it with almost half of the grated cheeses. Place a few slices of chicken on the cheese and spoon one tablespoon of the pico de gallo over the chicken and cover with a little more cheese. When the cheese on the bottom is melted, about three minutes, fold the other half of the tortilla over and flip the quesadilla onto its other side. Cook for another two minutes. Repeat with the other tortilla and the rest of the cheese and chicken. Serve with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.

Jalapeno Poppers

You will need:

8 jalapenos

Quarter pound grated Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses

Quarter cup flour

2 eggs

Half cup bread crumbs

Salt and pepper

2 cups canola oil (for frying)

Sour Cream

Begin by charring the skin on the jalapenos. Do this by holding the peppers over an open flame with a pair of tongs. You can do this on the grill or if you cook on gas, directly on the stove top. If you have neither of these, just pop your peppers in a 500 degree oven for five minutes. After they have cooled for a few minutes, rub the skin off with a paper towel, it should just peel right off.

With a pairing knife, make an incision down the length of the pepper and scoop out all the seeds and guts. Repeat for each pepper.

Press the cheeses into a tight ball with your hands and slip inside the jalapenos forming the cheese inside the pepper and making sure it fits. Repeat for each jalapeno.

Arrange four plates along your counter top. The first one with flour seasoned with salt and pepper, the second with two beaten eggs, the third with bread crumbs seasoned with salt and pepper, and the fourth clean. Dredge each jalapeno in flour and shake off the excess. Then dip it in the egg mixture and let the excess drip. Then coat the jalapenos in the bread crumbs and put it on the last plate to wait while you repeat the process with the other jalapenos.

In a small sauce pan, heat your oil to 350 degrees. You can test it with a piece of tortilla from your quesadillas. Just tear off a small piece and drop it in the oil; if it makes a nice golden chip within half a minute, you’re there. Fry your jalapeno poppers one or two at a time depending on the size of your pot. When they are golden brown, approximately three minutes, remove them with tongs and let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve with sour cream.

Pico de Gallo

You will need:

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Juice of two limes

Half a large onion, chopped

4 jalapenos, diced

3 large tomatoes, chopped

Salt and pepper

Combine all the vegetation in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for thirty minutes.


You will need:

3 Hass avocados

Half cup pico de gallo

1 reserved tablespoon chipotle puree

In a large bowl, mash the flesh of the avocados with a fork until there are no more large clumps. Add the pico de gallo and the chipotle puree and mix until combined.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter

For many reasons, beer is my favorite thing in the world. I can go from acting gentlemanly and waxing poetic about hops in the nose and the body that carbonation adds to the palate to wreck-shop belligerent singing “Piano Man” in the course of just a few pints. Beer allows me to simultaneously be a man (cause I’m drinkin’ beer damnit!) and a gentleman (cause I’m drinkin’ nice beer damnit!). Not only does it taste great and get you drunk, beer makes food taste better.

Wine is largely considered to be the preferred table drink (wine and dine, wine and cheese, the wine list), but beer holds just as much of a place on the white tablecloth as does that old grape juice. The carbonation unlocks flavors that lay dormant in some wines and while some spit out the wine they taste, beer has bitter flavors that are only unlocked when you swallow and the brew washes over your bitter taste receptors at the back of your tongue. Some restaurants have even instituted a Beer Sommelier like Café D’Alsace on the Upper East Side of New York City.

I went to eat barbecue the other day and with my Kansas City Spareribs and Brisket Burnt Ends I had a Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter. Besides pizza, burgers, hot dogs, wings, and any other staple of a man diet, beer and barbecue were meant for each other. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company out of Pleasantville, NY uses imported German smoked malts to add a richness and depth to their Smoked Porter. The direct-fired malt kiln also adds to the flavor, much like Blue Point’s infamous Toasted Lager. The Smoked Porter smelled like firewood and ripe fruit. A roasted coffee smokiness and a sweet finish were perfect for the meats depth of flavor and sweet sauce.

Pairing beer and food goes much further beyond man-food and Bud Light. Try a Corona, Dos Equis or Negro Modelo with lime with a spicy Mexican shrimp and snapper ceviche. Drink a Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale or a Sam Adams Winter Lager with your Thanksgiving dinner. Pop open a Woodchuck Cider with your Apple Tart for dessert. The possibilities, like the flavors, are endless.

Raising the Steaks

The manliest of man food, there is no dish that makes me celebrate my masculinity more than a good steak. I just want meat on a plate. Don’t give me any sauce, sides, or utensils cause I’m just gonna go at this baby with my bare hands and teeth. Just the thought of eating steak rustles up animalistic tendencies. A T-bone makes me want to play football, a ribeye makes me want to slug whiskey from the bottle and tenderloin makes me want to wear a suit and get it dirty. I have seen a few mis-steaks when it comes to applying heat to meat and I intend to correct them here. The most important thing in cooking steak as in the life of a man is to have confidence. So gnash your teeth, bare your chest and scratch your ass, men. Let’s cook a steak!

The biggest mistake you can make with steak (as with most any food) is to over-cook it. I’m going to teach you two words that will forever gain you the respect of your peers when out at restaurants, “Medium-rare.” No ifs, ands, buts, and definitely no well-dones. That shit’s weak. If you want to eat a piece of leather go to Applebee’s. I’m a man and I like my meat bloody. Here’s a technique for cooking steak at home so that you will never over cook your steak. Poke your cheek with your finger: rare. Poke your chin: medium-rare (that’s the sweet spot). Poke the tip of your nose: medium. Poke your forehead: medium-well. Lick the bottom of your shoe: well done.

You will need:

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 6-8oz filet of beef tenderloin (filet mignon)

1 tablespoon of kosher salt

1 tablespoon coarse fresh cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon cold butter

Begin by patting the steak dry with paper towels. Rub the steak with canola oil and make sure it’s glistening all the way around. Combine the salt and pepper on a small plate and mix together. Crust the steak in the salt and pepper on both sides.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put a small oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Let it get hot for five minutes. Put the steak in the middle of the pan and don’t touch it. It’s gonna hiss and smoke but in order to make a delicious crust, you cannot touch the steak. Cook the steak in the pan for two to three minutes depending on the thickness. Cook a thicker steak a little longer. Once a nice crust has formed on the under side of the steak. Flip it over carefully, place a pad of butter on top and put the entire pan in the oven for no more than five minutes. Check the steak after four minutes and poke it with your finger to determine doneness. DO NOT jab it with a thermometer. When you think you are still a little under-done on your steak, pull it out and let it rest on a cutting board. There is still heat trapped inside the steak and it will continue to cook slightly after you take it out of the oven. After the steak has rested for three to five minutes, eat that shit.