Nut-Crusted Chicken Cutlets

One of my little pleasures in life is watching America’s Test Kitchen. While goofy and geeky (perhaps that’s why I like it), the team behind the show delivers interesting and informative recipes that make it easy to improve your cooking. Recently, I tried recreating their recipe for nut-crusted chicken cutlets and was very happy with the results.

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The recipe tackles the common pitfalls of nut-crusted chicken: flavorless chicken and bland, burnt, soggy, or oily crust. There are several tricks they suggest. One of the most interesting is to use panko (Japanese style breadcrumbs) which do a better job of remaining crisp. They also suggest browning the butter in a skillet and then toasting the nuts and breadcrumbs so they begin to caramelize before you ever bread the chicken cutlets.

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They further suggest salting the chicken and letting it rest for about thirty minutes before preparing the dish. This creates a dry brine, sealing in the chicken’s moisture. Finally, instead of frying in oil, you bake the breaded cutlets on a wire rack set above a baking sheet. This allows hot air to circulate, cooking and crisping the chicken on all sides without adding any more oil to the dish.

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The end result was fantastic – one of the first times I’ve had a breaded chicken cutlet that was actually moist and flavorful. The crust was crisp and buttery but not greasy or heavy. Definitely a good technique and one I will repeat!

The show is produced by the publishers of Cooks Illustrated magazine. They don’t accept advertising so all their evaluations of recipes, ingredients, and equipment are made based on quality alone. Their approach to recipes is to figure out how to achieve great results consistently, eliminating the pitfalls that plague some dishes.

The thing I like best about the show is that it is one of the few cooking shows on television that is actually about cooking. So much of what we see these days is about food and eating but not that much about the technique of preparing the food. It is a refreshing return to how cooking shows started out.

Down-home American Cuisine

Two weeks ago, Chow suggested we invite friends over to her house and cook a dinner that relied on a new cookbook she had received. The cookbook contained only “down-home” classic American dishes, organized on a state-by-state basis. Of course, I’m up for trying to cook almost anything in the kitchen, especially if it is someone else’s kitchen!

The main course of the meal was “Kansas Fried Chicken”. Having a lot of relatives in Kansas and having lived there a year before moving to Thailand, I can’t rightly say what distinguished fried chicken as “Kansas” fried chicken. This was only my second time trying to make fried chicken and I have to say, keeping the oil temperature consistent around the 350 F target is a pain in the neck.

The end result turned out pretty well. The chicken isn’t brined or marinated. Simply pat it dry, sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then dredge in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and I added some chile powder. The result was super. The chicken remained moist and with sufficient salt, very flavorful. Afterwards, I used a few tablespoons of the oil to make the best gravy I’ve ever made.

If you have gravy, you might as well have some biscuits, right? These were another recipe from the cookbook and, oddly, they used vegetable oil rather than a solid fat such as butter or Crisco. The texture was tender although I think my biscuit recipe (from my mother) is better. The Crisco in the recipe gives it a flakier texture.

Side dishes included a baked spinach casserole. The bread crumbs Chow used were panko, the Japanese bread crumbs used in tempura. The dish was very dry; not sure if something more was meant to be added to the greens. It was tasty, though.

The asparagus side dish was fantastic. It used cream of mushroom soup straight from the can, spread in alternating layers with the asparagus and then baked. On the top are crushed Cheese-It crackers. 

Used this opportunity to break out a jar of the pickled green tomatoes and shallots that I made a month ago. These were great. I need to figure out somewhere to get a larger quantity of green cherry tomatoes so I can pickle more.

Dessert was a cherry and blackberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nice and simple, keeping with our Americana theme.

 

Noodles with Honey Braised Chicken

Street food is one of the things that makes Bangkok a real pleasure to visit or to live in. There is such a variety of food, almost all of it of high quality and flavor. A recent favorite of mine is a long-standing Sukhumvit Road staple: Guaytiaw Pikgai Sai Nampung. This is a typical noodle shop selling honey-braised chicken.

This is a bowl of “dry” noodles (broth served in a separate bowl on the side) with a wing and drumstick. Some bean sprouts and chopped long beans. Many different types of noodles are available. I chose giam ee, a hand-rolled rice noodle similar to German spätzle. I like it because it is easier to eat than long noodles and holds onto the seasonings better, too.

The chicken is very tender, sweet and flavorful with the hint of honey to it. You can also choose other parts of the chicken if you prefer breast meat, for example. There are other ingredients available, too, in case you prefer further customization. Here in Thailand, the noodle shops are all about customization!

More a picture of Tawn than of the shop, but you can see that it is neat and tidy, even though it has been opens for many years. The walls are hung with newspaper clippings, family photos, and photos of His Majesty the King. The laminated table tops have worn with age but are kept sparkling clean.

If you are interested in visiting, the restaurant is in Sukhumvit Soi 20/1, a small dog-legged alley that connects to Sukhumvit road just about 10 meters west of the mouth of Soi 20. The restaurant is the fourth or fifth shop in on the right-hand side. You will see the aunty cooking just outside the front of the shop, the smell of the chicken beckoning you.

 

Food in San Francisco – From Fried Chicken to Salt and Pepper Ice Cream

There was a fair amount of eating while we were in San Francisco, much of it good. Here are a trio of spots we visited.

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While still in Bangkok, Tawn and I had developed a hankering for fried chicken. Despite the preponderance of grilled chicken, there is very little fried chicken in Thailand outside of KFC (which isn’t that bad, actually). Doing some research, I stumbled across an entry on public television and radio channel KQED’s food blog about the best fried chicken in the Bay Area and planned on visiting Little Skillet.

This “restaurant” is just a walk-up window in an alley not far from the Caltrain station and AT&T Park. An offshoot of the “neo-soulfood” farmerbrown restaurant, Little Skillet is open only for extended lunchtime hours and keeps a short and simple menu. Fried chicken features prominently. You order at the window and wait for your name to be called. Eating options include sitting on the loading dock of a warehouse across the street or, if you buy some of their coffee, the java joint next door lets you use their tables.

The biscuits are tasty and buttery, although more crumbly and less flaky than the ones I make. Still, they were pretty good.

Tawn, who prefers his chicken drier than I do, opted for the fried chicken po’boy sandwich. Made with chicken breast, he exclaimed that it was the best fried chicken he had ever had. 

Aiming to evaluate Little Skillet by its ability with the classics, I ordered a two-piece fried chicken with waffles. Tawn’s exclamation was well-placed: this was amazing fried chicken. The meat was flavorful and extremely well-seasoned. The coating was crispy and adhered well to the skin. The homemade honey jalapeño hot sauce is a perfect foil for the juicy, crispy, deep-fried goodness of the chicken. While I’ve never understood the combination with chicken, the waffles were light with just the right amount of crispiness.

Little Skillet is on the must return to list!

 

Wise Sons Delicatessen 

Speaking of the must return to list, we made a return visit to Wise Sons Deli, located on 24th Street just east of South Van Ness Avenue.

After our first visit last June to this relatively new entrant to the San Francisco deli scene, we were eager to return. Exiled New Yorkers have long bemoaned the lack of good deli food in San Francisco but that has recently started to change, not least of all by the entry of Wise Sons’ proprietors Evan Bloom and Leo Beckerman. Their meats are cured in-house and the quality of food, homey atmosphere, and friendly service make the place feel like it has been on this corner for decades.

On my last visit, I enjoyed a tasty pastrami sandwich. This time, I tried their corned beef Reuben. I’ve had a lot of Reubens in my life, many of which were made by my mother. This was simply the best one I’ve ever had, the one that came closest to recapturing my childhood memories, except that this corned beef was much better than any my mother ever made. Wise Sons cooks the brisket until fork tender and cuts it relatively thick. To say it “melts in your mouth” is accurate. Unlike a lot of brisket, this beef isn’t at all tough or chewy.

We also shared a plate of sinful pastrami cheese fries, minus the pastrami since Tawn isn’t a beef eater. The fries are loaded with Swiss bechamel sauce, caramelized onions, pickled cucumbers and jalapeño peppers, with a side of Russian dressing. Couldn’t eat this every day so that’s why we ate it this day!

 

Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream

While San Francisco isn’t known for its pastrami, it does have a great reputation for ice cream. Swensen’s, the global ice cream chain, was founded in San Francisco, and there are many small ice cream parlors that make interesting and innovative flavors from. One of the most prominent of these parlors is Humphrey Slocombe. Located just around the corner from Wise Sons, Humphrey Slocombe opened in 2008 and quickly gained notice for flavors like salted black licorice, hibiscus beet, and Jesus Juice.  

We were pretty full from lunch but Tawn ordered a Tin Roof Sundae: three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, candied peanuts, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Oh, boy!

Enjoying calories I didn’t really need. I also tried a taste of their salt and pepper ice cream, which tastes amazingly of… salt and pepper!

Well, hope that’s enough food porn to get your weekend off to a good start. There’s more to come!

 

Food in LA: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner

One of our dinners, per my sister’s request, was at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park.  Knott’s Berry Farm is “the other amusement park” in Orange County, located just up the road from Disneyland.  Jennifer requested that we go to Mrs. Knott’s as she had fond memories from a visit there when we were children.

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The history of Knott’s dates back to 1920, when Walter Knott and his family sold berries and preserves from a roadside stand.

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In 1934, to make ends meet, Knott’s wife Cordelia (1890–1974) reluctantly began serving fried chicken dinners on their wedding china. For dessert, Knott’s signature Boysenberry Pie was also served to guests dining in the small tea room. As Southern California developed, Highway 39 became the major north-south connection between Los Angeles County and the beaches of Orange County, and the restaurant’s location was a popular stopping point for drivers making the two hour trip in those days before freeways.

These days, the wait for dinner is still long.  Admittedly, we were a larger group than normal – about 10 people – but the wait was still about an hour.

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Prices have gone up over the years (by about 100 times) but the menu remains pretty much unchanged.  Frankly, this was more food than I wanted to have, as I was more interested in the boysenberry pie than anything else.  Walter Knott was responsible for naming and popularizing the boysenberry, a blackberry, raspberry, loganberry hybrid cross-bred by Rudolph Boysen of nearby Anaheim.

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The interior of the restaurant, made up of several medium sized dining rooms, looks very run-down, badly in need of a makeover or, at least, a deep cleaning.

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Buttermilk biscuit – okay, but not nearly as flaky or tasty as mine.

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Rhubarb compote served chilled as a starter.  Very, very sweet.

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Very sad salad.  “Farm fresh”?  Pathetic, really.

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The main course itself – three pieces of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn.  The food was okay, although I found the chicken a bit oily and, like pretty much all chicken in the US, the meat lacked any discernable flavor.

The dessert – the boysenberry pie with ice cream – was pretty good.  So good that I managed to not get a picture of it!  But overall, the meal proved the conventional wisdom that things are better in our memories than they are in real life.  At least I was surrounded by family, so in good company for an otherwise mediocre dinner.

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A nearly full moon climbs over the structure of GhostRider, the park’s wooden coaster.

 

Food in Bangkok – Khao Mok Gai on Convent

Flipping through Khun Chawadee’s book Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, I got an itching to try the Khao Mok Gai vendor on Soi Convent.  Khao Mok Gai, which alludes to a mountain of rice burying chicken, is the Thai take on chicken biryani.  Doubtlessly Indian in origin, the dish traces its more recent roots to the predominately Muslim south of Thailand.  It is a dish that is simultaneously simple and complex, one that rarely fails to satisfy.

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The vendor in question has long been a fixture on the sidewalk along Soi Convent, just off Silom Road.  Just down from the Starbucks and in front of an Irish Pub, the khao mok gai vendor’s cart perches on the edge of the curb with a half-dozen folding tables and plastic stools set out beneath umbrellas.

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The menu is rudimentary.  The khao mok gai comes in three ways: regular for 30 baht (US$1), rice special (extra rice) for 35 baht, chicken special (extra chicken) for 45 baht, or double-double for 50 baht.

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The dish is not fancy – a piece of chicken with a heaping pile of turmeric-stained rice.  Fried shallots and cucumber slices garnish and a dish of sweet chili sauce is on the side.  The rice is tasty and the chicken flavorful, though.

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Don’t skip the soup, which comes on the side.  Made with bits of chicken, herbs, and fried shallots, they serve this plain or spicy and its rich flavor hits the spot.

Like all street vendor places worth their salt, this cart gets very busy at lunchtime and they make their day’s wages or so. Don’t dilly-dally.  Eat your food, pay your tab, and get moving!

For an alternate (and Xangan) version of biryani, check out this video I made about a visit to the kitchen of Dr. Zakiah back in 2009!

 

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons

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In September I tried my hand at making preserved lemons.  The first batch has been sitting on the top shelf of my refrigerator ever since and I finally decided to pull them out and make something with them.  The obvious choice: a chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemons.  I captured the adventure on video.

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Preserved lemons are wonderful.  They have the bright lemony flavor with none of the acidic tartness.  I’ll have to try using them with other dishes.  I also need to make some more!

Per Matt’s recent request, I uploaded this video in high definition.  However, it seems a bit unwieldy to embed it in high definition as it will be twice as wide as my pictures normally are.  So if you want to see it in high definition, click here.  Otherwise, enjoy it as embedded.