Home Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Frying foods at home is one of those “beyond my comfort zone” aspects of frying.  It tends to make a mess and smells up the house.  More than a year ago I tried a cold oil method to fry French fries, and that turned out pretty well.  But I haven’t done much frying since.  Last week my attention was caught by a Cooks Illustrated recipe for fried chicken that uses less oil.

The long and the short of it is that they decided on a method that uses frying in a shallow amount of oil to help form a nice crust on the exterior, followed by oven baking to finish cooking it through. The results is supposed to be a evenly cooked chicken with nice exterior crunch without as much oil and without as much hassle from deep frying.

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You start by placing the chicken pieces – I used boneless breasts – in a buttermilk and salt brine, combined with cayenne pepper and other spices for several hours.  Would you believe I cannot buy bone-in chicken breasts at the store?  I have to get a whole chicken for that.  Obviously they aren’t butchering their own chickens.

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While waiting, I prepped some long bean.  These two-foot long beans look like green beans and are just a little less crispy.  Good alternative, though.  I stir-fried these with a splash of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and some slivered almonds.

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Next, prepare a coating of flour, baking powder, a little salt, and more spices.  The trick here is that you add just a bit of buttermilk and start stirring it, so you form little clumps that make the chicken’s crust more substantial.

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Take the chicken out of the brine and dredge it in the flour mixture, being sure to pat on a nice thick coating.  Easier said than done!

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While waiting for the oil to heat, I finished the mashed potatoes.  These keep nicely covered at a very low heat with a bit of butter on top.

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Time to fry!  Temperature control is a pain.  My thermometer doesn’t reach to the bottom of the pan so when there isn’t much oil, I don’t get an accurate read.  I ended up scorching the bottoms of the chicken just a little.  D’oh…  After about five minutes in the oil (turning half way through the time) I transferred the chicken to a rack placed in a baking tray and finished for about twenty minutes in the oven.

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Despite the slightly burned exterior, the end result looked pretty nice.  Tasted good, too!

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Inside was nice and juice, thanks to the brining.  Yum.

 

Miso Glazed Fish Fillet and Apple Cobbler

When trying to think of what to make for a meal, I often turn to cookbooks.  Not so much for the recipes themselves – I have a habit of not following those very closely – but for an idea, an inspiration of something that sounds good and fits the constraints of time, money, and interest.  So it was that Thursday afternoon I was flipping through Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home which Tawn had left out. 

“Menu 8: Tofu and Scallions in Mushroom Broth; Miso-Glazed Fish Fillets; Seasame Brown Rice and Cabbage; and Caramelized Persimmons.”

Two words from that over-ambitious menu leapt off the page: Miso-Glazed.

The concept was simple enough: prepare a glaze made of just four ingredients: mirin (Japanese sweet rice cooking wine) or, not having that, sake; rice wine vinegar; miso paste; and sugar.  I keep miso paste in the fridge because it lasts pretty much forever and is a handy flavor enhancer.  Sake and rice wine vinegar are nice items to keep in the cupboard.  And instead of sugar, some maple syrup would add a nice touch.

Salmon would have been a fantastic choice of fish, too, but Martha suggested black cod.  I went with her suggestion, taking a single good sized fillet, placing it on a baking sheet.  To make clean-up easy, I lined the baking sheet with some parchment paper and lightly oiled it so the fish wouldn’t stick.  Brush a generous coating of miso glaze on the fish and then put it under the broiler for about 6-8 minute, or until the top is nicely browned and the fish is opaque throughout.

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I served the fish on top of some mashed potatoes with a chopped salad on the side.  I make my mashed potatoes with butter, an ingredient that some people like to demonize but I think a little butter will go a long way to making your potatoes nice.  I also added some leftover sour cream and some chopped fresh rosemary to give it a tang and a nice piney aroma.

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For dessert, an apple cobbler.  I used pink lady apples, chopped small with the skin still on.  Cooked them in a saucepan for a few minutes with a little bit of sugar, a little bit of water, a little bit of corn starch, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Cook until starting to soften and add a little more water if necessary in order to get a bit of a not-too-thick sauce with the apples.

Put the apples into an over-proof dish.  I topped it with a homemade sweet biscuit dough, similar to what I use for shortcake.  Flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and a little sugar.  Cut in some vegetable shortning (Crisco) to the size of peas, and then add either buttermilk (or, if you don’t have that, milk) and stir just until combined.  Put the dough on the top of the fruit leaving a few openings for steam to escape.  I put a few slices of butter on top of that and sprinkled on some raw sugar for a nice visual.  Bake in a 350 F oven for about 25 minutes or until the juices are bubbling and the crust is golden.  Serve once cooled to room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or just a little pour of fresh cream.  Key word here: cream.

 

French Fries – Cold Oil Method

There are certain cooking techniques with which I am not very familiar.  Deep frying is one of them.  Part of this is because all I have is a small condo kitchen.  There is not a nice outdoor kitchen for “heavy duty” cooking, the type that imparts a lingering smell in your furniture, carpets and draperies.  Lack of familiarity doesn’t quiet my curiosity, though.  In fact, it heightens it.

That is why, when Cook’s Illustrated published a recipe for “Easier French Fries” using a cold oil method in the July/August 2009 issue, I was intrigued and eager to try it.

Conventional wisdom holds that to make good french fries you need to rinse the cut potatoes to remove excesses starch and then fry them twice, once at a lower temperature to cook the potatoes and a second, more brief dousing in the oil to form a crisp crust.

That is a lot of work.  Frankly, I’ll just walk down to McDonald’s instead of going through that much work.  As the author of the CI article explained it, they broke with conventional wisdom and achieved exceptional results along with a few added benefits.

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Their first break with tradition was to abandon the Russet potato, which they found to be too dry and starchy for this single-fry method.  They chose instead the Yukon Gold, which is waxier in texture.  Our local markets don’t identify the different potato types by name but I picked up some that looked like Yukons.  Squaring the sides, I cut them into batons about 3/8″ wide.  No peeling beforehand and no rinsing after.

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Next, place the potatoes in a Dutch oven or other heavy, deep pan along with the oil.  Peanut oil was recommended but as that wasn’t readily available here, I used canola oil.  I also added a few tablespoons of duck fat left over from a previous cooking project.  A little duck fat or bacon fat will add more flavor to the fries.  How do I know this?  Because they add flavor to anything!

This cold oil method is attributed to a recipe from Jeffrey Steingarten, a food write whose approach to food (and life) and style of writing appeals to me.  It was attributed to the method of Michelin-starred chef Joel Robuchon.

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This is where the process really breaks all the rules.  You put the pan on the stove top and turn the heat to high until the oil is boiling.  During this time you do not stir the fries at all.  After the boiling starts you continue to cook for about fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are limp but the exteriors are starting to firm up.

It is only at this point that you start to stir the fries, gently unsticking any that have caught on the bottom of the pan or each other.  After the fries are golden and crisp you can pull them out and drain them on paper towels, paper bags, newspapers, or whatever else is handy.

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The resulting fries were very tasty, if just a little overcooked.  But who is going to complain when you have freshly made french fries sitting in front of you?

I mentioned that the author of this method discovered a few unexpected benefits.  Not only does this cold oil method result in a lot less splatter and, subsequently, a lot less “fried food” smell inundating your house, it also results in fries that absorb a lot less fat.  Based on some scientific analysis, the CI lab found that fries cooked by the cold oil method contained about one-third less fat than the conventional twice-fried method: 13% versus 20%.  When I went to pour the oil back into the bottle, I was surprised to discover that it refilled the bottle nearly to the top.  Only a few tablespoons had been lost in the entire process!

Now, I don’t know that I’ll be making french fries again anytime soon.  But I’m glad I gave them a try.