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Bring on the Gluttony a/k/a It’s Chicago Restaurant Week!

March 2, 2012

So what have I been up to the last 6 months other than not writing on this blog?  Oh well, let’s see.  Oh yes, there was that one time about a month ago when I got HIT BY A CAR.  Not like I was in a car and then it was hit by another car.  I was walking… and a car hit my body.  I really like to lead with that to freak people out.  And I did actually get hit, roll up on the hood, and then  hit the ground much to my horror and, more importantly, my embarrassment.  But in the end I was left with a very sore tailbone, a really great story, and fortunately, no emotional or physical scars.  


Really the most major impact this has had on my life is that my doctor told me to lay off power yoga until I heal, which has in turn caused me to have a lot more time to cook delicious food and consume most likely 1,000s of extra calories and no outlet to burn those calories.  Cue a fall off the diet-wagon of epic proportions.  This has only been compounded by my recent interest in fatty foods that I never really paid much attention to in life but now seem irresistible (i.e. post Superbowl combination of Italian sub and pizza).   

This is all to say:  I need to turn this fat train around and soon.  So I gave myself a good (and disgusted) look in the mirror the other day and said Mel, starting March 1st, you need to get your shit together.  Get back at that yoga.  Start going back to your healthy cookbooks.  Stop going through white flour by the ton.  And so it was done.  As of March 1st, I am a new woman. 

Thankfully, when I made this resolution it was only February 19th.  So I still had over a week to continue on with my gluttonous ways.  Did you seriously think I was going to go on a diet during one of the greatest weeks to be a Chicagoan?  I am, of course, referring to Restaurant Week.  For those of you poor souls that do not know about this glorious week in February, I pity you.  Restaurant Week is a week span when some of the greatest Chicago restaurants offer prix fixe menus for $22, $33, and $44 a person.  Since most of these places are going to run you more like $75-150/person on a typical evening, this week offers meal steals, especially for certain young lawyers facing mountains of debt. 

A few weeks back when the list of participating restaurants and their menus came out I had grand plans to go to 5 or 6 restaurants during the week, but, alas, worries of my thinning wallet and my thickening waistline only allowed for 2 visits (oh and one of them wasn’t technically participating in Restaurant Week but at this place you take the reservation when you can get it).  Here are my thoughts on each and yes I neglected to take pictures.  I was going to say “I forgot to take pictures” but that is not true.  Nothing says “I couldn’t afford to come here unless it is Restaurant Week” more than snapping pictures of each course with your iPhone (not to say I haven’t done that before, my iPhone photo gallery is a veritable scrapbook of Chicago’s restaurants’ best dishes). 

MercaditoThis place did not even make the initial list of…. Ok so if you have not been here…Alright I just realized something.  I don’t like writing restaurant reviews, especially when I loved the place and nothing notable or shocking or dangerous happened.  We showed up, we had mexican goodness, we broke out.  The guacamole was lovely; the ceviche and tacos, delightful; the flan, a dream.  I am certainly not going to sit here and think of more synonyms for delicious or nitpick the deets (“the water was too icy, the chairs held me up too well”… I am talking to you Yelpers.)  Suffice it to say:  You should go to here. 

 Girl and the Goat:  What can I say about this place that has not already been said?  Well I have rambled on for enough time building up for this review so I might as well say something.  Here goes: 

4 (the number of months we had to wait to get into this place- in all fairness this was extended slightly due to the fact I threw myself in front of a moving vehicle the day before our initial reservation)

10 (p.m. that is, the time of our reservation on a Thursday night. Yes, this time is usually reserved for sleeping not eating Pig’s Face… yes its a real dish and yes we had it)

0 (the number of time I saw Stephanie Izard that night)

7 (the number of people in our party)

2-3 (the number of plates our server suggested to order per person- much to the chagrin of the small plates/sharing hater, Great Criticizer).

3-4 (the number of plates per person we actually ordered)

57 (the approximate number of different meats and strange ingredients having a party in my stomach the rest of the night)

In short, it was freaking AWESOME.  Even with the 4 month wait, the post bedtime reservation, and the pork belly/pretzel bread/goat empanada/duck tongue/grilled octopus coma I slipped into afterwards, I must say this was probably my best meal in Chicago to date.  That is to say, my best meal in life to date (you think there are better places to eat than in Chi-town? Well if there are I do not go to those place).

For those of you who need visual confirmation of my gluttonous February, check out these pics of my adventures in Lasagna Bolognese (AND check out my guide here and that website in general if you want to lose a whole day of your life, it’s THAT addicting):


Stay tuned for some much needed healthy cooking in March, including my first experience with a CSA (a/k/a Community Support Agriculture a/k/a  delivery of  fresh locally grown produce to my house!)


Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

February 17, 2012

Just like Michael Corleone, I thought I was out of the game but here I am back again.  The game is of course the writing-a-blog-about-food-that-I-cook-and-eat-game so I guess that’s where the similarities with me and Michael Corleone stop.   And so ends my poor attempt to cover up my over 6 month hiatus from blogging by bringing up cool things like  movies about the Mafia and Al Pacino. 

But let me make one thing clear: I have not stopped cooking, I have just stopped writing about it.  In the last 6 months I actually have stepped up my kitchen adventures, due in part, no doubt, to the bigger kitchen I now enjoy and my new toys like my super ultra cool KitchenAid Mixer (ode to it and its wonders to come).  But the biggest culinary theme that has been recently on my mind and that has finally fueled me to sit down and write this post is my obsession with not wasting food.  Having a huge kitchen (and a huge apartment that can  easily accommate large hungry groups) and living on a bigger shared grocery budget with The Great Criticizer (you didn’t forget about him did you?), things can easily get out of hand at the grocery store.  So one of my many New Years’ resolutions was to get better at using everything I buy- meaning not only carrying out the recipe for french onion soup for which I purchased 4 pounds of onions even though I am so tired and its snowy and I could totally just go for a bottle of wine and a bunch of cheese but ALSO using up those little odds and ends like the rest of the tomato paste in the can after you use the one tablespoon the recipe calls for (freeze it in individual portions for a quick thaw the next time you make that pasta sauce that needs an extra thickening agent).  My more recent attempt of making the most of out what I bought came after our Superbowl party.  To try to make things simple (yeah right, I know as much about simple as I do about budgets and the teams that played in the Superbowl), we decided to do a make-your-own-Italian-sub party.  I bought about a ton of deli meat (ham, turkey, salami, capicola, etc.) and cheese and a friend was kind enough to supply us with 4 loaves of french bread that were about as tall as me and, voila, party food.  Then of course, I decided I would be remiss if I did not at least attempt to also make homemade giardiniera and pesto for condiment options and of course we need some dips and spreads to get the party started and oh don’t you think a soft pretzel would be a perfect make-you- feel-like-you-are-right-there-at-the-superbowl treat.  And simple goes right out the window. 

The party was great and most of my last minute add-ons were a hit but the next day I had 2 full loaves of french bread already half stale, about 5 pounds of lunch meat, cheese to last a lifetime, and enough dips and spreads to throw another party.   So I have compiled a list of things I did with my leftovers after scouring the internets for ideas.  I hope it inspires you to be creative with your leftovers.  Oh not to be all crusadey about this but if you want your mind blown by the amounts of waste that happen in American food consumerism, check this out. 

 2 loaves of half stale french bread:  I cut one of the loaves into cubes.  I put half the cubes in my food processor along with garlic powder, salt and pepper and my favorite italian dry herbs and made some homemade breadcrumbs.  The other half I coated with garlic butter and baked until golden brown to make croutons (which I will top the aforementioned french onion soup with along with a few slices of melted provolone).  The other loaf I also cubed and froze in two large freezer bags.  I know I can make more croutons with them but I also intend to do a little research on the chances of bringing them back to life in a savory (or sweet) bread pudding.

Ham (so much ham) and cheese (so much cheese): What to do, what to do? Ham and cheese fritatta! So easy and fast.  I sauteed some veggies in butter, popped chopped ham pieces into the pan, poured an egg mixture in, and sprinkled with cheese.  This stays on the stove for just a few minutes then goes right into the oven and bakes until set.  Give it a few minutes to cool and flip the pan onto a large plate to serve in slices like a crustless quiche.  I loosely based my fritatta on this

Pitas:  I have no idea how I ended up with 2 packages of leftover pita bread at my Italian sub party but I think it showed up with some delicious hummus so I’m not complaining.  The first night I filled the pitas with some shredded jerk chicken (my good friend Jake Lohman made jerk chicken drumsticks for the party) and topped it with an avocado black bean dip I had put out as one of the party appetizers (super simple- just black beans and chopped avocado, tomato, green onion, and red bell pepper with a squeeze of lime tossed in rice wine vinegar).  I took the rest of the pitas, cut them into slices, split them, brushed them with oil, garlic and some red pepper flakes, and baked them until crispy.  And then I sat down and ate the whole pan of them with the symphony of leftover dips in my fridge. 

Finally, and perhaps one of my proudest culinary ideas to date:  Italian sub pizza. I was able to use all the ingredients that we used for the subs: pesto instead of marinara, topped with salami and cappicola, giardinera,  and torn up pieces of provolone.  I don’t know what was more delightful, the fact that I repurposed (yes, I just said repurposed and yes I am addicted to Chopped and yes you could totally play a drinking game while watching Chopped by drinking every time they use the word repurpose) my leftovers or the feeling of eating a gooey, cheesy, tangy, meaty, Italian sub on whole wheat homebaked crust.***

***Finding a good pizza crust I could make in my new KitchenAid was a bit of a challenge.  I have heard that every chef (accomplished or aspiring or otherwise) has that one thing that often hangs them up everytime they attempt it.  Ok maybe not accomplished chefs but my point is I make a crappy pizza dough.  I make a fine homemade bread, my biscuits rise beautifully, I even puffed up soft pretzel dough like a pro but everytime I go for pizza dough, it falls flat.. literally.  Maybe I used some bad recipes, maybe my yeast was shot (each time, seems unlikely yes) or maybe I made too many attempts Michael Corleone references and now I have bad Italian food karma- I dont know.  But I was finally able to do something thanks to old Martha. So thanks Marty, you’re the best, I don’t care what anyone says about you.

AND WE’RE BACK: Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup

October 23, 2011

So we here at Gavel & Spoon have been on hiatus for a bit.

Both of us just went through  major moves across town, and for various reasons, life has been crazy. But I made this soup last week and J swore it was one of the best things I’ve ever made. If that’s not reason enough to start up blogging again, what is?

To me, butternut squash just SCREAMS fall. And obviously, it shows up everywhere this time of year. I like butternut squash soup, but sometimes it can have too much dairy or is too thin or is too sweet. I was determined to figure out a great way to balance the sweetness of the squash. I went to the farmers market and picked up a squash and a bunch of tart michigan apples. These apples looked AMAZING- I figured that they would be a great way to round out the squash. I did a bunch of research on good recipes, but in the end, sort of made a mish-mash of a bunch of them and came up with this. I think the key is the thyme. Anyway: it was a hit at my house! Even my friend who is the best Italian cook I know, who has pages and pages of hand-written recipes by her mother (who is also an incredible cook) was totally bowled over. I have never been so proud of a dish. I hope you enjoy it as well!

1 Butternut squash

Thyme sprigs

2 small onions

2 large apples (I used Fuji)

2 cups of chicken stock + 1 cup

1/3 cup of heavy cream

Drizzle of maple syrup


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and non-stick spray.  Halve the butternut squash and clean the seeds out of the core. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and put a few sprigs of thyme in the empty seed cavity. Place the squash face down on the cookie sheet and bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the flesh is soft.

Meanwhile,  peel and slice the onions. Sautee in a large saucepan until translucent, approx. 5 min. Core and slice the apple (I didn’t peel mine, I liked the texture of the peel). Add to the pan with the onion and allow to sautee, approx. 10 minutes.

When the squash is done, cool slightlyand spoon the flesh out. Add the squash to the apples/onions with the thyme sprigs, adding another fresh sprig. Add the chicken stock, cover, and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat, and let cool slightly. Carefully ladle the mixture into a blender, being careful to only fill 2/3 of the way. Blend In bactches until the mixture has the consistency of a puree.

Put the puree in a deep sauce pan. Add more chicken stock to reach the consistency of the soup you desire. Stir in cream and a drizzle of maple syrup. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or keep on very low heat for up to an hour. If desired, serve with fresh thyme sprigs.



Oh Cuisinart 9-cup Food Processor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

July 14, 2011

Or at least let me count the awesome shitzit I made with you.  As she told you a few days back, Ms. Butter has been born again, as she just bought her very own FP.  Just like I envy anyone watching the Wire for the first time, I envy Ms. Butter.  She is about to embark on a culinary journey that is seemingly endless and, frankly, indescribable.  But as usual, I will try anyway.  Here are some highlights of the many exciting places my darling Cuisinart has taken me:

 Salsa, Hummus, and Dip, Oh My!

One of the simplest, and most awesome-est things to make in a food processor are salsas and other such dips.  So far I have used this magic machine to make your typical tomato based salsa (with varying degrees of spice due to the plethora of peppers offered at my local Whole Foods grocery store/martini bar/entertainment center), pineapple salsa, strawberry avocado salsa, peach salsa, traditional hummus, edamame hummus, and a list of dips too long to even recount.  The beauty of the FP is that you can head down to the farmers market, Whole Foods, or whatever your local grocery chain may be, see what is fresh, throw it in there, and wha-bam! Next thing you know you have a party pleasing, seasonal dip.  OR if you want to be even more creative you can incorporate your salsa or dip in a dish such as this.  When you are talking dips or dip- like substances, the sky is the limit with your trusty FP.

Word to the wise #1:  The pulse button is your friend.  For all you FP virgins out there, you can either turn the machine on and let it run or used the pulse button.  When making chunky dips or sauces, chopping, slicing, etc. do NOT just turn it on and let it run because instead of pineapple salsa you will end up with pineapple dust. 

Butters (and I don’t mean this or that). 

Another special talent of the FP that especially rocked my world was that it can make you your own homemade peanut butter. That’s right folks, just throw in the peanuts and run it until you get a butter-like substance.  I’m looking forward to taking this to a whole new level by making other nut butters.  Check out this article for some amazing ideas about cooking with nut butters, which, as it turns out is not only really super exciting but also healthy.  Who would have thunk it?  Oh, and don’t stop your adventures in buttering with nuts.  I topped a nice cut of tuna steak with this rich basil butter and it took one of my favorite easy weekday meals to a new high.  

Getting Sauced (and Souped?)

Ok now let’s get serious. Dip-phish.  Butter-phish-posh.  You can make a mean soup or hearty sauce on this little rascal.  A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to do just that when I was invited to a True Blood premiere party and asked to bring a dish.  I decided to make a version of a meatball which I have heard called a Viking Meatball (in honor of my favorite vampire and Viking pictured here for your viewing pleasure).  And then I kicked it up about a thousand notches when I turned the meatballs into sliders, a perfect party finger food, by…. wait for it…. using my FP to make homemade rolls.  WHAT WHAT! 

I don’t have a clever title for this one so I will just come out and say it: MY FOOD PROCESSOR MAKES BREAD

Well it doesn’t cook the stuff but it makes bread, roll, or even pizza dough making a ridiculously manageable activity.  Forget trying to perfect your kneading techniques and throw away that rolling pin- if you have a FP, just throw on the dough blade, and you are all set.  I have made wheat bread dough, biscuit dough, pizza dough, and of course these lovely roasted garlic buns.

Word to the wise #2:  When I process the dough in my FP, it tends to jump around the counter a lot, so I keep a close eye on it.  At first I was worried that this wasn’t a good thing and that the FP was about to explode but since nothing has gone wrong so far I will just assume this is my FP’s way of telling me how excited it is about the bread-making too. 

Eric Northman’s Viking Meatball Sliders makes 18 sliders

Adapted from and much mid-baking/cooking frantic googling


You will need:

½ pound ground pork

½ pound ground beef

½ pound ground veal (apologies to all my vegan/veggie/PETA friends out there but, like Vampire Eric, these meatballs are politically incorrect)

½ cup panko breadcrumbs (or of course you can get really feisty and make your own homemade breadcrumbs in your FP)

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

8 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes 

Mix the first 6 ingredients together with 6 tablespoons of cheese and form the mixture into 18 balls.  Over a medium-high stove heat the vegetable oil and brown the meatballs, working in batches.  Move meatballs to a side plate and pour off any remaining oil and dripping.  Heat olive oil in pan.  Add onion, garlic, basil and fennel seeds and brown (about 5 minutes) then add tomatoes, bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes.  Transfer sauce to FP and puree until smooth (Tip: leave the stopper out of the top of the FP to let steam escape but cover with a towel when you process unless you want a lovely red hue added to your kitchen décor).  Return sauce to pan and add meatballs, cover and simmer for about 30 more minutes. 


3/4 cups warm water (the Cuisinart guidebook recommends the water be between 110 and 115 degrees)
1 tablespoons molasses

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour (maybe a touch more, see below)
1 whole bulb garlic

Before you begin the dough-making roast the garlic in the oven for about 45 minutes at 300 degrees (I poured a little olive oil on mine and wrapped it in aluminum foil before putting it in the oven).  When it comes out you can squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out and chop them up. 

Combine the water, molasses, yeast and olive oil in your FP with the dough blade in place.  Run until combined.  I used a little trick and added the olive oil in a slow pour to the mix as it was processing.  Add the flour, salt, and chopped garlic and run until the dough is in one single mass and the FP cleans the side of the bowl.  Run an extra 45 seconds to knead the dough (this replaces the manual kneading).  The dough should be sticky but manageable (for me this took two tries, the first batch came out runny and gooey so I tried again and added a touch more flour and it came out much better).  Place in a mixing bowl brushed with olive oil, cover and store in a warm area until it rises to double its size (for me this took about an hour). 

Portion to dough into 18 dough balls on a baking sheet and allow to rise again for 20-30 minutes.  Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top along with a pinch of salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. 

Basil Pistachio Pesto

July 11, 2011

Yesterday, I joined the ranks of Real Cooks.

Yesterday, my cooking hobby became legit.


After months of listening to Melba Toast talk about how amazing her food processor is, and how it has changed her life (a topic soon to be addressed by a blog post, I believe), I finally broke down and got one. Well, it wasn’t exactly that easy. To be fair, my gentleman friend J sort of talked me into it. “They are too expensive,” I whined. He pointed out that we had one of those famous 20% off coupons at Bed Bath & Beyond… and after all, if we SPLIT the cost of it, it wouldn’t be that much, right? After much cajoling and extensive research on his part (seriously, the dude did more research on food processors than most people do on cars), and armed with our coupon, we settled on this puppy, an 11-cup beauty with a chopping blade, dough blade, slicing disc, and shredding disc. AND A DVD.

I was immediately in love. As soon as we got home, I sat down and watched the DVD. OHMYGOD I can make salsa! And gazpacho! And slice anything!!!!! J pointed out that all we really wanted to do tonight was make pesto. Oh. Right. So make pesto we did. And damn, it was delicious. And took about 5 minutes to make, plus the time to shell pistachios.

Warning: As you can see, this recipe makes a HUGE amount of pesto. Like, ridiculous. You can easily halve it, or spread the leftovers into an ice tray to freeze. Then, you can pop them out and have a perfect serving size of pesto for any night.

You’ll need:

  • 4 cups basil, loosely packed
  • 1 cup of pistachios, shelled
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese, shredded (also can do in the food processor!)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt/pepper to taste

Place the garlic, pistachios, and basil into the food processor. Pulse until well chopped. Then, turn the food processor on, and slowly add the olive oil until well-blended. Add the shredded cheese and pulse a few times to mix– not too much, or the blades will heat up and cause the cheese to melt.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over hot pasta, or on top of bruchetta, or in a spoon into your mouth.

We put our pesto into a fresh tri-color ribbon pasta with blanched sugar snap peas, green beans, and garlic scapes.


Crispy Onion Straws & Spicy Dipping Sauce

July 7, 2011

When I was in high school and college, I worked at a lovely culinary establishment– a real local place– called Ruby Tuesday. Famous for its salad bar, Ruby Tuesday (like most suburban chain restaurants) had a staff of students and degenerates, a management rife with corporate B.S., and food that was true american crap. I mean, I’m not saying some of it wasn’t delicious, but let’s be serious, folks…. fine dining this wasn’t.

Having said that– one of the highlights of the menu were the onion straws. Crispy, thin strips of onion served on the side of a platter– and of course these came from a freezer bag, to a deep fryer, to your plate. Despite these dubious origins, these suckers were delicious.

Fast-forward to last night. It was Burger Night at my little household- and no half-assing beef here, we’re talking IDEAL BURGERS. We had time, we carefully collected all the ingredients, and were determined to make burgers EXACTLY how we like it. We’re talking bacon, cheese, a meticulously-seasoned out burger patty, pretzel buns– and of course, crispy onion straws. “But Ms. Butter,” you wail. “I DONT HAVE A DEEP FRYER.” Calm yourselves. Remember that cast iron skillet? Multi purpose, baby. With a little planning and good splatter guard, you’ll have these puppies in no time:

You’ll need:

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (we’re talking super thin, people. use a mandolin, if you have one, or a very sharp knife. if you can see the knife through the onion, it’s thin enough.)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (if you dont have buttermilk, no big deal. Just mix slightly less than a cup of milk with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar, let it sit for 5 minutes, and voila.  It’s magic!)
  • 1 quart canola oil (I had saved the oil from frying chicken. Used oil works better, for some reason. But unused will be ok too.)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use less if you want them less spicy)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Lawry’s seasoning salt (optional)

In a shallow pan, layer the onions, pour the buttermilk over them, cover, and stick ’em in the fridge. Let them soak for at least an hour. (I know, this seems like a long time, but it’s worth it….something about taking away the acidity or something. I dont know, i just know it’s good.)

Heat the oil in the cast iron skillet to a heat of 375 degrees (use your nifty thermometer from the fried chicken!).  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, cayenne, and salt & pepper. Take the onions out and place a handful (or tong-ful) at a time into the flour mixture. When the oil is hot enough, take the tong-ful of onions (being sure to tap on the side of the bowl to rid excess flour) and carefully place them in the hot oil. Repeat this with several more tong-fuls of onions– you should be able to fit about 4 in the pan. And, by the time you set the last one in, the first one should be ready to be turned. Cook the onions for 1-2 minutes per bunch, then remove and let drain on a paper towel. Repeat until you run out of onions. Toss finished onions with Lawry’s for that little extra ooomph. And everybody likes ooomph.

Now, I like onions as a topper for things– burger, salad, whatever- but they are equally good alone with a little dipping sauce. I found this recipe on the internet that SWORE it tasted like the Outback’s bloomin’ onion sauce. I tweaked it a bit, and even my mayonnaise-hating boyfriend thought it was pretty good. You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of horseradish mustard (or that creamy horseradish sauce, or hell, even horseradish. whatever you have is cool.)
  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano

Mix all of that goodness together and boom! Deliciousness. Tip: the longer you let it sit in the fridge before serving, the better it tastes, so if you have a spare half-hour, let the flavors all hang out together for a bit before slathering it on the onions.

As it happened, I put the sauce on my burger last night, and topped it with onion straws. Result? Perfect summer evening.

Sunday Dinner: Fried Chicken

June 22, 2011

So every Sunday, my gentleman friend J and I attempt to cook a big meal. Not just big, in the sense that there is a lot of food– though, inevitably, there ends up being more than two people can even dream of eating– but more like complicated, something that we couldn’t just whip up on an average tuesday after work. We have tackled all number of things, many of which will likely end up on this blog– but none quite as daunting as what we did this past sunday: pan fried chicken.

Looks good, right? Fried chicken, ya’ll, is like getting that new iPhone– it involves commitment.  Oh, you think, can’t wait to FaceTime and Tweet and make videos of my cat– but if you want the phone, you gots to sign the plan and get data and a cover and you sure as shit better have AppleCare.  Similarly, you can’t just throw some chicken in a pan and five minutes later crunch down on a drumstick that puts Popeye’s to shame. You have to have the right equipment, you have to do a little advanced planning, and be prepared for a bit of a mess.  Having said that– kids, every second you put into it is worth it. It’s fried chicken. It’s crunchy and juicy and flavorful and there is nothing on the planet like it.

This recipe is inspired by one I found by Ted Allen, in his book The Food You Want to Eat (find it on Amazon here).  I tweaked and fiddled with it a bit. But first, let’s talk equipment.

Cast Iron Skillet. A necessity. If you don’t have one, drive your ass down to Bed Bath & Beyond and get one now. These heavy pans hold so much flavor in them, and they can hold up to the heat necessary for the frying necessary here. You can possibly use another deep frying pan, but definitely not one that is non-stick– they just can’t handle the heat.

Fry Thermometer. Your everyday meat thermometer won’t work. You need one that is made for frying (often they are also called candy or jelly thermometers). In preparation for making fried chicken, I went and bought this exact one. They are super cheap at BB&B or your local food store.

Cooling Rack. Another good thing to have around the house– great for cookies/biscuits/baking as well as anything fried. This allows the chicken to drip dry instead of sitting in grease on a plate. Again, super cheap.

So once you get all your toys together, you’re going to need something else for this chicken: time. Letting the chicken soak in buttermilk and herbs makes all the difference– and the longer, the better. The salt makes the chicken juicy, and the buttermilk makes the flour stick to the chicken really well. In short: do the buttermilk thing. It’s worth it.

okay! Let’s get started. You’ll need:

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • sprig of thyme
  • 3 tbsp of salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp siraicha (optional)
  • 1.5 quarts of canola oil (approx. 6 cups)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut up into 8 peices (you can get them pre-cut up at the grocery store if that’s beyond your skillz)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp Lawrys seasoning salt
  • 1 tbsp each of cumin, chili powder, & cayenne pepper
  1. In a large bowl, combine buttermilk, garlic, thyme, 2 tbsp of salt, and pepper. If you want a little kick to your chicken, add the siracha and stir thoroughly. Place chicken in the buttermilk, cover and refrigerate.  Let the chicken soak for as little as 2 hours, but preferably overnight or all day.
  2. Heat oil in cast-iron skillet over medium-high flame. You want around 2/3 inch of oil in the pan– not enough to cover the chicken– if you put too much in, the oil will overflow when cooking. Insert thermometer into the oil– you want the oil to reach 350 degrees.  When you put the the chicken in, the temp will drop drastically, so make sure you’re up to 350 before you put in the bird. This will take a few minutes, as many as 15.
  3. While the oil is heating, place the flour in  large sealable plastic bag. Add the Lawry’s and spices, as well as a bit of pepper. Take chicken from the buttermilk, approx. 3 pieces at a time, and place in bag. Shake thoroughly, then place floured chicken on a cookie sheet. Repeat for the rest of the chicken.
  4. When the oil gets to 350 degrees, carefully place each peice of chicken, skin side down, in the pan. You should be able to fit all 8 in the pan; if it gets too crowded, do this step in batches. [NOTE: if you do the chicken in batches, make sure to heat the oil back up to 350 before you start the second batch.] Cover the pan and let the chicken cook for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and let cook another 5 minutes. Then, turn each peice, checking to make sure it is golden brown on the skin before you do so:

  • Let the chicken cook an additional 7 or so minutes for the white meat (breast and wings), and 9 or so minutes for the dark meat (thighs and drummies).  Make sure all the skin is golden brown before you remove. Place the chicken on a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined cookie sheet to drain for a few minutes. Serve immediately, or later, or cold, because frankly, fried chicken is good any way you serve it.

Yeeeeeah buddy. I’m not going to say it’s as good as Bojangles’ (you kids from the South know what i’m talking about), but it is still damn good. And, just like having a phone with Words with Friends– totally worth the committment.

By the way, this dish is even better when served with biscuits. Obviously. I’m thinking a biscuit post might be good for tomorrow. Because, y’know, clear arteries are overrated.