Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Kitchen Basics- Fried Chicken

It's been nearly a year already but let me just say again- Whew!!!  Moving stinks!! You never know how much kitchen stuff you have until you are looking at a stack of empty boxes, trying to fit it all in there. The days of lake living behind us now, The Chef and The Baker are making our home in the city once again, and it's a good thing. Much has changed in the five years we spent adjusting to rural life. New stores, new restaurants, new breweries and wineries have popped up all over the place, and Des Moines has become quite a culinary destination. 

I have really enjoyed exploring some of the new foodie hot spots around town. In the East Village section of the city is a specialty shop called Allspice that's filled with- you guessed it, spices. This was one of my first forays into city life again. While I really didn't need any more spices, I surely wanted them, and Allspice met that need and more so. In the Valley Junction area is a gourmet kitchen store I want to check out, West Des Moines is home to a brand new Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery store, and Vom Fass is in the trendy Shops at Roosevelt shopping area. I first discovered Vom Fass on a trip to the Mall of America and was thrilled to see one located in Des Moines.

One of my favorite places to shop when I lived in the city before was Gateway Market, located in the historic Sherman Hill district just on the fringe of downtown. I think of all the cool places in the city, this is hands down my favorite foodie place. The beautiful produce, incredible baked goods, outstanding wines selection, and of course- THAT olive bar........I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself with this fantastic shop and it didn't take long! A quick stop in Gateway on my way home from work is just as easy as hopping off the freeway and hopping back on.

Since I now have access to all kinds of amazing herbs and spices it's time to restock my kitchen shelves with some of my go-to basics. I have always made herb and spice blends and rubs of my own to use in cooking. It's so convenient to whip them up and cup or two at a time and have them ready on the spice shelf. I love trying meat rubs and spice mixtures from other sources but my own blends are my most-used combinations. A good seasoned flour mix is always great to have on hand. Not just for fried chicken but good with fish, chicken fried steak, dredging roasts and stew meat- anything that needs a quick dip into flour before being seared or fried goes great with this flavorful blend of seasonings. Dare I say, I think it's even better than the Colonel's 11 Herbs and Spices!

My All Purpose Seasoned Flour

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dry mustard powder
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon celery seed
couple dashes ground cayenne pepper

Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind the celery seed to a powder. Combine all ingredients in a bowl; spoon into jars for storage.

I love having this mixture ready to go on the shelf- it is soooo useful in so many dishes. One of my favorite of all comfort foods is good old fashioned homemade fried chicken. It's easier than you think too. Fried chicken has always been a much-loved food at our house, even an obsession when it came to our beloved cat Georgie. Although he is no longer with us you can't have fried chicken at our house without laughing about Georgie's Daring Chicken Robbery. You see, one weekend the Chef and I were spending considerable time perfecting our fried chicken recipe, tweaking the seasonings, trying different brines, and making batches of fried chicken. Now.... you could have roast chicken, baked chicken, chicken salad, barbequed chicken- George paid no attention, but the minute he smelled FRIED chicken, he'd lose his mind. Like a possessed wild animal he would do anything to get some, and after a lot of cooking and finally coming up with the perfect buttermilk brined fried chicken, the Chef was just sitting down to eat dinner with a perfectly prepared fried chicken breast on his plate. The Chef got up to grab a fork and thought he saw a flash of orange fur from the corner of his eye- and sure enough, faster than the speed of sound Georgie had stolen that perfect chicken breast.....

So in honor the the late great Georgie the Cat, let's butcher a chicken and get ready to make fried chicken. Start with a chicken, of course- I usually cut up a whole chicken myself but you can use chicken pieces, all breasts, all dark meat- whatever your family likes. I learned how to butcher a chicken from my mother and that's just what I prefer. Besides getting all the traditional pieces I like to cut the breast halves in half again crosswise so all the pieces are approximately the same size.

A good quality knife is critical when butchering whole chicken, or any other meat. My knife of choice is a Cutco chefs knife. This thing is badass. It can cut right through bone and never seems to dull.

To cut up a whole chicken start by rinsing the chicken thoroughly and pat the skin dry with paper towels. I know the current trendy thing is "don't wash your chicken" but honestly, I rinse my chicken under gently running water, I don't slosh chicken water and juices all over so I have no concerns about flinging bacteria around. In fact I'm much more concerned about the bacteria the chicken picks up in processing than I am about any potential contamination. If you prefer not to rinse your chicken, that's fine too. Place the chicken on a plastic cutting board (not wood) and start by loosening the thighs from the body. When you have loosened and snipped the skin use your hands to separate the thigh joint from the body, then use a sharp heavy knife to cut through and remove the leg quarter. Cut through the joint between the drumstick and thigh and set the pieces aside. Repeat with the other side. 

Use a similar technique to remove the wings and set them aside. Then stand the chicken up and cut through the ribs to separate the  back from the breast. Reserve the back portion for stock if you make your own, otherwise discard it. Now, it's easiest to place the breast skin side down and split it in half from the back. I split the chicken breast into halves lengthwise, then again crosswise to make four breast pieces. I also rinse my chicken again to make sure there are no bone fragments anywhere. 

Bone-in chicken is always best and thighs are delicious
Some people like to brine their chicken overnight, in a very salty brine. I love brining poultry- you end up with a spectacularly juicy and delicious bird. To make the brine, dissolve 1/3 cup salt in one quart cool water. Place the chicken in a gallon size zip top bag, pour the brine over and seal the bag, pressing the air out. Place in a bowl in the fridge overnight. Rinse well and pat dry before cooking.

Another way to impart fantastic flavor and juiciness to your chicken is to let the chicken bathe in buttermilk overnight. Follow the same method with the zip top bag, and when you're ready to cook, simply shake off the excess buttermilk and roll in the seasoned flour to coat. I love this method because you get a thicker crust on the chicken.

Frying chicken is easy too. A great big deep cast iron skillet is the traditional way to go but any deep heavy pan will do. Heat a good amount of oil over medium high heat until nice and hot. After dredging the chicken in the seasoned flour mixture place the chicken pieces carefully in the hot oil and fry, turning often until golden brown all over. Remove to drain briefly on paper towels and then finish the chicken in a 400 degree oven until cooked completely- 165 degrees is what you're shooting for. Is gravy your thing? Use some of those tasty drippings and more of the seasoned flour to make a delicious cream gravy. If this isn't comfort food..... I don't know what it.

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