Monday, August 13, 2012

Adventures in Fried Chicken

Holy cow, I overslept this morning!  I did manage to (barely) get up in time to make breakfast for my sweetie before she went off to work, though, so I guess it's not that bad.  She tells me (in reference to our German Shepherd) that a tired dog is a good dog... I wonder what a sleepy witch is?

On to the story, though.  Starting at the beginning, for my birthday I received a Food Network Magazine subscription from a family friend.  I always like to try to appreciate gifts, and I really wanted to like the magazine, but I'm not sure many of the recipes seem like my style, honestly.  I was determined I was going to craft something from the pages of this magazine, though, and I finally settled on a fried chicken recipe, which was billed as the recipe they use at the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant.

So, starting on Saturday evening and continuing in to Sunday evening, I prepared this fried chicken.  I'm not going to go through all the steps (since the recipe you can click on does that already), except to say that I did substitute ancho for the berbere, and I used an electric deep-fryer instead of the stovetop pan of oil.  The chicken turned out well; the breading was thick and crispy and flavorful and I would say it was every bit as good as what you would get at a fried chicken restaurant (like Oprah's favorite, Ezell's Chicken, which happens to be local here).

So why did it seem so wrong?

My 'usual' fried chicken recipe is from my vintage 1969 edition Betty Crocker's Cookbook, which is also (as near as I can tell from the flavor) my grandmother's recipe--except, of course, that instead of cooking oil, she would always fry in saved bacon fat (as do I).  It's a very simple and elegant recipe; other than the chicken itself and the fat to fry it in, the only ingredients are flour, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Almost nothing need get wasted; even the little bit of extra seasoned flour that doesn't stick to the chicken can be used to make a great milk gravy with the pan drippings.  And it's slow-fried, so the chicken is incredibly tender all the way to the bone--it's all about bringing out and complementing the flavor of the meat.

Compare that to the FNM recipe, which calls for a lot of exotic and/or expensive ingredients, at least one of which is ridiculously difficult to find and purchase--there's the berbere spice (or ancho powder, since you can actually find that), coconut milk, and semolina, all of which I bought specifically to make this recipe.  It also seems extremely wasteful as printed; it has us make far more spice mix than the recipe actually uses, it uses an entire quart of buttermilk to make more marinade that seems necessary, and the flour mixture (with the expensive semolina in it) also had a lot left over.  And that's not even mentioning the large quantity of peanut oil that can't be used again after frying this.  What does all this get you?  Basically, a glorified buttermilk batter on some flash-fried chicken.  This recipe is obviously all about the coating--the chicken is hurriedly cooked in the space of less than ten minutes, effectively sacrificing it for the good of the "extra-crispy" batter.

To review:  One recipe feels traditional, elegant, and efficient, and enhances the main ingredient; the other feels industrial, over-complicated, and wasteful, and reduces the main ingredient to a vehicle for its coating.  Is it any wonder that one of them feels much more magical than the other one?

I'm still glad I tried this recipe, despite feeling absolutely no connection to the resulting meal.  I think it taught me a lot about what "my style" of cooking is, and why.  And, it gave me a new appreciation for my simple, elegant recipes.  Maybe there's some magic in that after all.

1 comment:

  1. It was good, crispy and flavorful. But I think I like your grandmother's chicken better! I am proud that you took on such a complicated recipe since you are still such a new chef.