Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

There is no comfort food quite like fried chicken and there are so many tips and tricks that make this recipe truly great. Through our years of first hand experimentation in addition to countless hours of research we are proud to bring you this recipe which guarantees the most crispy and flavorful chicken you will find anywhere… rivaling that of any of the most well known brands out there and customized to your individual taste, to boot!

Before we talk spices and seasonings though, the first and most important thing about this recipe is temperature. Deep fried foods will only come out crispy if you maintain your temperature around 350 degrees F. If you let the temperature drop, you will allow time for the oil to infiltrate the batter and keep it oily, and that makes for a soggy crust. If there is one rule you need to follow it is this. You can dredge your chicken in flour, egg, and then (salted) flour only and if you keep the temperature between 350 and 375 you’ll still get good results. So have a method to maintain accurate temperature control first. We use an infrared thermometer and fry in small batches to keep the initial temperature drop of the oil to a minimum.

Secondly, gluten is the enemy of crispy fried chicken. When you make a tempura batter, many recipes involve using a flour mixture and either ice cold water or ice cold soda water, and using the mixed up batter quickly. It’s because cold water inhibits gluten formation more than warm water and it’s the gluten protein matrix that holds on to oil. Keeping in mind the advice about keeping temperature high and consistent above, good tempura chefs use a batch of batter for each order/dish because the longer it sits after liquid is added, the more gluten is formed, and the less crispy the finished tempura becomes. Ice cold water is usually the first choice for mixing up wet batters for frying, but if you want even better results you can use ice cold vodka. Vodka is 40% alcohol, and gluten can’t form in alcohol at all. Using vodka will afford you even more time to fry up batches of good tempura, but if you live in a place where vodka is expensive like here in Canada, ice cold water may be a better alternative but let’s get back on track here… If you want to keep a wet batter from holding on to excessive oil then make sure to use ice cold water.

 

The third most important thing is the batter/dredge composition. Now that you know that gluten is the enemy of good crispy crust formation it comes in handy to know that it is only standard flour that can develop gluten at all. Korean and Chinese chefs use corn starch almost exclusively for frying… not that it would matter so much though as wok temperatures can easily go far beyond 350 degrees F but i digress… Corn flour and corn starch are culinary weapons in the quest for crispy fried chicken but we get some great results for this recipe with a 50% mix of corn flour and corn starch and 50% flour.. and now for a secret ingredient that you won’t see us using in the videos below 😉  if you want extra crispy and I mean almost hurt your gums kind of crispy, add 1 T of dried mashed potato flakes for each cup of seasoned flour mix/dredge. Seriously. You won’t taste the potato and everyone will wonder where you developed your mad frying skills.

Now that you’re up to speed on some frying techniques that can be applied to just about any foods (like calamari for instance) here comes the fun part. It’s time for the seasonings and this is where your preferences come into play! You can use any spices you want at all for fried chicken, whether it be the colonel’s 12 herbs and spices like KFC original recipe (White pepper, black pepper, sage, coriander, ginger, ancho chile, vanilla, bay leaf, savory, cloves, and cardamom) our mix (savory, powdered dried chives, black pepper, oregano, paprika, kashmiri chile pepper, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, ginger powder, thyme, ajinomoto) or your own mix of favorites, when you follow the tips above and cook your seasoned flour mixture to a golden brown color it’s almost guaranteed to be delicious! In any case though you will want to make sure you heavily season your dredge/flour mixture as very little of it will actually end up sticking your chicken…. And don’t forget the salt! Salt is the most important part of the recipe even if it’s not listed as an ingredient… after all that’s what ‘seasoning’ really means, right? Salt makes food taste more like itself and without it, food is bland.

 

And the last ingredient? Baking powder. Use 1/2 tsp of baking powder for each seasoned cup of flour. Using too little will result in a batter that’s lays too flat on the chicken and too much will cause it to ‘explode’ outwards leaving pieces behind in your oil.

We served this chicken with our homemade potato salad…. Enjoy the photos and videos below!

Gumbo Stew

Gumbo Stew

We needed a dish to help keep us warm this winter. Being in the Cariboo now about 350km North of Vancouver it stays a little on the cool side here compared to on the Coast and with this years polar vortex bringing in cool air between -20 and -30C we’ve really had to work at staying warm! Fortunately for us we have a roaring fireplace and some great food to help out with that.

Tomato beef stew gets a bit boring after awhile so this time we thought we’d elevate the dish a little bit by starting with a Gumbo rioux and throwing in some seafood in addition to the typical stewing ingredients like tomatoes and potatoes.

It all starts with a two pound piece of bone-in blade steak with plenty of marbling cut into chunks. It’s easy to just dump this in to the stew as many do, but searing off the pieces to add some browning really ups the flavour of the finished dish so you don’t want to skip this step. When searing the meat chunks it’s important not to crowd them in the pan otherwise they begin to boil/steam instead of brown and if that’s the case you may as well just skip this step instead.

 

 

Now time to dice up the holy trinity and some carrots to make it more like a stew. Sometimes we like to leave the pieces a little chunky by using a rough chop, but in this case I went with a fine dice that way the veggies sweat faster and you get more flavour in every bite. We wanted to make this stew extra chunky though so we kept the potato, carrot, and tilapia pieces on the larger side.

 

 

Next we are preparing the spice mixture which is basically a home made Cajun spice. For this mix we used ancho and cascabel chilies, smoked and regular paprika peppers, oregano, toasted and ground cumin seeds, and the secret ingredient…cinnamon, which gives the mix just a bit of intrigue.

After peeling the shells off the shrimps it’s time to move on to the rioux, which is the critical process/ingredient that will either make or break your gumbo. For this recipe we are using equal parts flour and canola oil… about a cup and a half in this case. The process involves cooking the flour over medium-high heat in a heavy bottom pan while stirring constantly with a spoon or whisk so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides and burn. You definitely don’t want to walk away from it during this process! If the temperature gets too high or the flour is allowed to settle anywhere it will turn color rapidly and take on a acrid taste. If you suspect that the flour is burnt or temperature has reached too high for too long then it would be better to dump it out and start all over again rather than to risk having a dish that is inedible… We’ve gone past the point of no return on this one before and the gumbo turned out so bad that our dogs wouldn’t even eat it! It’s not a pleasant feeling to know that you’ve completely wasted twenty dollars or more worth of perfectly good ingredients so you’ll want to make sure you are careful. The goal of creating the rioux is to develop intense flavour within the cooked flour and as the flavour develops the color will change from whitish to golden, to milk chocolate brown, and if you’re patient enough, almost black. This process will probably take a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of constant stirring and monitoring of temperatures so the rioux doesn’t go above 375F. We use an infrared thermometer during this process to ensure it doesn’t get too hot and for this recipe we were aiming for a nice chocolate brown. Once you’ve reached this stage it’s time to add the vegetables.

After sweating off the veggies it’s time to bring most of the dish together by adding stock and the remaining ingredients except for the shrimp and fish which get added near the end. For this recipe we added smoked turkey stock, a can of whole tomatoes, and the seared beef chunks along with our seasoning mixture, ground sassafras leaves otherwise known as file powder or gumbo file, and a couple bay leaves. To make the beef fall apart tender, chunks like these need to simmer for about two hours so we set our timer for about an hour and a half at which point we moved on to making the saffron rice. And after the rice was done we added the fish and shrimp… just long enough for them to cook through.

And…. the finished gumbo stew! Garnished with fresh ground pepper, file powder, and sriracha!

Chinese Style Crispy Skin Pork Belly

Chinese Style Crispy Skin Pork Belly

If you were to ask a number of chefs “What is the best way to make delicious pork belly?” you’d probably get a different answer from each one. Just a quick Google or Youtube search reveals a myriad of them with varying cooking times and procedures. What is certain though is whether you’re going to turn it into bacon or make it fall apart tender with crispy skin, you will need some patience.

For this particular recipe we are using side pork with the skin on. Our goal is to make it melt in your mouth but also give the skin a crunchy texture. The first step is to simmer the meat in an aromatic and flavorful broth which we did on day one. The broth was made with water, soy sauce, Shaohsing cooking wine, ginger, garlic, dried chives, and a bit of homemade Chinese 5-spice powder. You can use a pressure cooker to speed up the simmering process to shave off a couple hours of prep time, but in this case our pressure cooker wasn’t larger enough to accommodate the whole piece and we didn’t want to cut it up.The next steps were done the following day which involved cooking it low and slow in an oven at 250F for a few hours to render some of the fat, followed by a few minutes under a hot broiler to crisp up the skin. Recently we’ve been partial to dry brining our meat whereas we would typically mix up a 3% salt and sugar solution and submerge the meat for a day or two, but after trying both methods these days Kim and I tend to agree with Kenji Lopez-Alt from the Food Lab that dry brining allows the meat to get seasoned without diluting its flavour. To facilitate the dry brining process, in between the first cook and the second we covered the skin with a mixture of one part baking powder to three parts salt and left it in the fridge uncovered overnight… not only to season the skin, but the baking powder also creates tiny bubbles and increases the pH so the browning and crisping process takes place more readily.

We are serving the pork belly with a side of rice noodles cooked in the same broth, and baby bok choy. Enjoy the photos below!

Philadelphia and California Roll Dinner

Philadelphia and California Roll Dinner

Kim and I love sushi. When we are down in Vancouver one of our favorite places to order from is Maguro at 5241 Ladner Trunk Road they’ve got some of the freshest and best tasting sushi in the Lower Mainland and a warm and cozy atmosphere in which to enjoy it. Around here though there isn’t a sushi restaurant in a fifty-mile radius, so if we want to eat sushi, we have to make it ourselves. It’s no matter though as with a bit of patience and practice just about anyone can make some great tasting and great looking sushi rolls. Sourcing the tools and ingredients may be a bit tricky, but many of the items such as bamboo mats, sushi nori, kombu, ajinomoto, powdered wasabi, and pickled ginger can probably be found at your nearest Asian supermarket.

The core requirement for sushi is vinegared rice. If you don’t use the proper rice or follow a good recipe then the quality of your homemade sushi will really suffer. Rice is typically categorized by grain length and starch content. in this case, you will want to select either a premium sushi rice like calrose or in absence of that, another short grain rice such as arborio. Short grain rice contains a higher amount of starch compared to other types which is responsible for the stickiness of sushi rice or the creaminess of risotto.

Sushi Rice

2 cups short grain rice

3 cups water

2 tablespoons sake (optional but makes the rice taste better. If you use it, remove two tablespoons water)

small piece of Kombu (dried seaweed) or pinch of Ajinomoto

Sushi Rice Seasoning

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar (to taste. Some like it sweeter – up to 5 tablespoons)

pinch salt

Wash rice thoroughly with water until it runs clears to remove excess starch. This will help to keep the grains of rice individual and not stick together as much. Add rice to a medium saucepan and add kombu (Ajinomoto), sake, and water and turn on the heat. I like to boil my water in a kettle first before I put it in so I don’t have to wait as long to set my timer. Once the water just starts to bubble and boil put on a tight fitting lid, reduce heat to low, and set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove from heat and let sit for five minutes or so. Carefully transfer the rice from the pot into a mixing bowl or a rimmed sheet pan… I just invert the pot. You don’t want to damage the rice grains by smashing or cutting them as this will affect the presentation of your sushi rolls. Now this is the part where it’s good to have a kitchen assistant 🙂 Using a large flat spatula, gently turn the rice over to cool it and add seasoning mixture slowly while your assistant fans the rice. The fanning will help dry it out so it achieves its final sticky texture. Once the rice has absorbed the seasoning, feels sticky, and doesn’t seem wet, allow it to cool while you are preparing the ingredients.

Now, sushi can contain any ingredients your heart desires such as fish, vegetables, fruit, or whatever but for this recipe we are going with America’s favorite, the California roll. Named after the most populous US State this recipe was actually created by Chef Hidekazu Tojo near my home town in Vancouver. He is well known as the owner of Tojo’s Restaurant, a high-end sushi bar located on West Broadway near 12th ave. The typical recipe is an inside-out roll containing crab or imitation crab with cucumber and avocado and often garnished with flying fish roe. As crab and flying fish roe are hard to find where we are (and canned crab is just plain bad) we will be substituting these ingredients with imitation crab and sesame seeds. The star of this particular recipe is the imitation crab filling. The cucumber and avocado are simply sliced very thinly and sometimes we use carrot peelings to add a bit of color but in this case we didn’t.

Morgyn’s Imitation Crab Filling

3/4 package imitation crab, cut into chunks

1/2 cup mayonnaise

5 spring onions. just the ends, thinly sliced

half a lemon, juiced

one rasher of cooked bacon, cut into bits

1 tablespoon real brewed soy sauce

splash of fish sauce (optional, but makes the recipe better)

pinch of salt to taste

Add all the above ingredients as described to a food processor and blitz to desired consistency. Let filling sit for a half hour or so for flavors to mingle a bit.

Now for the Philadelphia rolls… these are also inside-out sushi rolls that take after a popular NYC favorite… bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese. They are of course named after the most popular brand of cream cheese out there. Typically these rolls are very similar to California rolls in the way that they also contain cucumber and avocado. We are fortunate that we are able to obtain wild smoked sockeye salmon at our ‘local’ Superstore… about an hour and a half away in Kamloops. You could probably substitute raw sockeye salmon in a pinch, but without the smoked salmon this recipe would just not be the same. There is little advanced preparation involved with this recipe other than cutting up the cream cheese into long strips and preparing cucumber and avocado in the same fashion as for California rolls.

With all the prep work done it’s time to roll! Inside-out rolls have rice on the outside so they require a two-mat process and one mat should be covered in plastic wrap so that the rice doesn’t stick. You start by placing a piece or nori on the uncovered mat and covering evenly with rice. It helps to wet your hands with water before you start and periodically as you go along. The water helps to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers. Many people just cover the whole sheet of nori with rice, but I like to keep a small ‘flap’ at the top free of rice. This flap can be tucked in when you perform the roll as shown in the video and makes it so that the fillings are defined within a circle in the middle of the roll instead of the nori making a spiral shape. The rolls are much prettier this way when done properly.

After covering the nori sheet with rice, shake on some sesame seeds (for California rolls) cover it with the cling-film covered mat and flip over vertically. This will place the ‘flap’ close to you and will be in the right position for tucking/rolling; Now it’s time to add your filling. California rolls have imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado, and Philadelphia rolls have smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and cucumber. Once you have added your fillings bring the bottom flap up and over them and tuck/squish it in underneath, then bring the top of the nori sheet down to rest on the flap and squish the rice edges together. This can take some practice but once your technique is perfected you will be rewarded with some amazing looking sushi rolls!

 

 

Now that your California roll is holding together you can optionally garnish it with some fanned out avocado slices or in the case of Philadelphia rolls, the thinly sliced smoked salmon. Cutting the rolls is a bit tricky, but it helps to have a very sharp knife and a wet towel to wipe it on before you make each cut. I like to cut them in half, place the pieces side by side, and then finish cutting them two pieces at a time. Once you’re done you’re ready to garnish (optionally) with some hot sauce or spicy mayo.

 

Serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Enjoy!