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Chicken Fried Pork

chicken fried porkBelfast folk of my vintage may well remember the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory (where the Stiff Kitten was down the side of the cinema on Dublin Road.) Then again, they might not as it was primarily famed for its cheap Monday night cocktails and extremely lax ID rules.

It did also serve food. The Chicago deep dish pizza the name suggests and other bastardised ‘Murrican dishes were all on the menu along with the implausible sounding chicken fried steak. Pre-internet we thought this must be made up. How does steak ever resemble chicken?

Unsurprisingly, finding out wasn’t one of the pressing ambitions of my adulthood and I’d forgotten about the whole thing until I had a drink with a friend recently. She’d just come back from Texas and showed me a mouthwatering selection of food on her phone.

Maple bacon doughnuts, moon pies and right there, a chicken fried steak. Turns out it’s a good old Texan tradition and takes those thin cuts of steak Americans love and coats them in the same breading used for fried chicken and serves it up with white gravy. And that’s how steak resembles chicken it seems.

On my current low fodmap diet, I eat a lot of meat. And more specifically, a lot of pork shoulder steaks. Admittedly very tasty, they are also about the cheapest cut of meat around that doesn’t need a tonne of flavouring added to it since practically every marinade, sauce or seasoning going has something in it I can’t eat these days.

I decided to jazz up my third pork shoulder steak of the week by turning it into chicken fried pork. I turned to my bible of anything remotely American and food related and read up on chicken fried steak on Serious Eats and got to work tweaking the recipe.

Most US recipes serve 6 so it’s always a mathematical challenge for me to scale them down while converting from their tedious obsession with volumetric measuring. I basically eyeballed this one so if the measurements are slightly out it’s probably that and the fact flour and liquid always varies a bit.

Chicken Fried Pork (serves 2)

  • 2 pork shoulder steaks (approx 150g each)
  • 50g cornflour
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml buttermilk, yoghurt or soured milk
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch monosodium glutamate powder (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 450ml vegetable oil for frying

Start by bashing your pork shoulder steak out thinner. I folded mine in greaseproof paper and whacked it with the palm of my hand until it was about  1/2 inch thick. I don’t have a meat mallet and find a rolling pin gets meat thin and bruised. Plus I’d had a frustrating day and beating something senseless helped.

Set the steaks on some kitchen roll to absorb moisture and lay out your breading station so you can work easily. Put the cornflour on a large plate. Crack the egg into a shallow dish and add about 25ml of the buttermilk to make it looser in texture.

Put the plain flour in another shallow dish or bowl and add the seasonings and baking powder. Be generous with the salt and pepper. I also used a bit of Old Bay Seasoning since it’s all fancy pants American.

I’m a big fan of the MSG powder as it adds an extra umaminess to things and I’m so limited in my choice of seasonings now. If you have issues with it or can’t get it (mine is labelled Chinese Salt) just add a wee bit more salt.

Start adding the remaining buttermilk a couple of teaspoons at a time to the seasoned flour and rub it in with your fingertips so you end up with a sandy breadcrumb-like mixture that’s wet but not sticky. You may not use all the buttermilk so add any remaining to the egg.

Set out a baking rack and start prepping the pork. Press it into the cornflour, coating well but shaking off any excess. Dip into the egg mixture, again removing any excess. Press into the seasoning flour breading and lay on the baking rack to rest for 10 minutes. Repeat with the other steak.

I’ve always had trouble with my coating on fried chicken falling off and it turns out that resting the breading before frying does wonders to stop it. I also find deep frying easier for coated things so that’s what we’re doing here.

Fill a deep pan or wok with the oil and using a thermometer, heat the oil to exactly 190℃ and carefully using tongs add one of the breaded steaks to the pan. I fried mine for 4 minutes in total, turning 4 times so each side got 2 minutes but evenly spaced.

Lift out and place on the clean end of the baking rack and fry the next steak. The baking powder causes the breading to puff up slightly and if you put the fried steaks on kitchen roll to rest, the crisp puffed up coating goes soggy and limp, so the rack is a better bet. Just keep your raw and cooked meat separate.

Rest the steaks for at least 5 minutes but up to 10 is fine. The coating insulates the meat and keeps it pretty hot. I served mine with a baked potato and a quick slaw of grated red cabbage, carrot and daikon in a dressing of buttermilk, cream cheese and a dash of vinegar. But quite frankly, you’ve just deep fried pork for dinner, you could serve it with anything and it’ll be awesome.

And awesome it was. The coating was light and oh so crunchy and the pork was perfectly cooked and lovely and tender. I chose not to serve the white gravy beloved of Americans because it seems weird to me to get the coating so crisp and then make it soggy. And because I forgot…

It was still one of the best dinners I’ve had in ages though. I sense a lot more fried breaded things in my future. I’ll try a spelt version next for the fodmappers out there who can’t do wheat. I’m generous like that.

 

 

Deep Fried Okra

Recently in my travels round Brixton, I keep coming across Americans who now live here. It’s testament to what a great area Brixton is that many of them say it’s the best neighbourhood they’ve ever lived in and my recipe here is partly inspired by them. But its mainly inspired by my determination not to shudder slightly whenever I see piles of okra on the stalls in the market. I’ve only ever eaten it once when I was a child and was singularly unimpressed by its slimy texture and have avoided it ever since. But encouraged by African friends who consider it a kitchen staple and those Americans who all responded affirmatively when I mentioned it, I’ve decided to give you my melting pot take on it and like the good Belfast girl I am, fry it. I mean, what food doesn’t taste even better when fried?

I’m branching out a bit here and using cornmeal instead of a batter. I’ve only recently discovered this as a coating for things and can’t get enough of its crunchy crispness, preferably dipped in something spicy and delicious. A firey salsa made with the super sweet vine tomatoes that are perfectly in season right now, some smoked garlic and a burst of red onion would take this from side dish to star attraction at dinner, especially with an ice cold beer to accompany it…

Fried Okra:

  • about 200g of okra, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 200g yellow cornmeal (also called polenta if you’re looking for it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder/cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • seasoning as required.
  • vegetable oil for frying

Get your oil on to heat, making sure you only fill your pan a third full of oil so it can’t bubble over. You want it hot but not scorching.

When buying the okra, make sure the pods are nice and furry and not split at all. Wash them and dry them well. Cut each pod in roughly three pieces. Then dip the pieces into the beaten egg before putting them into the cornmeal and making sure they are well coated. Don’t hang about, do both dippings quickly and put them into the oil immediately to cook. Give them about 2-3 minutes each side or until the okra and the coating both go golden.

Serve immediately, preferably dipped into a little hot sauce and salt. We had them on the side of some curry goat, but these fried okra will go with anything and make a great gluten free vegetarian dish. If like me, you were nervous about the slime potential, don’t be. Fried up like this, it’s a good balance between soft and crunchy and I surprised myself by having seconds, as did my American dining companion…

Okra pods

*An edited version of this post originally appeared at Brixton Blog.

Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

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Poutine

Sometimes only chips will do. And after a Friday night that saw tvdinners and I literally drink Seven at Brixton dry of basil and ginger mojitos before giving Kaff Bar’s excellent £3 version a go, I not only needed chips. I needed turbo charged chips. It seemed like the moment my entire life had been wating for to try poutine

For those of who wondering what kind of shenanigans that is, let me elaborate. Poutine is the unofficial dish of Canada, a religion in Québec, especially Montréal and known elsewhere as chips covered with gravy and cheese curds. It’s not pretty dish, but it’s a glorious mix of carbs, grease and fat best served piping hot and after alcohol has been consumed. A grown up gravy chip.

I’ve never seen it served here and it might seem like a right faff to go to, but luck and a certain amount of planning made it fairly straightfoward. The seemingly tricky bit is the cheese curds. I already had the rennet from previous cheesemaking exploits and have discovered that even the little Sainsburys in Brixton sells unhomogenised Jersey milk. So fresh they squeak cheese curds were only a few minutes away.

While the spuds for my chips parboiled, I scalded the milk, added the rennet and let the curds and whey develop. Dry the curds off in a cheesecloth or muslin and turn your attention to the chips. Having drained the chips, I couldn’t be bothered with all the stages Felicity Cloake suggests here and fried them for five minutes at lowish temperature, before draining on kitchen paper and allowing the oil to get really going.

I’d roasted a chicken earlier in the week and by some feat of willpower had the juices left to make gravy with. I thickened it up with cornflour and heated it up. I broke the curds up a bit more with a fork and let drain well before batch frying the chips til very golden. I personally loathe an anaemic chip so relished the opportunity to get these good and Ronseal brown in the hot fat.

At this point I cannot claim how authentic my poutine was. I dusted the chips with salt and pepper, poured the gravy over and then added the curds. I should have done the curds first and then the gravy to make sure the cheese melted more, but I was too hungry to be too bothered. I got stuck in.

And zut alors, I can see why the Quebecois love this dish so much. It’s simple, it’s tasty, it’s filling. It’s soft and crunchy at the same time and cries out to be eaten quickly and while piping hot. The cheese curds melt more like mozzarella than cottage cheese and add a creaminess. The squeak is a little bit like halloumi and the whole thing works like a charm. I loved it.

I’m entering poutine in the Hall of Fame of chip dishes immediately. You might be able to fiddle with it to make it veggie, but my advice is keep it simple and make a date with the dish as soon as you can. The Canadian embassy should start a poutine joint for post pub Saturday nights in the West End. It’d attract more people to visit Canada than all the maple leaves in the world…

Pickles and Pizza

I like a bit of fine dining as much as anyone, but sometimes one’s tastes run a bit more on the casual side of things. I don’t mean I ever want to eat a Prawn Ring or kebab meat again and I believe ready meals to be a waste of calories. But I do have a soft spot for the kind of comfort food that borders on junk, especially that brand of Americana popularised by Nigella recently.

So when Mister North was down recently, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge some homemade delights that would make a dietician weep. I’d been lusting after deep fried pickles ever since a Southern friend told me about them a few years back. Seeing Homesick Texan and Food Stories‘ recipes for them put them at the top of my to try list.

I dialled down the trashy vibe and put myself in the running for a pretentiousness award by growing my own gherkins and pickling them myself specially. (If this makes you eye roll at the sheer foodiness of it all, be comforted by the fact they didn’t taste that different to a Mrs Elswood.) Horticulturally experiments aside, these babies are super simple. I got cultured buttermilk in Sainsbury’s, but you could use yoghurt watered down instead. Do not feel tempted to substitute cream crackers for saltines. You’ll end up crying into your hot oil as all the moisture in your mouth evaporates. I used coarse cornmeal instead.

Heat your oil while you do the flour, egg, dip thing with the pickles. Fry for about a minute each side and then serve piping hot on the side of something delicious. In our case it was some leftover rollmops, a zingy homemade ranch style dressing with buttermilk, tarragon and garlic and a beer on the side. It was a heavenly plate of tanginess, crunch and sheer gluttony. I want to eat all gherkins in a crunchy coating now.

You’d think that plateful would have quelled our cravings for pig-out style food for the day, but you’d be wrong. About an hour later, we started getting ready to make a serious pizza for dinner. We used Marcella Hazan’s pizza dough recipe, leaving it to prove for several hours and turned our attention to the mozzarella. And I don’t just mean jiggling it about the bag in a slightly smutty fashion, I mean making it from scratch

Using some non-homogenised cow’s milk from Alham Wood Farms at Brixton Farmers’ Market, my fledgling cheese making skills, some citric acid that we explored all of Brixton for* and my trusty bottle of rennet, we created mozzarella magic. Surprisingly easy, especially if you have asbestos hands like Mister North for dipping the curds into the hot whey, we ended up with two beautiful bouncing balls of mozzarella in no time at all.

Buoyed by this, we turned to the pizza bases, lovingly dressing them with homemade sauce courtesy of Mister North and a glut of Blackpool tomatoes and an umami hit of anchovies, green olives, some of my home grown plum tomatoes and a finishing sprinkle of ham salt from Comfort and Spice. Unfortunately made giddy by the cheese achievement, we forgot to dust the worksurfaces with semolina as instructed and the bases stuck somewhat, leading to some creativity with a fishslice and a slightly concertina style pizza.

The pizza might have lacked finesse, but it was loaded with flavour. The tomatoes tasted of summer and the mozzarella was so soft and fresh I could have eaten the whole ball like an apple to fully enjoy the texture. It needed a touch more salt and I think it would have been even better with buffalo milk, but for a first go, it was pretty amazing.

We devoured the pizzas like kids at a sleepover, both wishing we’d had more of the mozzarella to do a tomato salad with or go retro and deep fry in a crispy coating like the gherkins. Instead we rounded off a day of gluttony with a cheeky bowl of Veda bread ice cream and a glass of wine or two, proving that sometimes the taste of home is all you need. Your own kitchen provides the greatest comfort.

*Try the Nour Cash and Carry if you need it Monday to Saturday and the Low Price Food & Wine on the corner of Brixton Road and Loughborough Road on a Sunday. We did the walking round so you don’t have to.