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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.

 

 

Jibarito or Fried Plantain Sandwiches

jibarito

The idea of gluten free eating has become better known in the last few years, bringing great joy to those who are coeliac or gluten intolerant. Brixton is lucky to have the fabulous WAG Bakery, but many people complain that gluten free eating, although good for their health, can feel lacking in excitement and treats. For those people, here is the jibarito or fried plantain sandwich which can be described as many things, but health food isn’t really one of them…

Originally published in the Brixton Bugle…

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A trilogy of fried chicken…

Three gluten free fried chicken recipes

I hear fried chicken is the next ‘junk food’ to get the gourmet treatment and because I live in Brixton, my tolerance for hipster venues is plummeting, I decided it was time to conquer my fried chicken demons and learn how to do it at home where the whole thing would take less time than queuing up in Market Row. I also decided to set myself the challenge of making it all gluten free as well…

I’m not gluten or wheat sensitive, but for some reason three different people have had conversations with me recently about fried chicken coatings that happen to be gluten free, so inspired by their enthusiasm, I thought I’d steal their ideas and do a fried chicken crunch off, testing each version against each other. All three were good. All three were easy. One was a clear winner.

I standardised a bit. Each recipe does 4 pieces of chicken. All the chicken was free range and was bone in and skin on thighs. I marinaded them in yoghurt loosened with lemon juice to save you all hearing my obsessive rant about why you can’t get proper buttermilk in England again. This would be brilliant marinaded overnight, but a couple of hours will do nicely. About 20 minutes before you need them, drain the thighs in a sieve so they aren’t too wet. Then turn attention to the coatings.

Potato fried chicken: (first piece from the front)

This is basically going a bit 70s and using dehydrated instant mash flakes as your topping. You need the cheap ones from a Basics range so that you don’t accidentally end up with potato paste over chicken skin. It’s dead simple. Put 1/2 cup or about 50g of flakes in a shallow dish and add the seasoning of your choice. I went with thyme, black pepper and paprika. Then dredge your chicken well each side without shaking too much coating off and shallow fry for 10 minutes, turning gently or spooning hot oil over the other side to firm it up before turning. Finish off for 10 minutes in the oven at 180℃. Or simply cook in the oven the whole time without adding any extra oi at 200℃. It won’t be as golden, but it’s quick, easy and crunchy at the same.

Rice flour and cornflour fried chicken: (middle piece)

Slightly more complicated than the first recipe, this has three ingredients instead of one. Mix 1/4 cup of rice flour and 1/4 cup or 25g of each in a dish and add your choice of seasoning. I used Old Bay and cayenne. Then add 4 tablespoons of the yoghurt/buttermilk mix and with your fingertips, rub together until you get what looks like slightly damp breadcrumbs. You don’t want it sticky or too clumpy so keep rubbing til it’s right. Then coat the chicken on each side making sure there are no lumpy bits and shallow fry as above. Or again, oven cook the same way.

Egg white batter fried chicken: (furthest from the front)

A little bit Chinese in style, this one uses egg whites and cornflour beaten together to make a batter. I used 2 egg whites (from the approximately 9000 leftover from my ice cream making) and 1/4 cup cornflour whisked together. I’d run out of seasoning ideas, but some garlic powder might have been good here. Your batter needs to be thick, not liquidy and move quickly or it’ll solidify into something like cement.  Coat the chicken well and then fry. This one needs oil, not the oven. I ended up with a light puffy batter on each side and an uncooked seam from shallow frying. I basted it with hot oil to rid me of this, but it might have been easier to deep fry it. Rest it in a warm oven for 10 minutes after cooking through.

All the chicken was incredibly juicy and tender from its lactic acid bath. Each one had a good contrast between the coating and the meat, but my winner was the potato coating. The rice/corn flour one had a floury squeaky mouthfeel that cloyed slightly, while the batter one was a bit greasy as it absorbed a lot of oil in comparison to the others and both lost their crunch quickly on the plate, becoming a bit gluey, while the potato flakes held up well after cooking and had the most interest to me. It would also have worked well as an oven dish and would be good with fish instead.

I liked all of these better than my usual wheat flour recipe which required marinading, egging and coating and then double dipping to get a good crunch on. The gluten free ones were all very simple and it pleased me the simplest one of all won out. I served my chicken with some roasted plaintain and chilli rubbed corn on the cob for a carb fest, but some slaw would cut through it all nicely and add some colour to the plate. Serve with a refreshing beer and you’ll be frying tonight without having to leave the house…

 

Fried chicken…

I’ve been feeling quite confident in the kitchen recently so I decided it was time to shake things and make sure I didn’t get into a rut, so I invited 16 people round for beer and fried chicken at the weekend…

I love fried chicken, but have never really mastered the art of a light crispy coating and succulent chicken within, usually ending up with something closer to the greasy delights of KFC than I would care to admit. Obviously the way to sort this culinary blip is to put yourself under intense pressure in a very hot kitchen and then serve the results to your highly discerning friends. One of whom happens to make the best fried chicken you’ve ever eaten.

I was going to need some help to refine my recipe and get it right. I hoped Felicity Cloake over at the Word of Mouth blog on the Guardian had covered fried chicken in her ‘Perfect’ series each Thursday as she has a knack for explaining things well and giving handy hints that take a dish from pedestrian to perfection. But no such luck. I re-read the recipe I’ve been using for years from a weird little cookbook called Kenny Cooks America written by an oddly angry man called Kenny Miller who suggests marinading the chicken in milk first. I decided to take that a bit further and try using buttermilk instead to see if the extra acidity would help tenderise the chicken further.

Seeking reassurance on the internet, I Googled buttermilk fried chicken and found myself in the ever capable hands of Deb over at Smitten Kitchen with her delicious looking recipe. She suggests taking the buttermilk idea that little bit further and brining the chicken in a buttermilk brine overnight. The sheer saltiness of brining scares me slightly, but my American friends swear by it to keep meat (even a turkey) juicy and succulent. I often find frying chicken can make it a bit dry so this seemed like the perfect time to try it out.

I ran into some difficulty almost immediately though. Buttermilk is quite hard to come by here in England, even with Gin and Crumpets’ handy tip about Polish shops often stocking it and I had only ordered three small cartons online from Sainsbury’s which wasn’t enough for the both the brine and the batter. I improvised slightly and made up a brine from a mixture of natural yoghurt, buttermilk and a splash of whole milk to loosen it enough. Deb suggested mashed garlic, but I was fearful that this would jar with the mellow tastes of the dairy. Taking my cue from Nigella’s amazing Garlic Chicken from How to Eat, I boiled the garlic cloves til tender, popped them from their skins and pounded them in the pestle and mortar. This went into the marinade along with a hearty splash of Tabasco.

To this mixture I added the terrifyingly large amount of salt needed to make a brine. The recipe calls for Kosher salt, but having no idea where I could get such a thing in Brixton, I used good old Maldon Sea Salt instead. I kept the skin on the chicken (using a mixture of wings and thighs) and poured the mixture over them, rubbing it in well with my hands and then popping it all in the fridge overnight. Next morning, each piece was taken out and laid on a rack to airdry before being coated and fried. I could feel how tender the meat was even at this stage…

Batter ready...

Despite what Deb said, I don’t have a thermometer to test how hot the oil was for the chicken, but I erred on the side of caution and heated the pan while I was making the batter because an electric cooker means everything takes longer. The batter was very quick to make, but it was here that everything started to go wrong and my confidence began to depart me in droves.

The use of baking powder in the batter means that it puffs up incredibly and it seemed very thick, almost like industrial sealant rather than batter. I can only assume that the cultured buttermilk I was using is different in texture to the buttermilk in the recipe. Mine was more the consistency of yoghurt and I think it might have needed to be more milky to get a looser lighter batter. Nonetheless I perservered and dipped my chicken thigh pieces in seasoned flour, then batter, then flour again to get a light crisp coating and put them into the hot oil.

Frying pan, fire, all that...

They browned quickly and the first few pieces looked just the ticket as I turned them. Golden brown, crispy and light. I thought I might be about to give my friend D a run for her money. But then things started to go hideously and horribly wrong with the next batch of chicken pieces. The batter had continued to puff up and thicken and had become almost solid in texture, thus over coating the chicken and making it spongy and difficult to cook. I watered it down with some milk, but it didn’t seem to improve the consistency much with big globs of batter simply dripping into the dish of flour most unappealingly.

I allowed the pan to come back to the right heat and placed more chicken in it, but it soon became obvious that the coating was thick enough to be soaking up the oil and spreading around the edges so that each piece expanded in size and the batter formed a lip on each side when it was turned over, meaning each side was golden brown, but the middle still looked uncooked in colour. It was almost impossible to cook the sides evenly, having to set the pieces on the edge of the pan to try and colour it all evenly. This didn’t really work though and resulted in chicken that was overcooked in places. I then sampled one of these less alluring looking pieces of chicken and was beyond disappointed by it.

The offending article!

The batter was thick and bready like the stuff you get on cheap turkey shapes at a well known frozen foods store. Despite the generous amount of smoked paprika and seasoning in the flour, it tasted bland with a weird sweet aftertaste that made it seem cheap. This overpowered the amazingly juicy and succulent chicken and rendered the whole thing pretty revolting. I gave up at this point and returned the rest of the un-fried chicken to the original marinade along with some sumac and black pepper so I could cook it as yoghurt chicken rather than throw it all out. I was annoyed enough to have spoilt some good chicken and a couple of quidsworth of buttermilk without wasting anything more.

I cooled the chicken I had cooked so it could be reheated the next day, no longer caring if it wasn’t as crisp as I’d have liked since it was so rubbish to begin with. I then spent ages cleaning up the massive amount of mess the overly thick batter and hot oil had made. The lingering smell of frying food took much longer to subside.

I served the heated chicken the next day and while the batter hadn’t improved any the chicken was actually more moist and succulent than before. Very little of this got eaten and I’m not offended at all. It was mediocre at best and it is was up against the best fried chicken possible. I warned people off mine and hoped that D will give me her secret recipe instead. Hold out til then folks and don’t bother with this one unless you enjoy the faff of making disappointing poultry…