Scotch Eggs

Go ahead. Eat like a Welsh rugby player.The first really, truly mind-blowing Scotch egg that I ever had was at The Breslin. The breading was shatteringly crisp, the sausage was moist and savory, and the yolk . . . oh the yolk! Just liquid enough, it oozed and spread over the plate like runny gold. I may have moaned. I most certainly peppered the server with questions: “But HOW???? How do they get the egg so PERFECT????? How do they possibly PEEL it so that the egg stays so intact????? The whites must be barely set! DO THEY HAVE THE DELICATE FINGERS OF ANGELS BACK THERE????” In response, I only got a coy smile.

Sous vide!” my friend Jason hissed, “It must be sous vide!

Possible, but doubtful. It was hard to imagine anyone going through the trouble of sous-videing the quantity of eggs that a restaurant would require every night. As we pondered and chewed, and pondered another round of Scotch eggs because anything good should always be ordered twice, I thought that this would be my deep-frying project. I will make this at home, I thought, and all the Scotch eggs will be mine!

As I must be the world’s worst egg peeler, I let the eggs boil until the yolks were firmer — about 5 minutes. Next time, I’ll let them be a little runnier as I found out that a layer of sausage hides a multitude of fingernail gouges and fingertip-sized divots.  The most important thing is that the oil remains hot — between 350-375° F — and the layer of sausage must remain reasonably thin.

All in all, it’s a pretty decadent affair for such a simple preparation. Deep-frying is messy business, but the final result is unbelievably satisfying.

Ingredients:

6 eggs + 2 eggs, beaten

1 pound of breakfast sausage

2 cups of panko bread crumbs

Vegetable oil (for frying)

To prepare:

1. Place 6 eggs in the bottom of a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil. When the water begins to boil, cover the pan, remove it from the burner, and let it stand for 3.5-5 minutes, depending on how set you like to have your yolks (3.5 minutes for runny yolks, 4 minutes for just set yolks, 5 for perfectly set yolks) .

2. While the eggs are cooking, prepare an ice water bath. Carefully drain the water and gently roll the eggs around in the pan to crack the shells. Plunge the eggs into the ice water bath and let them sit there until they are cool enough to handle and peel. Once peeled, very gently pat them dry with paper towels.

3. Divide the sausage into six equal portions. Flatten and shape each portion into a thin disc about 1/4 of an inch thick.  Lay the patty in the palm of your hand and gently rest a soft-boiled egg in the center of it. Wrap and mold the sausage around the egg, pinching and sealing the seams shut as you go. Make sure that the sausage layer is no thicker than 1/4 of an inch, otherwise the sausage will not cook through before the outside of the Scotch egg begins to burn. Repeat with the remaining sausage and eggs.

4. In a large, heavy pot, pour in enough oil so that you have a depth of about 2-2.5 inches. Insert the deep-fry thermometer and bring the oil up to 375°. While the oil is heating up, whisk the remaining 2 eggs in a shallow bowl. Keep the panko crumbs another shallow bowl.

5. Right before the oil reaches the right temperature, work quickly and dip each sausage ball in the beaten egg and roll it in the panko crumbs. While keeping an eye on the temperature, carefully place each Scotch egg in the hot oil. You will need to work in batches and the temperature should never drop below 350° F.

6. Turn the Scotch eggs occasionally so that they cook evenly. When they are golden and crisp — about 5-6 minutes — use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil. Let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve immediately.

Corn Meal-Crusted Soft-Shells Crabs


Do you like crab?

Would you like crab even more if it was easier to eat?

Do you like your food fried?

If you answered “yes,” soft-shell crabs are for you!

And from now until the end of summer is the time to go out and get some.

Soft-shell crabs are freshly-molted blue crabs that are plucked from the water and put on ice before their shells harden up. They are delicious. Blue crab meat is sugary sweet and you can eat the whole animal right after it molts, shell and all.

Admittedly, the first time that I cooked a soft-shell crab, I was a little squeamish. I mean, how can you not be? Ideally, you should bring the suckers home alive, but it’s pretty hard to determine if they are dead or not because freshly molted crabs never look alive . . . until they swivel one of their telescopic eyeballs in your direction. Aaaaah!

Ideally, you should clean and trim them yourself, but I don’t fault anyone for having their fishmonger do it for them. If your fishmonger trims and cleans your crabs for you, you should cook them the same day that you buy them.

To properly trim and clean a soft shell crab, first you need to snip off those swivelly eyeballs by removing its face with a good pair of scissors. Then, you need to trim the tail off its backside. Finally, you have to gently separate the top shell from the bottom shell on both sides of the crab to rip out its lungs. Why do you have to do this? Because the lungs taste disgusting, you don’t want to eat the gucky stuff in and around the tail, and if you don’t remove the eyeballs, they can explode during cooking and injure you.

I just sold you on them, didn’t I?

But prepping soft-shell crabs is really pretty simple and not as bad as I made it sound. The rewards far outweigh any ickiness. Soft-shell crabs taste wonderful and they are a quick, elegant meal to put together.

A word on frying them: make sure that your frying fat is nice and hot. Test it by sprinkling a little flour into the fat. If it sizzles and turns golden, you are ready to cook yourself some crab. Keep your frying fat hot by not overcrowding the pan. If the temperature of the oil drops, your crabs will be soggy and greasy instead of crispy and light. If you are making soft-shell crabs for a crowd, fry them in batches and keep them warm in a 300° oven on a wire rack-topped baking sheet.

Many people like to serve soft-shell crabs with a remoulade or some kind of spicy mayonnaise. If it’s prime soft-shell crab season, I like to let the sweet crab meat shine on its own with just a shower of good finishing salt and a spritz of lemon.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup of yellow corn meal

1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 pinch of cayenne pepper

2 soft shell crabs, trimmed and cleaned (you can watch Bittman demo it here)

4 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Lemon wedges

How to prepare:

1. Combine the corn meal, the salt and the cayenne pepper together in a large shallow bowl or plate.

2. Heat the butter and olive oil together over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron skillet. When the butter begins to foam, rinse each crab with water and dredge it through the corn meal mixture. Gently shake off any excess corn meal and add the crab — top side-down — to the pan. Repeat with the other crab.

3. Fry the crabs until they are browned and golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. They should be plumped up and firm when they are done. When the crabs are finished cooking (they will not take longer than 8 minutes total), remove them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a minute or two before serving.

Serve with a spritz of lemon and a sprinkle of good salt.

Kimchi Fried Rice


“I never see you eat rice,” Laura said, “Ever.”

“That’s not true! I eat risotto! and paella! and biryani . . .”

But despite my protestations, it is true though: I am not a fan of plain, steamed white rice.

I am so un-Asian.

When people find out I don’t really like plain white rice, I generally get two reactions:

• From non-Asian people, they look at me as if I just told them I was born with six fingers on one hand and the extra digit was removed at birth. At this point, they usually tell me how much they love rice.

• From Asian people, they just ignore me. I don’t even think they hear the “don’t,” they just hear the “like white rice.” Because what Asian doesn’t like white rice? Inconceivable!

Plain white rice was the bane of my young existence. As a child, it was always just giant piles of tasteless filler stacked in sticky, unswallowable heaps in front of me. My parents used to make me finish all of my rice before I was allowed to leave the dinner table. I used to drive them crazy by eating my rice grain-by-grain until they finally gave up and sent me to my room — which is all I really wanted in the first place.

As I have gotten older, I have learned to eat it. Partly because it gives me something to chew on as I contemplate all the dishes spinning around the Lazy Susan. After really strong flavors, I have come to appreciate white rice as a palate cleanser. Also, a Chinese meal just feels incomplete without rice on the table, regardless whether I eat any or not.

There is one way to always get me to eat my rice: fry it.

But let’s be honest, I’ll eat just about anything so long as it’s fried 😉

Kimchi fried rice is a particularly good way to get me to eat rice because not only is it fried, it’s so far removed from bland, steamed white rice that I will happily accept it on my plate. For this, I threw in some amazing all-beef hotdogs from my CSA. I know that there are a lot of people who don’t like hotdogs, but I never wonder what is in the ones that I get from my farmer. If you are a vegetarian, or just don’t like hotdogs, you can leave them out. Or replace them with Spam 😉

It’s also traditionally topped with a fried egg, and who can resist fried food topped with more fried food?!

Kimchi fried rice calls for a nice dollop of Korean red pepper paste, or gochujangGochujang is one of the most common condiments/ingredients in Korean cooking and as such, is fairly easy to find in Asian supermarkets. I think the problem is that there are so many brands of commercially-made gochujang that it can be a little overwhelming as to which one to pick. This is why I love this post from One Fork, One Spoon. As Diane and Grace point out, it’s hard to shop for Korean ingredients if you don’t speak Korean! I certainly don’t, and really appreciated their tasting notes and photographs of labels and brand logos.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

2-3 hot dogs, cut into pieces

2-3 green onions, chopped

2 cups of cooked (preferably day old) rice, japonica variety preferred

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

2 cups of napa cabbage kimchi, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of gochujang

Salt

1 egg per person

How to prepare:

1. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the sliced hot dogs and the green onions. Cook the hot dogs until they are heated through and the green onions have softened.

2. Add the rice to the pan, breaking up any clumps with the side of a wooden spoon or a spatula. Evenly drizzle the sesame oil over the top of the rice and let it cook undisturbed for about a minute before stirring it.

3. Add the chopped kimchi and the gochujang to the skillet. Stir everything together until red pepper paste has been well-incorporated and the kimchi has been evenly distributed throughout the rice.  Adjust the seasoning. Lower the heat and spread the rice and kimchi out in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes until the rice has become nice and crispy on the bottom. Stir the pan again, scraping the browned rice off the bottom of the skillet. Adjust the seasoning for a final time and divide the fried rice into bowls.

4. In a separate pan, fry up one egg per person. Top each bowl of kimchi fried rice with an egg. Scatter some chopped green onions on top and serve.

Classic Southern Fried Chicken


This recipe is not for the faint-of-heart.

Your mission, should you choose to undertake it, will require Crisco. Lots of it. More, probably, than you have ever felt comfortable using. Gobs. Of. Crisco.

But the payoff is huge: the crispiest fried chicken you could possibly imagine. Chicken so shatteringly good, it explodes and leaves a healthy dribble of juice running down your chin.

Prior to this endeavor, I had never fried with Crisco. Previous experiences with hydrogenated soybean oil were either a scant quarter cup here and there while baking, or a light smear to periodically re-season my cast-iron pans.

That was before getting James Villas‘ amazing cookbook, The Glory of Southern Cooking, in which he makes a very cogent and convincing argument for Southern Cooking being one of the great regional cuisines of the world.

The book is a wonderful introduction to Southern charm and Southern hospitality, portraying the American South as a world of genteel manners and local thrift where casseroles are always given, silver chafing dishes abound, and Crisco is used liberally.

Very liberally.

This is not meant to diminish the value nor underestimate the diversity of Southern cooking, but simply to point out that at its heart, the bottom-line is that good food has nothing to do with calorie-counts or percentages of saturated fats. Good food is food that tastes good, like light and fluffy cakes, gooey and melty macaroni and cheese, and Crisco-fried chicken.

Villas’ recipe is less a recipe and more a series of guidelines to perfect frying. To attain perfection, you must:

1. Cut up your own bird (on High Point Farms’ website, there is a link to a Gourmet Youtube clip that must be the best one I have seen for teaching you how to do this).

2. Use cast-iron.

3. Use Crisco.

4. Never crowd the skillet.

5. Maintain the heat of the fat, except when the chicken is obviously burning (in which case, turn down the heat).

6. Never, never, never cover fried chicken after it is drained, unless you want soggy chicken.

And though frying an all-natural, pasture-raised chicken in fully-hydrogenated fat may outwardly appear to negate all the health benefits of eating free-range in the first place, at least you have the comfort of knowing that your chickens lived very happy lives before becoming crazy good and super delicious fried chickens.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces

Buttermilk

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Crisco

1 tablespoon  of bacon fat

How to prepare:

1. Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl, and add enough buttermilk to just cover them. Let the pieces soak for about 30 minutes.

2. In a heavy brown bag, or a large Zip-loc bag, combine the flour, the salt, and the pepper together. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, one or two at a time depending on the size of your bag, and shake the bag vigorously so that all the pieces are evenly-coated with flour. Tap the excess flour off of each piece, and stack the pieces on a large plate.

3. Place a large cast-iron skillet over moderate heat. Melt together the bacon fat and a huge amount of Crisco. You want the skillet to be about half-full of melted fat. Continue to heat the oil until it comes up to temperature, about 350-375°, or when a drop of water flicked into the pan sputters loudly.

4. Start frying the dark meat pieces first. Arrange them in a single layer, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Fry them until they are golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes per side. You should turn the pieces only once. Drain the pieces on paper towels, and fry the white meat pieces last.

5. Transfer the pieces to a large serving platter (how Southern!). Do not cover the chicken pieces at all. Serve them warm, or at room temperature.

Mini All-Beef Corn Dogs

Ever since we got all-beef hot dogs in our CSA shares, I have been wanting to make corn dogs. Maybe it was all this talk in late August and the beginning of September of state fairs. As we all know, “state fair” is a euphemism for “fried food on a stick” — just about the best two things ever combined.

If I had any reason to go to Iowa, it would be for the Iowa State Fair. The Iowa State Fair (tagline, “Nothing Compares”) website features a ticking count-down to the next fair (August 9-19, 2012). Whoa! More importantly, the fair historically features over 200 food vendors, most of which are selling something fatty and super-calorific. And if the food alone doesn’t induce visions of cardiac arrest, there is always, of course, the famous butter cow sculpture — which I imagine is awe-inspiring. The viewing experience is likely enhanced by checking out the sculpture while consuming fried butter on a stick. In all honesty, I couldn’t dream of anything better to eat when taking in a life-sized representation of of cow rendered in its own product (this all seems very un-kosher . . .).

The best part about the Iowa State Fair website is the food page, which features an entire directory devoted to foods on a stick, most of which are fried.

So in honor and appreciation of all things State Fair, I give you DIY mini-corn dogs, CSA-style. Probably the best corn dogs out there for you. No, seriously! These hot dogs are made from grass-fed beef and are packed with omega-3’s!

Ingredients:

1 cup of yellow corn meal

1 cup of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/4 of baking soda

1/2 of cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons of kosher salt

1 1/2 cups of milk (has anyone every tried beer?)

1 pack of all-beef hot dogs (we get 8 in a pack from the CSA)

8 six-inch wooden skewers

1 liter of any kind of oil that you can use for deep-fat frying (peanut, canola, etc.)

Good coarse-grain mustard

How to prepare:

1. In a large bowl, deep enough to dip the skewered dogs in easily, combine the cornmeal, the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the cayenne pepper. You can tinker with the spices if you like, substituting maybe paprika for cayenne, or maybe adding some Old Bay. Because I just kind of want the ultimate plain corn dog experience, I keep the flavorings to a minimal. Why distract yourself from the pure, unadulterated taste of fried?

2. Add the milk and stir it in gently with a fork. The batter should be thick and lumpy —like pancake batter. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes while you prep the hot dogs.

3. Cut each hot dog and each skewer in half. For the skewers, I tried breaking them in half, but then I didn’t like the look of the ragged ends that my sorry stick-snapping skills left. So I used a pair of wire cutters. I know. So food-safe! But they did the job!

Insert a skewer about a third to halfway through the end of each hot dog-half.

4. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. It might take a while for the oil to get up to the right temperature. You don’t want the oil to smoke, but you want it to be nice and hot. You can check the oil temperature with a thermometer (it should register between 350-375°), or you can just do what I did and drop a little bit of the batter into the oil to check. If it starts frying up beautifully, your oil is at the right temperature. Just be careful to not let your oil burn. If you are lucky enough to own a deep fat fryer, this is even easier.

5. Holding the stick, dip each skewered dog into the batter. The batter should be thick enough to coat each dog evenly, but not so thick as to be stodgy. If it seems too thick, you can thin it out with just a little more milk. Carefully drop the corn dogs — sticks and all — into the boiling oil. Be careful not to overcrowd them or the oil’s temperature will drop, and your corn dogs will come out greasy instead of crispy. I fried no more than four or five at a time.

6. Line a colander with paper towels. Let the corn dogs fry until they are nice and golden. Using a pair of tongs, remove each dog by the stick when it is done. Let them drain upright in the colander.

7. Serve them with some good mustard, or anything else you like with your corn dogs like ketchup, relish, Cheez-Whiz . . .

Note:

Now that you are done frying, what the heck do you do with all this oil? Well, according to Cook’s Illustrated, you can reuse it without it tasting stale or rancid as long as you freeze it. Let the oil cool down completely. Carefully strain it into a clean, dry bottle (I use an empty plastic bottle, or a wine bottle). To strain, I pour the oil through a coffee filter. Freeze. Before reusing, be sure to smell or taste it. If it smells “fishy,” or tastes off, toss it. When in doubt, throw it out!

Chicken-Fried Steak with Mashed Potatoes and Pan Gravy


It is a stunning 92.7° outside.

92°. Even after 8PM. It is just barely June.

This is almost 20 degrees above the seasonal average. It feels like August. This is so wrong!

So what did I decide to cook? Did I have a cool, crisp salad? Did I just lie on my floor, alternating slices of cucumber between my eyelids and my mouth?

Nope. I made chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Why? Because apparently, the heat has made me insane.

Or maybe I can blame it on my Arkansas-born father, say that I am simply channeling the Spirit of the South. You know that Spirit? The one that makes you crave stewed collards, macaroni and cheese, and smoked meat in the wilting Delta heat?

You don’t actually need a recipe for chicken-fried steak, but for reference, I give you the link to the Pioneer Woman’s version here.

Love her or hate her, the Pioneer Woman’s blog is terrific form of escapism. Everything about Ree Drummond’s life seems beautiful: she’s beautiful, she has beautiful children, her kitchen is huge and beautiful, her ranch is beautiful, her friends and family are beautiful, her photos are beautiful. Everything is highly calorific, and all the colors are super-saturated.

And her bodice-ripper stereotype of a husband is every woman’s dirty, little secret fantasy.

The Pioneer Woman’s little slice of Oklahoma seems fantastic too. True, there is a lot of backlash (some of it really funny, like this and this), but you can’t deny that Drummond makes American Comfort Food look really, really good. Plus she slayed the Flay in Bobby’s Food Network Thanksgiving showdown. Kudos.

So, how do you make chicken-fried steak without a recipe?

You will need:

Some cube steaks (or minute steaks)

Some flour

A lot of milk

2 eggs

Some canola oil

Lots of salt and pepper

Some seasoning.

First of all, pat the cube, or minute steaks dry with paper towels. In a large shallow dish, pour in about half a cup of milk. Beat 2 eggs into the milk. In another dish, stir together about 4 heaping spoonfuls of flour, about a teaspoon and a half of salt, a lot of freshly ground black pepper, and whatever seasoning you want to add (seasoned salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder).

Coat each steak, one at a time, with the milk and egg mixture. Dredge each steak with the flour. Dunk each flour-covered steak back in the egg and milk mixture, and redredge each in the flour mixture. Place them on a clean plate after you are done.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil over medium-high heat. You want the oil to just start to smoke. When the oil has reached a good temperature, add the steaks to the pan, being careful not to overcrowd it. Fry each steak until each side is golden brown. Remove the steaks to a paper-towel covered plate the drain.

Pour off all but about a 1/4 cup of oil. Add a heaping 1/4 cup of flour to the pan, and make a roux. Brown the flour so that your gravy doesn’t have that raw flour kind of taste. It should be golden brown when you pour in the milk (about two cups). You will end up with a lot of gravy. Whisk the gravy, breaking up any lumps, until you have the consistency that you want. This can take between 5 to 10 minutes. You might have to add more milk if the gravy starts to look too thickAdjust the seasoning as you go along, adding more salt and black pepper as needed.

Ladle a generous amount of gravy over your chicken-fried steak. If you serve your chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes, you can cover your spuds with the gravy too.

Enjoy responsibly: make this in November, not during a heat wave like now!

The Elvis


When friends decided to recreate a State Fair Extravaganza in their Brooklyn backyard, we had to go.

Duck ponds, ring tosses, freak shooting, and prize-winning festivities abounded. In the great tradition of all state fairs, there was also a cooking competition. Was I in it to win it? Of course!

This weekend’s event was actually a fry-off instead of a cook-off — even better! Two prizes were given: one for the “Most Cardiac-Arresting,” and the second for the “Most Delicious.”

My boyfriend and I brought two contenders, one of which was just bought off the shelf and the other that we “cooked.” My contribution was The Elvis, PBJ and bananas on Wonder Bread. My boyfriend’s was Hostess GloBalls, a crème-filled chocolate cake covered in marshmallow fluff rolled in coconut shavings and FD&C Green No° 3 — an edible, glow-in-the-dark, seasonal variation of the traditional Hostess SnoBall.

Other things fried that night? Bacon-wrapped pineapple slices rolled in coconut and Cocoa Krispies. Shu Mai. Ravioli. Pizza. Pickles. Peppers. Sara Lee Pound Cake. Cheesecake. Meatballs. French toast. Frozen White Castle sliders. Fresh White Castle sliders with pickles. Bananas. Strawberries. Defrosted Banquet Mac ‘n’ cheese. Donuts. French Fries.

I don’t know how the judge, a former vegetarian thus possessing an unsullied palate, made it through the endless rounds of fried food. It was pretty awe-inspiring.

The Elvis valiantly went forth and clogged some arteries. It probably would have clogged more had I added bacon since the real Elvis apparently liked his daily fried PBJ and banana with some pork product for added fat, salt, and crunch. This information is somewhat anecdotal; it is unclear if the King had the bacon in the sandwich, or simply liked it fried in bacon fat.

In the fryer, the GloBalls’ marshmallow covering became a crispy and weirdly tooth-shattering. The Globalls’ glow-in-the-darkiness mellowed to a grass green. Out of the fryer, they turned out to be both disturbingly toxic (dissolving the styrofoam plates underneath them) and unbelievably delicious. They left the palate tingling with an amazingly not unpleasant chemical zing.

Though the Elvis was a strong contender, I think you already know what won.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the GloBalls.

Frightening but true.