Monday, July 30, 2012

Chick-Fil-A @Home

If you are one of those who wants to boycott Chick-Fil-A based on its owner's very public stance on marriage equality, but are having a tough time imagining life without their tasty chicken sandwiches, Kenji has you covered. It's tempting to try his recipe, but I really need to take a break from deep frying things... it's the height of farmer's market season for chrissakes! I need some tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bon Appétit's Fried Chicken

Bon Appetit Fried Chicken
So this should be my last post in a (unintentional) series on deep frying that, somewhat paradoxically, started when I realized the thermostat on my deep fryer was broken. In fact, I suppose it's not so hard to guess why I've been frying a lot these past few weeks... I wanted to see how hard it was to live life without a deep fryer. Now, that I've skillet fried some chicken using a recipe from Bon Appétit I can say testing is complete. The main issue with the process sans deep fryer is the need to hover over the oil to make sure it doesn't get too hot... and as that can take 10-20 minutes it's not an insignificant hassle. A big enough hassle to own a distinct appliance that either needs a place on the counter or a place to be stored? Not for me and my small apartment kitchen, but as they say here on the internets: YMMV. I suppose if I wasn't so OCD I could just buy a cheap candy thermometer that clips on the side instead of taking a temperature with the Thermapen every two and a half minutes... but that's just not how I'm wired.

So how was the recipe? Absolutely fantastic and I totally recommend it. The skin was perfectly crisp and nicely spiced... a little heat so that you notice it, but not so much it overwhelms. I also found it easy to execute for someone who has never tried to make fried chicken at home before. Yes that's right, despite growing up below the the Mason-Dixon line (barely) mine was not a family that had a cherished fried chicken recipe passed down through generations. Nor have I had much fried chicken outside of KFC or Popeye's as a youth. So I can't even guess how it compares to your grandmother's recipe (though I suspect favorably), but it's especially great for those of us trying to build our own culinary heritage from scratch.

No special notes about the recipe... as I said, I found it basically flawless. You'll notice I did not do the frying in a cast iron pan, and I would not worry about it if you don't have one. My oil temperature didn't drop below about 315 °F, and I suppose if you were especially worried you could do smaller batches.

Frying Chicken

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Made these Sunday night in my continuing efforts to adapt to life after deep fryer. I'm not entirely sure the recipe (from Tasting Table) came out the way it was supposed to... they weren't at all like beignets... but it was still quite tasty. I thought it was a disaster at first as the dough, with only 3/4 of a cup of whole milk as the liquid, was super dry... but the eggs were able to hold it together it seems. Like the flavors quite a lot. The difficulty in making this one exactly as written will be the corn flour... as I don't imagine a ton of people have that sitting in their pantry... but Bob's Red Mill does produce it, and we were able to find it at Whole Foods. If you are wondering what to do with all that extra corn flour afterwards, you can always make corn cookies.

I fried these up in my dutch oven using the Thermapen and found it to be super painless... making me wonder why I ever felt I needed a deep fryer in the first place. I know it was one of the first cooking things I bought when I was starting out on this path, but I don't recall the impetus. I would have guessed it had something to do with a Cook's Illustrated recipe I read, because they were basically my cooking bible back then... if they said everybody should own a deep fryer I would have believed them... but their reviews of deep fryers (sub required) imply the opposite stance. Well, either its purchase predated the blog or I just didn't write about it, so my reasoning is lost to time (though I wouldn't be surprised if Anna remembers). If you are deep frying a couple of times a month or more I can see why you'd want a dedicated appliance, but otherwise I think you should just take that $100 and spend it on a good thermometer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Deep Frying Failure

Break out the deep fryer!I try to document my failures as much as my successes in cooking... as I think reflection on the former is often more illuminating than the latter... but it's a hard thing to do in practice. I think for most of us, when a dish doesn't come out like we expect it's pretty dispiriting... you've spent a lot of time and money on something that's possibly not even edible... and so my first instinct is not to get out the camera and snap a picture of my mistakes.

So that's the preamble to why there is not a picture here of my failed attempt at fish and chips this week. I don't often cook fish (not because I don't like fish, but because of the hassles of making sure they are sourced sustainably) nor do I often break out our deep fryer, but I was pretty confident this would be pretty easy. I was making potato chips instead of English style "chips" (aka fries) and a straightforward beer batter as described over at Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook for some Atlantic cod. Everything about the recipe went great until the deep frying part. We have a DeLonghi "roto" deep fryer that is generally well regarded, and has worked well for us. I don't like how difficult it is to keep clean (would love detachable parts that are dishwasher safe), but the the much lower amount of oil necessary to operate it is great. Even with how seldom we use it, I also like the fact that I don't need to worry about monitoring the oil temperature.

However, with the fish and chips... the oil set to 350-360 degrees F... the chips came out soggy and the batter didn't stick to the fish. Now there are couple of key points to successful frying 1) right oil at the right temperature and 2) don't overcrowd. I used peanut oil and a deep fryer for #1 and did things in many, many small batches for #2... but no dice. I also held the pieces of fish halfway in the oil to get the bottom coating to firm up before dropping them in, but it still flaked off/stuck to the basket and never crisped up. Unfortunately I didn't think to use my Thermapen to actually make sure the oil temperature was correct... and in reviewing things in my head, that's what I'm suspecting is the real issue here... as I now recall that my last batch of fries was soggy and lame too. At the time I attributed that to the fact that we had frozen them after the initial fry, and suspected there was some problem with how we did it or maybe they were in the freezer too long or something. This probably reveals a little of my engineering bias, where I always first assume the equipment is working fine and it's the user who screwed everything up (whereas said user usually assumes the opposite).

It may still be the case that there is something I'm screwing up, but now I definitely suspect it's the deep fryer that's the problem... and it's starting to make me question the idea of even owning one unless you are deep frying a couple of times a month at least. Is it really superior to just using a thermometer and a dutch oven otherwise? I'll have to test to actually know for sure, but I guess that's a good excuse to make some fries... and, hey, it is National French Fry Day. It's also a good reminder for me not to just blindly trust the little red light and use my damn thermometer.

UPDATE: Made fries Friday night and checked the temperature with my Thermapen, and the deep fryer was indeed off... low by by roughly 30° F. Was able to make decent fries using that correction factor, but the top end of the thermostat is 375, so I was not able to get up to the 350 you need for super crisp fries. The fryer will be 5 years old in December, so it's not like we didn't get good use out of it... but I do have to question the wisdom of buying another one. I guess I'll have to see how much of a hassle frying in a dutch oven feels like.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce

Fresh Tomato Sauce
A few years back I posted about a fresh tomato sauce from the New York Times, but with this week's haul from the Farmer's Market I went with Cook's Illustrated (sub req). They're almost identical... start with oil and garlic, add your tomatoes, simmer until the flesh breaks down and it's nice a thick, and then finish with basil. The main difference is whether to peel and seed the tomatoes ahead of time (i.e. tomato concassé) or use a food mill after the fact. I'm not at all intimidated by peeling tomatoes these days, and if you don't own a food mill that is the way you have to do it... at least if you don't want undigestable tomato skins floating around in your sauce. Aside from the tomato peeling, how long this recipe takes depends a lot on the tomatoes you are using... I had some super ripe romas and it was done in closer to 10 minutes than the stated 15-20, so keep an eye on it. If your tomatoes are super fleshy and juicy it might be closer to 30 minutes (or more). Just note that the longer you cook them the sweeter they get, so hold off with any sugar addition until you've tasted the sauce at the end.

Quick Fresh Tomato Sauce

adapted from Cook's Illustrated


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or garlic pressed
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced (video here)
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup chiffonade of fresh basil
  • Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Stir oil and garlic together in large (cold) skillet. Turn heat to medium and cook until garlic is sizzling and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to rapid simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, reducing heat if sauce begins to stick to bottom of pan, until thickened and chunky, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is on the tart side add a pinch or two of sugar.
Note: Should be enough sauce (2 cups) for a pound of pasta. If it's too thick you can thin it out with some reserved pasta water.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sun Pickles

Sun Pickles Day 1
On Tuesday I stopped by the Harvard farmer's market and, on a whim, picked up some pickling cucumbers... for, you know, some pickling. Problem is, you can't really do a full on sour pickle fermentation on a whim.... you need big crocks, grape/cherry/oak leaves, and dill heads... the latter two of which are not commonly available in your average supermarket (well I suppose crocks aren't either, but I already have numerous glass jars from various other pickling projects). So instead of a full on sour pickle, I decided to do a very basic "half sour" project instead.

For a half sour pickle you are doing a much lower salt concentration (2-4% vs. 4.5-7%) so the fermentation goes a lot faster, but the end result is a lot closer to a cucumber than it is to that super sour pickle from the deli. In addition to that we're using sunlight to speed the process even more so as to complete it in five short days. I'm generally not a huge fan of this style... the more sour the better I say... but it's a super easy recipe so why not give it a shot? Maybe these pickles will change my mind.

If you are wondering about the color of the brine, I used red wine vinegar instead of white because I thought it would make a more fun HDR picture. Anyway, on to the recipe:

Hungarian Sun Pickles

adapted from The Joy of Pickling


  • 1 quart of 3 to 5 inch pickling cucumbers,
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 fresh head and 1 frond of dill, or 1 teaspoon dried dill seed
  • About 2 cups water


  1. Wash the cucumbers, and remove the blossom ends (if any). Slit the cucumbers all the way through with a knife but keep the ends intact.
  2. Place pickling salt, vinegar, and dill into a narrow-mouth quart jar. Pack cucumbers tightly into jar so they won't float. Pour in water to cover and tightly cap the jar with a nonreactive lid. Shake the jar until the salt dissolves. Loosen the cap (with my jars I removed the rubber gasket so that the top was flush with the jar without being fully sealed).
  3. Place the jar outside in the sun or in a sunny window. If you put it outside be sure to bring the jar back in at night. In our somewhat dark apartment I put the jar by one window at in the morning and another once I get home from work. Within 3 days, you should see tiny bubbles, indicating the cucumbers are fermenting. When the tiny bubbles have stopped rising (around 5 days), place in refrigerator. They will keep about for a few weeks refrigerated.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Become a Seafood Anesthesiologist!

Dave Arnold has the deets. My favorite part:
At first you will see nothing. Then the lobsters will show some movement, maybe some tail flicks. Then the lobsters will stop moving and you’ll think they are knocked out. They aren’t. Instead, after a little rest they will start zombie-walking backwards. Pick them up and they will still zombie walk. If they reach the side of the tank they still zombie walk. After the zombie phase, they go slack again. It’s boiling time.
Much, much more at the link. I've never boiled or steamed a lobster before... despite going to Maine quite often... so I might try this.

Oh, and Happy Birthday America! Don't forget to stop by Denny's for your free Grand Slam breakfast.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Homemade Ketchup?

I'm all over making your own pickles, as you can do a lot more interesting variations than are commonly available in the Supermarket... but Melissa Clark at the New York Times suggests making homemade ketchup and mustard as well. On the mustard front, based on the innumerable delicious "artisinal" varieties you can find out there, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that a nicely tweaked homemade variety is going to be superb... but ketchup? Clark is specifically trying to make her version taste like Heinz, so I think it's fair to wonder what the point is... is the flavor from those garden tomatoes she calls for really so transcendent to make homemade ketchup worth the effort? I suppose it is worth a shot, but like I said... I am skeptical.