Fried Chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, New Orleans

Willie Mae's Scotch House

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

It’s no secret that I love fried chicken. Some may consider it junk, or not blog worthy. However, I believe fried chicken is a genuine foodie indulgence, when done right, with the right produce. I have yet to write my own fried chicken recipe in fact, I’ve never made it at home. But I’d like to reminisce and share with you a time when I found the best fried chicken I had ever eaten.

I’ve been fortunate enough to sample proper game changing, sit up and take notice cuisine from around the world. However, none of those experiences quite compare to the excitement, tension and anticipation I felt when I found myself in New Orleans last summer on the cusp of sampling not only (supposedly) some of the best fried chicken in Louisiana, but in all of America.

Fried Chicken in New Orleans

Fried Chicken in New Orleans

As massively controversial as it may sound, the best fried chicken I had prior to that moment was sourced from a Beijing branch of a well known international fried chicken brand and subsequently eaten in Tiananmen Square. You may be wondering why would someone who bangs on about culinary tourism eat fried chicken from an American chain in Beijing? That is a very good question. I won’t go into detail but what I will say is that after three weeks in Asia I was craving some Western familiarity, and it was over six years ago. Either way that experience set the benchmark prior to my visit to Louisiana.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House, situated in the Treme district of New Orleans, originally started as a bar in the 1940’s until Willie Mae Seaton started cooking fried chicken. Eventually, the food took over. After the building was destroyed by Katrina in 2005, $200,000 was privately raised and subsequently donated to get the house up and running again and it reopened in 2007, now sitting proud amongst an array of post-Katrina abandoned buildings. Locals say that this place was one of the first buildings to be renovated after the storm, which says something about how important Willie Mae’s is to New Orleaneans.

Like "tempura"

Like “tempura”

It took about 20 minutes from sit down and order to be served a fresh platter of fried chicken. My first thought turned to the size of the actual chicken pieces. The batter looked as though it was double layered, through some sort of double or triple dipping process. My friend Kathryn, a Louisiana gal through and through, described it best: The batter tastes, crunches and crumbles like tempura. In terms of seasoning, I’m convinced that there was just salt and pepper, yet surprisingly not over-salted. So it wasn’t the full-on spice explosion I’d perhaps naively imagined but that’s not to put it down: the chicken itself was substantial, incredibly moist, fall of the bone tender.

Red Beans and Ham Hock

Red Beans and Ham Hock

The platter came with two sides, one of which was a green salad. The other was a red bean dish which was a true revelation. You’re given a choice of red or white beans and I opted for red. A bowl of red bean stew cooked with ham hock was served with the chicken: vastly superior to the usual French fry accompaniment.  Something so simple I’ve been meaning to replicate but haven’t quite got round to doing yet. When I do I will share, because the beans stick in my mind as much as the fried chicken itself.

Green Salad

Green Salad (with cheese…)

The food reaffirmed my love of fried chicken. I may have been wrapped up in the delight of the mere experience of finally eating fried chicken in the Deep South, but more than anything it brought a poignant end to a trip with hundreds of memories. Despite that, I know exactly where I’ll be going on day one of my next trip to New Orleans.

Advertisements

Chipotle Braised Ox Cheek Tacos

Chipotle Braised Ox Cheek

Chipotle Braised Ox Cheek

The following was inspired by a trip to Death By Burrito in Shoreditch earlier this year. I went in sceptical, because to me going out to get a burrito should be more of a quality quick eat experience, as opposed to the sit down, dine in and be served setup that I knew to expect at DBB.  But because my love for burritos is so great I set pre-judgement aside and I wasn’t disappointed. I went for the braised pig cheek and crackling burrito. In short, it was a personal mini-revelation, and made me realise there was more to burritos than just pulled chicken, beef or pork.

Death By Burrito, Shoreditch

Death By Burrito, Shoreditch

I eat burritos out and I eat tacos at home. Tacos mean you get a little bit at a time and you can mix things up a bit. Tacos are more fun.

Ox Cheek Tacos

Ox Cheek Tacos, more fun, more hot sauce

This was the first time I had cooked with ox cheeks at home. Google ‘Ox Cheek recipes’ and you’re hit with an abundance of generally boring, ‘Anglais’ slow cooked ox cheek stew combinations.  To combine ox cheek with what is essentially Mexican chipotle was always the first theme that sprung to mind, mainly because to me the colours of the chipotle and ox seem to go hand in hand. I made this up as I went along, based on ingredients I had to hand, and surprised myself by how well this combination worked. The cheek is a very hard working muscle (think of all that grass chewing) so it goes without saying that it needs low and slow: three hours for the first batch I made was ample time, any more time and the meat would have shred too much, loosing texture, ultimately I didn’t want stew. Taking the meat off the heat at the right time ensures that the cheeks had an ever so slight crisp on the outside but had the butter-like texture inside. Ox cheeks and chipotle are new best friends.

Ingredients

4 Ox Cheeks
1 chipotle (rehydrated if dried)
2 chipotle in adobo
1 tbsp tomato puree
Seasoned white flour
1 red onion
Glug red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic
1 small glass red wine
750ml beef stock
Vegetable Oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp epazote
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper

For tacos

Corn tortillas
Guacamole  (1 lime, coriander, coarse salt, avocado, all blitzed with a hand blender)
Make-your-own Slaw (avoid mayo and be creative: try shredded cabbage, carrots and onion, salt, pepper, balsamic, substitute mayo with Greek yogurt)
Black or pinto beans

Note: epazote (Mexican oregano) and chipotle in adobo can be purchased in good Mexican shops, such as Otomi in the Clifton Arcade or online (try mexgrocer.co.uk)

  1. Trim the ox cheeks of excess fat and discard any connective tissue. Cut the cheeks into manageable chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy based saucepan. Meanwhile coat the cheeks in the flour mixed with salt and pepper.
  3. Seal the cheeks for a couple of minutes or until nicely coloured. Do this in two or three batches and season with salt. If all the meat is put in at once the pan cools and the meat starts to stew and turn grey. Sealing the meat in smaller batches brings out a nicer colour and ensures flavour maximisation.
  4. Remove the cheeks from the pan set aside once coloured.
  5. Add chopped onion to the pan and fry for a minute or two until soft.
  6. Put all the cheeks back into the pan with the onion. At this point add the seasoning: the cumin, oregano, epazote, cayenne. Add the garlic, kept whole.
  7. Roughly cut up the chipotle in adobo and add this to the mix with some of the sauce of the adobo. Add the additional chipotle (if this is dried chipotle this should have been rehydrated prior) and a squeeze of tomato puree.
  8. Add the red wine and red wine vinegar. Give it a few moments for some of the alcohol to burn off, then add the beef stock. Ensure that there is enough liquid to just cover the meat.
  9. Slow cook on the lowest available heat on the hob for 3 hours or so, until the meat is fork tender. Keep a periodic eye on the meat to ensure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If the mix is becoming too dry, add more water.
  10. Serve the Ox Cheeks in tacos, beans, guacamole and slaw.

Tray Baked ‘Jerk’ Chicken, Bacon, Rice and Pea

I’ve only tried making Jerk Chicken once before, having followed Jamie’s 30 minute meals I was foolishly led to believe you could ‘jerk’ a chicken in 30 minutes and it tastes just as good, but it of course epically failed; it turned out to be more of a timid green, sweet honey parsley dipped chicken- and as a result my confidence was shattered.

However yesterday, my day off, having defrosted 5 chicken thighs the previous night and going through the usual notions in my head of what could be the best possible thing I could do with the thighs, I summoned up the courage to make another go of jerking chicken. Having done some research, I found that I didn’t have most of the core ingredients to make it in the ‘traditional’ way. So the following recipe is loosely based on jerk (hence the use of ‘jerk’ in inverted commas) but dominantly based on what ingredients I had available at the time.  It turned out surprisingly well, albeit it was borderline heat intolerable, but still worth it. For the marinade I used one scotch bonnet and one habanero and I was thinking if I made it one more time would I go for both again? I probably would. But if you don’t like heat as much as I do then it’s probably best to go for one or the other. Habanero is probably my favourite chilli right now, and was genuinely delighted recently to read that they are packed with a wide range of health benefits.

As for the boneless chicken thighs, that’s how I like them. I do bone or off the bone. Some dishes lend themselves to not having to faff with the bone, such as this one. I had some fresh chicken stock that needed to be used hence I cooked the rice in the stock which obviously makes the rice taste really good.

I gave this about five hours marinating time, which seemed ample. But next time I’d try it overnight. The chicken releases lots of juices and marinade back in to the dish and this is absorbed by the sweet potato so this is by no means dry, turned out to be quite a saucy dish, and the smoked bacon acts as an overarching smoky, salty flavour enhancer. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos because I ate it all before I remembered to take the photo so you’ll have to take my word for the fact that it looked and tasted great. A thought just occurred that the chicken could also work really well on its own, barbecued.  Now that will be something to look forward to.

Ingredients (feeds 2-3)

5 boneless chicken thighs, preferably free range
3 rashers smoked bacon
1 sweet potato
White rice (preferably Thai jasmine or basmati)
500mls fresh chicken stock (to cook the rice in)
1 can chick peas (to go in rice)

For the marinade:

1 habanero (rehydrated if dried) and 1 scotch bonnet (or one or the other for less heat)
Glug white wine vinegar
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp five spice
1 tbsp soy sauce
Juice 1 lime
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tsp epazote
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper

1.      Combine the marinade ingredients in a food processor until they form a smooth paste

2.      Mix the chicken well in the marinade and leave to marinade in the fridge for as long as possible

3.      Once chicken is marinated, chop the sweet potato into small chunks and par boil for 10 minutes

4.      Pre heat the oven to 190’C

5.      Lay the marinade chicken in a ceramic oven dish, add the par boiled sweet potato to the dish and lay out smoked bacon on top. Put in the oven for 45 minutes  to an hour

6.     Meanwhile cook the rice in chicken stock. When the rice is near completion add the chick peas and let them warm up in the rice

Serve the chicken,  sweet potato juices and bacon over the rice and pea.

5-Spice Beef Brisket (with an egg on top)

Beef Brisket

Beef Brisket

Thinking back to an pre-adult food craving this one always comes to mind. And it has stood the test of time. It was first served up by my mother and when she passed this recipe on to me many years ago this must have been the dish that kick-started my foray into home-based, do it yourself culinary experimentation. So it seems perfectly apt that my first blog entry should be this oriental inspired 5-spice fork tender beef brisket with an egg on top.

I’ve taken the recipe that she gave me and honed it over time and although I daren’t ever say its better than hers… in a competition scenario it would run extremely close.

If you go to a decent Chinese restaurant, and by that I mean, an authentic Chinese restaurant… not an all you can eat buffet where Brits gorge themselves on copious amounts of chicken chow mein, ‘sea-weed’, prawn toast and chips, and if you’re really lucky maybe some sushi rolls to mix things up a bit, which I must add, is something that really bothers me. What’s the deal with the British and their love for horrendous westernised Chinese food? Anyway, I digress. Maybe I can write about this in more detail at a later date. This dish can be found, albeit on ‘the Chinese menu’ (which if you don’t happen to be Chinese, you have to ask for this nicely or they won’t give it to you) at most good Chinese restaurants although their approach is somewhat different in that they tend to boil the brisket prior to sealing it which I think compromises the tenderisation process that takes place in the slow cooker. It also makes the meat look a bit grey. They tend to leave a lot if not all of the fat on, plus some of the connective tissue, which you could argue adds to flavour but is not to everyone’s taste. At least eating pure animal fat isn’t really to my taste. So this dish will discard the aforementioned.

I’ve experimented with too many aspects to mention: to sear or not to sear? Overnight marinating… slow-cooker, oven or rice cooker slow cook function? Shin rather than brisket… I’ve tried many combinations. But I’m quietly confident I’ve found a definitive combination that also turns out to be the simplest, which more often than not, comes as no surprise.

I think the dish works best in a slow cooker but if you don’t have one, using a heavy based pan with the lid on a low heat will also yield excellent results. I’ve learned that getting the searing process right is really important in that it brings out the flavour of the beef. Like I said, I’ve tried doing cooking the beef in the slow cooker from raw but I found that the beef came out somewhat gloopy. Also in terms of cooking time, it needs minimum three hours, but I think six in a slow cooker is ideal. I’ve cooked this for as long as 24 hours in the past, but I found the beef breaks up to much and became more of a beef meat sauce.

It goes without saying that using the best beef you can find will work wonders in this dish. I’ve always thought that getting hold of great tasting, ‘beefy’ tasting beef is actually quite hard to find in the UK and something that isn’t really talked about enough; and by ‘beefy’ I mean aged beef with yellow coloured fat and abundant depth of flavour which you tend to find by default outside of the UK. I’ve learned that this is down to our BSE legacy, which the UK still hasn’t managed to shrug off, ultimately resulting in stricter legislation involving slaughtering cows at a younger age and slashing hanging times. I avoid supermarket beef in particular because I don’t think it tastes of anything, mainly due to the fact that when the cow reaches the age of lining up for slaughter they are barely out of the veal category. I’m fortunate to live within the vicinity of Gloucester Road in Bristol, which has an abundance of good quality, independent butchers who are supplying all meats far superior to what you can find in a supermarket, competitively priced.

Anyway, to conclude on dish itself: the egg freaks some people out. Don’t be freaked out by the egg because in my opinion cracking the yolk and watching the flow over the beef is probably the reason why I make this in the first place. It tastes great.

 

5 SPICE BEEF BRISKET

Prep time 20-30 mins
Cooking time 3-6 hours

Ingredients (feeds 4)

Rolled Beef Brisket ideally butcher sourced 

1 onion, finely chopped
1 aubergine (or ‘egg plant’)
4 tbsp Oyster Sauce
3 tbsp dark soy sauce (or light depending on what’s available)
1 heaped tsp 5 Spice powder
1 tsp cumin
1-2 red chilies
2 cups white flour
2 cloves garlic
2 thumb sized ginger pieces, grated

Salt, Black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 Beef stock cube/powder (optional)
Rice to serve, ideally Thai Jasmine or Basmati
Pak Choi, to serve
1 large free-range egg to serve per person

1.   Unroll the brisket and lay it out flat. Dice it into small chunks approximately 2-3cm squared. Discard excess fat and any excess connective tissue.

2.   Coat the cut up brisket into a white flour, 5 spice and black pepper mixture.

3.   Once all the brisket is coated, heat up the vegetable oil in a large pan and seal the meat for a couple of minutes on all sides until the beef has a  nice colour. Remove sealed beef from pan and transfer to the slow cooker.

4.   Gently fry off the finely chopped onion for a couple of minutes in the pan used to seal the beef before adding to the beef in the slow cooker.

5.   Whilst the onion is frying, you can add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, cumin, garlic, grated ginger, chopped chili, salt and black pepper to the beef in the slow cooker and give it a good mix. Add the cooked onion.

6.   Cover the beef with pre-boiled (but not boiling) water. You can also add the optional stock cube at this point, if you so wish.

7.   Cook on low for at least 3 hours, or until the beef is fall apart fork tender. When the beef is an hour away from cooking, add some chopped aubergine.

8.   Serve the beef with plain white rice, garlic fried pak choi and a fried egg on top.