Monthly Archives: March 2013

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.

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.