Monday, January 5, 2009

A Lesson Before Dining: Chapter 2

This week’s lesson covered some of America’s favorites - frying and sauce making. The participants met at the test kitchen, unplugged the smoke detector, and got to work. The menu was pretty robust, covering a southern classic, Fried Chicken with Country Gravy and Cheese Grits, and a twist on an Italian classic, Salmon Croquettes on a Bed of Spaghetti with Homemade Tomato Sauce. The beautiful thing about these two dishes is they encompass so many transferable chef skills. For example, making croquettes requires the same breading, egging, and chilling time as any good burger or meatball would. And making country gravy requires you to understand deglazing, reducing and thickening, which is requisite for many pan sauces. It was a meal of creativity, of patience, and of overcoming fears (have you ever been scalded by hot grease?!) In the end, the meal was spectacular enough to change people’s perspectives on fish dishes and fried chicken. Mmmm Mmmm!!!!

Below is a recount of the participants’ experiences:

The UE said…I hate frying. HATE it. So when designing the coursework, naturally I had to add a unit sizzling food in inches of hot liquid fat that could burn the paint off the space shuttle. Being burned by grease is something I do not like and do not seek, as I constantly attempt dishes that require little to no pan frying. Alas, if I am to ascend to the gilded ranks of the imperial chefs, I must learn to fry some good meats. So I stepped up to the plate with long sleeves and a confident gait. We chopped and breaded and dredged and plopped. Soon, the meats were sizzling, and I was excited. I hadn’t historically had much success frying foods, but this felt different. I could feel it coming in the air.

We started making tomato sauce, which is always enjoyable. I have made tomato sauce before, and the key I think is slow loving. Let the tomatoes have time to meet the herbs. Give the garlic space to flirt with the shallots. Soon you will have a velvety sauce that melts in your mouth.

The chicken and croquettes were fantastico! Some tips I learned from observation of my friends helped this batch come out better. First – bake the chicken, either before or after frying. You don’t need to let the grease cook the meat, it will just make it unhealthy and soggy. Fry to a golden crisp and then bake. Second – use a lid! My biggest folly in frying had always been open air frying. If you close the lid, it will fry safely and trap heat, helping the process. Just be wary the steam on the lid doesn’t drip into the grease when you take it off, else it will spatter the grease.

Lou said…KFC and Popeye’s make it look simple, but frying chicken is no easy feat. I was much more comfortable skinning and preparing the chicken this time around, but I was scared of the frying process. After hearing horror stories about people being burned by grease and kitchen grease fires, I made sure to stand back any time the chicken made the slightest sound in the frying pot. The efforts paid off in the end, but I’m definitely not comfortable enough to fry anything by myself. One of the highlights of week two was creating the spaghetti sauce from scratch (I’m becoming much more confident with the knife and chopping and mincing—finally!). I’m glad to have cheese grits in my arsenal; I had never tasted them before, but they seem like a quick way to supplement a meal. The salmon croquets were fairly simple to make and delicious to taste and the two dinner wines added to the total presentation/experience. The best part was seeing our tasting guest go back for seconds and depart with a smile on his face…. Mission complete.

Fried Chicken
Country Gravy
Cheese Grits
Salmon Croquettes
Homemade Tomato Sauce

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1 comment:

Heidy said...

Good tip for homemade pasta sauce:

Sometimes when tomatoes aren't in season they tend to be acidic leaving you with a less than perfect sauce. A tablespoon of butter into the sauce helps round out the flavor.