There are times in my life when I become a bit obsessive compulsive. Like my never-ending quest for an afro (I refuse to believe that I can’t have a big round afro like every other girl I know and that one day that patch of completely straight hair will turn curly). Or when I decided to learn how to knit and proceeded to knit everyone that I know with a head a hat. I get that way sometimes. When I decide I’m interested, I become an expert and won’t stop until I’ve conquered this week’s epic challenge.
Well my most recent OCD adventure was tea smoked chicken. Yes, for some odd and unexplainable reason I decided to turn my kitchen into a smoker because if they can do it at Cha Cha Moon (my favorite Chinese restaurant), by golly, so can I. I was going to smoke anything that might remotely taste interesting. Like with my other OCD attacks I turned to the best resource for learning any vague and obscure craft – the internet. I spent days scouring the net for method, ingredients, marinades and all things tea smoked chicken because I would be the next tea smoked chicken master chef.
All the blogs touted how simple tea smoking at home could be. A simple concoction of tea, rice and sugar was all I needed to turn plain old chicken wings into a smoky sensation. I am a pretty good cook so how hard could it be? I started off by lining my wok with aluminum foil. If I hooked that thing to my TV I could probably watch the evening news in Beijing. I added in the amazing smoking agents: uncooked jasmine rice, jasmine tea, and some sugar. Note: No one in the blogosphere knows what the sugar does, everyone thinks it’s pointless but every recipe called for it so I too drank that Kool-Aid too.
We were super excited when the contraption started to smoke. We added the wire grate and quickly covered the contraption with foil. Smoke began seeping out of everywhere. We frantically covered all the gaps with sheet upon sheet of foil and the exhaust fan was struggling to keep up. All that could be heard was the metallic crunch of foil as we tried to pinch the seams of our smoke leaving ship. Luckily we had a rare 60 degree day in London so we opened the window to keep from suffocating. After the frantic ripping of and scrunching of foil, we finally plugged all the holes. Who knew cooking could be so harrowing.
After 20 minutes of smoking and 30 minutes of resting, the milky white, slimy skin of the chicken, that we nearly asphyxiated ourselves to make, underwhelmed us. I was, however, prepared for this becuase many of the bloggers warned that a tan in the broiler might be necessary. I put the sickly looking things in the “grill” (at this point I must add a side note on the “grill” which is supposed to be the broiler but since we don’t have gas ovens in the UK, it’s just the electric heating element of the oven getting extra hot and red and pretending to really do something) for 30 minutes. This did nothing but put a little beige on them. They went from pale white to “light skinneded” which wasn’t much better. But every cook knows that it’s not what it looks like, it’s how it tastes that’s important.
Survey says…ehhh. A big fat X. They were horrible! I ate two (the second one only to confirm that they were actually as bad as I thought). I tried to rationalize it but in the end, I decided I’d be better off with leftovers. No flavor (despite marinating in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and rice wine for two hours) and the skin was still slimy despite being broiled (I told you that “grill” thing doesn’t work). Yes, I know I made them look tasty but the verdict – EPIC FAIL! I took the photo before I actually ate them and this proves that you can’t even believe what you see sometimes. The other lesson is that even the best of us have a bad dish every now and then…even little miss OCD. Tea smoked chicken has won this round but I’m going back to my corner to regroup and next time, I’ll come back swinging. This story isn’t over yet.
My husband loves fried chicken. No, I mean he’s really in love with fried chicken! I don’t think you understand how serious this is. If it were possible to marry fried chicken, I would be kicked to the curb. And I really can’t blame him. Fried chicken is one of those pleasures in life that the vegan, healthy eating, everything-that-you-put-in-your-mouth-that-even-remotely-tastes-good people have waged war against.
I’m not talking about the fried chicken that comes from the Chinese carry-out with a bit of mambo sauce on the side (what is mambo sauce anyway?) or the faux home cooked, mechanically shaped stuff that you get from KFC. I mean the juicy, salty, sweet, crispy deep fried hugs that your Grandma would stand over the stove for hours cooking in that old black iron skillet. Chicken that’s so good you would seriously contemplate selling one of your kidneys for just one juicy leg. Because you always have another kidney, but fried chicken like Grandma made is hard to come by.
I don’t remember my first experience with fried chicken because, like a loyal friend, it’s always been in my life. And it always makes me smile. Most of my best memories revolve around food, and more specifically around fried chicken. I suspect, if you are Black and from America, yours do too. Remember your loyal friend lovingly nestled in the shoe box when you took those long car trips (or was that just my husband’s family)? Remember those family picnics where the fried chicken took center stage? Everyone’s Grandma had a Crisco can on the stove full of bacon grease. For many of us, our first experience with cooking was shaking the chicken and flour in the brown paper bag. And that first bite of chicken hot from the grease, the crunch giving way to the juicy molten goodness dripping between your fingers. Fried chicken has just always been part of the family.
I don’t fry chicken often now. Even on the best of days, it’s not that great for you. This is really interesting since our grandparents ate it at least once every week and they lived well into their gray old chicken eatin’ days. Nonetheless, the health gods tell us that we shouldn’t eat it at all or “oven fry” it without the skin because it tastes just the same. Yeah right… who ever said this has never had a Grandma that fried chicken. So now, in my effort to keep my husband around for at least the next 80 years, I save it for special occasions – birthdays, family get-togethers, the first Eagles football game of the season, or when I just feel down. And of course, anytime a little extra happy won’t hurt. I will continue to fry chicken and making wonderful memories. One day, I’ll be the old grandma in the kitchen with the iron skillet frying up a batch with plenty of oil, plenty of seasoning and plenty of love.
You’ll need several basic tools which you should have already.
A high sided heavy gauge pan (high enough to hold 1 inch of oil and the chicken without spilling over) with a well fitted lid
Tongs for turning the chicken (you don’t want to pierce the chicken with a fork as you’ll lose all the juicy goodness).
Paper towels and a heat proof bowl for drying grease from the chicken
Paper towels or a clean dishtowel to dry the chicken after cleaning
A plastic bag for coating the chicken with flour
A kitchen thermometer to test the temperature of the oil
2 lbs (1 kg) chicken parts
1 cup plain flour
3 tbls seasoning (plain salt and pepper, Lawry’s, Season-All, All Purpose seasoning, or my chicken seasoning described below)
1 ltr oil (any oil with a high smoking point and no flavor like sunflower, peanut, canola, or vegetable)
Wash chicken and pluck any stray feathers (yes in the UK you must do this) and use clean paper towel or dishtowel to completely dry it. If you’ve chosen to make chicken breasts, cut the breasts in half to ensure the meat gets thoroughly cooked. Season chicken with your preferred seasoning and refrigerate for at least an hour.
When ready to cook, remove chicken from fridge and set aside. Place the dry pan on the stove on medium heat (5 on electric stoves) for 2 to 3 minutes. NOTE: If you have a pan lined with Teflon or you are unsure whether the pan is lined with Teflon do not follow this step (Teflon can be toxic when burnt). While waiting for pan to heat, add about 1 cup of flour to a plastic bag and add two generous pinches of seasoning to the flour and shake. When done, fill the pan to a depth of about 1 inch and increase heat to medium high (7 on electric stove). While the oil is heating, place chicken in flour a few pieces at a time and shake to coat. Once all the chicken is coated, check the heat of the oil by using the kitchen thermometer. The temperature should be between 350 and 375F. Another method is to add a piece of bread to the oil, if it turns golden brown within a minute the oil is hot enough. If the oil is too hot, move the pan away from heat for a minute or two and test the temperature again. Once the oil is hot, it’s time to cook!
Carefully place the chicken in the pan one piece at a time. Make sure that the pieces are not touching. Once the pan is full, cover it tightly. The oil will be rapidly bubbling at this point. Remember this sound. When the bubbling slows down, it’s time to check the chicken. This should be about 15 minutes. If the chicken is the proper crispness, careful turn each piece, and continue to cook uncovered. Again, you should hear rapid bubbling. When it slows down (about 5 to 10 minutes), check again by removing the largest piece and piercing the meatiest part with a sharp knife. If the juice comes out tinged red or pink, put the piece back in and cook some more. Once done, remove the pieces and place them in paper towel lined bowl.
Seneca’s Fried Chicken Seasoning
2 tbls sea salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp mustard powder