A Wing Thing

I will walk miles out of my way if I hear even the faintest mumble that somewhere does good fried chicken. I used to be all about the breast and thigh but recently, as recent as my trip around the south, I have become a firm convert to the way of the wing.  I’m a fan of the whole wing.  Snap off the first bone (the bit that’s attached to the rest of the chicken just below the breast), devouring the meat with fervour; then twist the two bones out of the next section, leaving a huge chunk of meat and crispy skin – I don’t see myself as addicted to food so much as addicted to textures and this has got to be one of the most godliest of textures; then, finally, gnaw on the wing tip like a starving animal because (hopefully) the seasoning is boss.

If I ever own a restaurant or food truck serving wings, my customers would get the whole wing every time. I’d like them to feel like cavemen and women; primitive and without the airs and graces that would see them miss out on tearing a piece of meat apart with reckless abandon.

For those that share my love of deep fried poultry, here is my recipe for fried chicken. This is only the basis of a good recipe, you can build on this and add whatever herbs and spices you wish and in whatever quantities you feel right for your taste buds.

Ingredients

8 whole chicken wings
1 cup self-raising flour
2 tbsp corn flour
2 tbsp potato starch
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp cayenne chilli powder
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1L cooking oil (I used rapeseed)

Instructions

  1. Combine the flours, starch, and seasonings in a bowl and mix well.IMG_20170722_200042
  2. Add the wings to the bowl and mix to make sure they are well coated in the flour mixture.
  3. Put the chicken wings on a tray in the fridge for at least half an hour.  This will enable the flour to be absorbed slightly by the chicken, resulting in a better coating.IMG_20170722_110824
  4. After setting up in the fridge, remove the chicken and allow it to come to room temperature.
  5. Add the oil to a deep pan and heat over a medium-high heat.  Check the temperature by dropping a pinch of flour into the oil – if it sizzles, it’s about right.
  6. With the beaten eggs in one bowl, and the flour mixture in the other, dip the chicken in the flour making sure to coat it thoroughly, then into the egg – again making sure to coat it thoroughly and let the excess drip off, then add it back into the flour.  Make sure the chicken is entirely coated in the flour mixture.  Do this with all of the wings.IMG_20170722_201602
  7. Gently place 4 of the wings into the oil and immediately turn it down to medium heat.  Keep an eye (and nose) on the wings to make sure they don’t scorch on the bottom of the pan.  After 5 minutes flip the wings over.  After another 5 minutes, flip them back again.  After a final 5 minutes, remove them from the pan and put them onto wire rack covered in kitchen towel (a total of 15 minutes cooking time).  This will remove any excess oil.
  8. Fry the remainder of the wings.img_20170722_203133.jpg
  9. Re-season.  I know this sounds like over kill and blah, blah, blah salt content.  But trust me.  Add a pinch of salt and black pepper and your chicken will sing.
  10. If you’ve got hot sauce either drizzle some over the chicken or add some to the side of your plate for dipping.

I used the hot sauce I made in my previous post which consisted of peaches, mustard, honey, and 2 different types of chillies.  The hot sauce and fried chicken were in perfect harmony with each other.  The danger is that I’ll keep cooking this until my inevitable heart attack.

There are of course some things that you can experiment with such as brining the chicken in buttermilk (add hot sauce!) or using a different spice palette (such as flavours found in Indian or Caribbean cuisine).  You could forego the first step of letting the chicken set up in the fridge coated in flour.  You could instead apply seasonings directly to the chicken and let it marinate over night. There are a whole load of things you can do with fried chicken, it’s an incredibly versatile dish – which is why you can see it anywhere on restaurant menus from breakfast to appetisers to entrees.

How do you like your fried chicken?  Let me know in the comments below.

 

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Almost Georgia Mustard.

For years I’ve been sporadically making hot sauce for friends and colleagues.  I have some regular customers who give me valuable feedback on my efforts.  They point me in the right direction if they believe there is room for improvement with the flavour or consistency of a sauce.

I love hearing this feedback.  Unfortunately, I go through phases when it comes to hot sauce making.  Often I will go for months without creating anything.

After arriving home from my travels, I decided I was going to have a go at creating some southern inspired sauces.  The first of which, a complete experiment that’s loosely inspired by Georgia mustard, I whipped up this weekend whilst watching Forrest Gump and pining over almost unbearable humidity and the beauty of Savannah.

From my very basic research – and what I experienced while in Georgia – I found that Georgia mustard is very much vinegar based.  I like to use vinegar in my sauces anyway as the vinegar acts as a preservative but this called for quantities the likes of which I had never used before.  Quantities I was also unwilling to use!  Sorry, Georgia, I know I’ve done you wrong on this one, but I’m being very careful not to call it Georgia mustard.  In fact, I’ll retract my whole statement.  This sauce is inspired by the peach state as a whole.

My original point about making sauce for others was a clumsy segue into saying that this sauce was made with one person in mind: me.  I love mustard and I love chillies.  I love sauces with a sweet tang to them.  So with that in mind I grabbed some tinned peaches, some English mustard powder, and the hottest chillies I could find in the supermarket (scotch bonnet chillies are readily available in most supermarkets in the UK and Tesco’s sells “Komodo Dragon” chillies which measure roughly 1 million on the Scoville scale).

I always start my sauces with a holy trinity of celery, bell peppers, and onions.  I then add the rest of my ingredients: garlic, chillies, peaches (and the juice from the tin which turned out to be grape), mustard powder, rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper, honey, and water. I bring this to the boil then cover it and leave it to simmer for half an hour to an hour. I blend it up with a stick blender, add a little more water to get to the consistency I require, then strain it till smooth.

Here is the glorious, golden result:

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As the sauce cooks down I am constantly checking the flavour and balancing it appropriately.

Another reason for wanting to make this sauce is that I simply love hot sauce and I enjoy it with a lot of different foods.  Sometimes a restaurant might not have any hot sauce.  It might be that the restaurant in question just doesn’t feel their food does well with it as an accompaniment.  To this I say ‘Nay! Hot sauce goes on everything!’ (or at least everything savoury).

I will be carrying this sauce around with me with immediate effect.  I know I may look odd but at least my tastebuds and chilli-pangs will be satisfied.

 

Tennessee Stout and Firecracker Shrimp

As I waited at the barbershop, I picked up a magazine.  The magazine had very few articles but instead focused on listing the “Top 5″s of New Orleans from the Top 5 nightclubs to the Top 5 places to get grits.

A bar called Parasol’s was listed as serving the #1 roast beef po’ boy in New Orleans.  This was a big claim to fame as the roast beef version of this iconic sandwich was the original, though now it was possible to get anything from fried oysters to alligator sausage on a po’ boy.

Parasol’s wasn’t too far from where I was staying in the Lower Garden District.  I walked into the tiny bar area to the raucous crashing of punk music.  The man behind the bar nodded to me as he poured a beer for another patron.

“How you doin’? What can I get for you?” he asked, his voice barely audible as the power chords thrashed to the galloping rhythm of the drums.

“What have you got that’s dark?” I asked.

“Not a lot, man,” he said, “We’ve got Guinness or we’ve got this one from Wiseacre that I like called ‘Gotta get up to get down’; it’s a coffee stout.”

“I’ll go for one of those, please, that sounds good.”

“You got it.”

The stout was smooth, cold, and with a strong taste of coffee.  It was an easy-drinker that could prove to be dangerous.  One minute you’re having your first sip, the next you’re 8 pints deep and about to go home; the fresh air hits you, and your legs forget how to function properly.

“Any food?” he asked.

“I heard you guys do a good roast beef po’ boy,”

“Yeah, we do,” he smiled, “But I’m afraid we’re sold out of the beef.  You want my recommendation?  Get the firecracker shrimp.  It’s spicy like how they do buffalo wings except we batter the shrimp then toss them in Louisiana hot sauce.”

I ordered it immediately.  As someone who loves both seafood, hot sauce, and the process of deep frying, I couldn’t resist.

When the sandwich arrived it was much bigger than expected.  Lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles dressed a French baguette that had been overfilled to the point of a fried shrimp avalanche.  The batter was tinted red with hot sauce though had lost none of its original crunch.  The smell of the hot sauce announced its vinegar base with a sharp stab to the sinuses.

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The spicy shrimp combined with the refreshing coolness of the lettuce and tomato, taking away some of the immediate punch of the hot sauce which instead gradually grew with every subsequent mouthful.

I’m an advocate of travelling light.  I had packed 5 t-shirts – all of which were black – and 1 light blue long-sleeve shirt.  I was wearing the long-sleeve shirt when I looked down and saw that I’d managed to get myself covered in hot sauce.  Oh well, I thought, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere and Parasol’s was my favourite type of bar; a dive bar. There were no tourists here (other than myself) and no pretence. Everyone seemed to know everyone and if they didn’t know someone (like myself) then they went out of their way to get to know them.

 

My Worst Kept Secret

There is no secret worse kept than my love of fried chicken. I spent years perfecting my own recipe after my girlfriend told me that her mom makes the best fried chicken. Challenge accepted, I thought. Now, years later, I’m pretty happy with my own recipe though my girlfriend’s mom’s fried chicken is still out of this world.

When I began planning this trip one of the things that got me most excited was being able to go on the road to find good fried chicken in the South. I’ve been very fortunate that locals have pointed me towards a number of great restaurants. However, I’m going to mention two restaurants in particular both because of the quality of their fried chicken, but also because of the difference in environment.

The first is Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta, Georgia. I was first told about Mary Mac’s by the barmaid at Grant Central Pizza who said I simply had to go. I knew it would be busy. I was expecting a queue but when I first got to the restaurant, I knew I’d found the right place because there was a line of people going around the block.

“You need to leave your name at the front, then they call you in when they’ve got space for your party,” a woman told me as I joined the line.

I headed to the front and into the packed restaurant.

“How long is the wait?” I asked, though I didn’t really care. I’m always willing to wait if there’s the promise of fried chicken at the end of it.

“It’s an hour. How many in your party?”

“Just one, just me,” I said.

“Oh, well you can just head straight to the bar then – you can eat there.”

It made sense. Plus I didn’t like the idea of taking up an entire table to myself while others are waiting for me to finish. I also wasn’t going to argue about getting to skip the line.

I ordered 4 pieces of fried chicken and chose fried green tomatoes and mac ‘n’ cheese as my two sides. Not the healthiest options, I know, but I’d heard mouth-watering things about them.

The chicken was beautifully crisp. It was seasoned perfectly with salt and as far as I could tell, the coating was simply plain flour. The chicken itself was moist inside. It was some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

Sitting in Mary Mac’s is like sitting in someone’s living room but mixed with a high-end restaurant. It’s cosy and furnished to a high standard. The bartenders​ are dressed in smart white shirts with red bow ties and black trousers. Their manners and service cannot be faulted.

It felt like the restaurant could have been used for fine dining if the owner so wished. It felt like the meal should have cost more than it did – and I’m sure a lot of places would have tagged on a higher price based on their reputation – but thankfully there was acknowledgement of what the food was: soul food, cheap to make but rich in the kind of glee that increases your waistline.

The second restaurant I’m going to talk about is called Green Acres Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama.

“If you like fried chicken, go to Green Acres,” Grady, my Uber driver, said as he merged onto the interstate. “It’s a hole in the wall place. Just counter service but it’s good. I try not to go there too much because it ain’t good for you but it’s hard, man, because it tastes so good. If you go, I guarantee you’ll be the only white face in there. Some of the best wings in the city, you’ve got to go.”

When I walked into Green Acres, I was the only face in there other than the two women behind the counter. I ordered 4 pieces of chicken which came with fries and a slice of white bread. I was asked if I wanted salt and pepper on the chicken – which I did – and whether I wanted hot sauce or ketchup. Of course I asked for hot sauce. I was given a numbered ticket then waited to the side for my number to come up.

Green Acres Cafe consists of a large counter at which food is ordered and a small counter at which I decided to eat. There’s also a vending machine and a wall-mounted TV. But that’s about it. There are framed pictures of staff, articles that mention Green Acres as well as acknowledgements, awards, and celebrity photographs. Most striking is a framed newspaper front page from the day in 2009 that it was announced Barack Obama was to become president of the United States.

My food arrived in a cardboard tray inside a brown bag which was quickly becoming stained with grease spots.

The wings were huge! They were outstandingly crispy but with masses of meat. The addition of salt and pepper after frying really lifted the flavour, giving you an extra kick in your sinuses from the pepper. Hot sauce was spackled artistically across everything. The sauce was possibly the popular Louisiana hot sauce I’d seen a lot of, and from what I could tell was a vinegar based sauce.

The next day I went back for more wings. This time I chose 6 wings and was given additional bread. 

Just as I began to tuck into my meal, the sky went so dark that the street lights came on. It was 3pm. The trees in the park began to sway violently, leaves and debris cascaded down the street. There were three flashes then an almighty bang as the sky cracked and the rain quickly pooled in the gutter till it was level with the curb.

I watched as people dashed about in the street, ducking into doorways, or diving into their cars. For some people, no amount of rain was going to get in the way of their goal. These people walked through the door of Green Acres.

If you’re going to get stuck anywhere during a storm, make sure that place has got award winning fried chicken.