Inauguration: Nice Pete’s fried chicken

Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Patrick Alan Coleman’s adventure into testicle cookery with Chris Onstad, the creator of Achewood. Although I think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to culinary pleasures, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to start cooking with yak balls. It was thus something of a relief to see that the article included a copy of a recipe for fried chicken from the upcoming Achewood cookbook. There are myriad reasons why I think this recipe is awesome: Fried chicken is very much my speed; I’m a sucker for anything Achewood-related; I haven’t yet finished cataloging the recipes in the cookbooks I own, so I feel guilty when I make one of them anyway; and if I screwed it up, I could always run over to the KFC across the street.

Since western Washington has warmed up enough to drag me away from my usual repertoire of soups and stews, I figured I’d go ahead and give this a whirl.

Nice Pete’s Fried Chicken (courtesy Chris Onstad and Achewood)

Raw materials

Nice Pete’s fried chicken is pretty straightforward, calling for only four ingredients: chicken thighs, flour, oil, and Lawry’s seasoned salt. Already we’re off to a great start. I love chicken thighs. I’ve found that boneless skinless chicken breast is too easy to overcook, too difficult to flavor, and–most importantly, if you’re a notorious tightwad like me–costs twice as much as comparable chicken meat simply because it takes less work to begin overcooking it. BSCBs are not my style. Chicken thighs, rather, have been loyal to me and earned my loyalty. If I need chicken for a gumbo (and I did two weeks ago), I’m getting chicken thighs; you guys can have your boneless skinless meat product at $7 a pound.

In the back is a bowl of kale. I felt a little guilty this morning when I realized I hadn’t eaten enough greens this week. I also love dark leafy greens, for the same reasons I love chicken thighs and pork shoulders: they’re tremendously flavorful, but few people quite know what to do with them, so they’re also very economical. My go-to preparation for kale (and many other green vegetables) is to steam or blanch it, then sauté it in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper. It requires almost no thought and is invariably delicious.

Chicken thighs meet Lawry's

Buying a seasoned salt was a bit odd. I tend to roll my own when I cook. Fresh, warm French bread requires a scale, a few hours of your time (most of which you can spend doing other things, like writing blog posts), and an oven, and the result is just as good as the breads-of-La-Brea-bakery stuff you can get at the front of QFC for $1.09 per mini-loaf. I would have been perfectly willing to throw a spice blend together, but Lawry’s seemed to be the key ingredient here, so I went along with it. Honestly, the stuff looks like it’d make a great topping for buttered popcorn. I’d give that a shot right now if I weren’t already way over my calorie intake for the day.

I tried not to go too heavy on the salt, but I didn’t really get a lot of it out of the finished product, so I would consider going a little heavier than the recipe’s “light hail” the next time I make this.

Dredgin' like there's no tomorrow

The cooking method is pretty straightforward: skin side down for 5 minutes, then up for 15 minutes, then down again for another 5 minutes to get a little extra color. Here we’ve got the first of the six victims ready to go into the oil.

After the first 5 minutes

After the first fry you’re supposed to get some color on the order of “tortilla chip.” I’ve made enough migas this week to have a pretty good idea of what that color looks like (more on migas in a future post, I’m sure), so it looks like we’re on track here.

It took like five tries to take this shot. I ended up having to put the chicken near this wire rack so that I could use the rack to stabilize my camera, because I get tremendously shaky hands when trying to take pictures one-handed. I probably should have had a beer open while I was making this.

So happy together

After the first five minutes and the turn, I had time to chop up the garlic for the kale. Memo to the QFC on 160th in Redmond: Stop selling such crappy garlic. I had to surgically excise a bunch of brown spots from the garlic I bought just this afternoon before I felt comfortable using it. And while you’re at it, quit selling garlic by weight. When I buy garlic from you by weight, it’s something like 77 cents a head instead of 50 cents, and I always feel like I’m getting ripped off.

Thanks in advance! ^_^

(p.s. please continue to sell six-packs of Deschutes Twilight Ale for $7.49 each)

Finished!

Right about here I hit the Recipe Photography Wall: things were happening so fast that I had neither the time nor the presence of mind needed to take any pictures. Between the previous picture and this one, I took the kale and boiled/steamed it in some shallow water, drained it, put some olive oil in the same pan, and cooked garlic and a liberal amount of crushed red pepper in the oil until some of the garlic was somewhere between ‘golden’ and ‘nut brown’–more complex than merely sweet sautéed garlic, but not dark enough to be bitter. Once the garlic and red pepper are ready, the par-cooked kale goes back in with them to finish cooking.

This, meanwhile, was the finished fried chicken, removed to cool somewhat (I don’t like it piping hot–it’s easier to appreciate when it’s had some time to rest).

CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES.

For reference, here’s what was going on with the kale.

And here’s the finished plate, with a little bit of leftover brown rice for fiber and character. (I’m not exactly a grandmaster when it comes to producing pretty plates.)

The biggest plus of this recipe was that I had some fried chicken with lots of crispy bits and crispy skin, which very nearly made it all worth it. But I’m not sure I thought the end result was particularly fantastic. Even for chicken thighs, 25+ minutes of cooking was too much; the chicken had the characteristic “stringiness” of overcooked chicken, something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever tried to cook a boneless skinless chicken breast. I also thought the meat was kind of underseasoned, though I certainly tried to err on the underseasoned side. Nice Pete writes off brining and buttermilk in the recipe, but I do kind of wonder what buttermilk would have done for these guys.

This recipe merits another shot, but I have some other things in the queue first. If I get really ambitious, I might even blog about making from-scratch lasagna! (I do like doing things from scratch…)

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