Monday, September 28, 2009

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I have been craving some good fried chicken lately, and after seeing this recipe, I decided it was time to give it a go round. I picked a mixed pack of drumsticks, thighs and wings. There were six of each in the package, which is great because no-one wants to get shorted on the drumsticks, and everyone likes different pieces. This ended up being 5.5 pounds of meat.

I started with a large container of buttermilk, four table spoons of salt (this creates a brine,), about 3 tablespoons of hotsauce, some pepper, old bay, and smoked paprika. You can feel free to use whatever mixture of spices you want, but I highly recommend using the buttermilk and salt. Combine these in a bowl, and add all of your chicken pieces to a large ziplock bag, covering with the mixture. Make sure you have covered all the chicken with a good shake, and let it sit overnight in this brine. I let it go for twenty four hours.

When you are ready for dinner the next day, get a large pot or dutch oven and dump the whole marinated bag of chicken and the brine solution into it. Add water to make sure all the chicken is covered. Throw a lid on it and crank the heat to high. Bring to a boil, remove the lid, and simmer for 20-25 minutes. This step is super important, and a great idea, as it cooks the chicken, and makes it juicy and tender, leaving to just crisp it up in the fryer, and prevent burning the skin while trying to cook the raw chicken inside.

After 20 minutes or so, when the chicken looks done, turn the heat off, and get ANOTHER ziplock bag. Fill it with two cups of flour, salt and any spices you want to flavor the crispy skin. Give them a dunk in your deep fryer, or heated oil (350 degrees), keeping in mind the oil temp drops when you put the chicken in. Fry them for a couple of minutes until they look golden and crispy. It really doesn't take too long. Remove to a rack over a baking sheet to drain the excess oil.

You can give the chicken a sprinkle of sea salt, and or a drizzle of honey. Take a bite and discover you have just made yourself the best fried chicken you have EVER EATEN. The meat stays incredibly juicy, due to the brine and the boil, and the light flour coating is perfect to make sure the outside gets that crispiness that people are willing to forgo diets over. These turned out amazing, and I can't wait to eat them cold for dinner the next day. Plus, the precooking helps keep the fat level down, as you don't have to leave the in the fryer for too long. Do yourself a favor and make these for some football fans this winter, you won't be disappointed.

Oh you want some sides? Fair enough. Take a box of cornbread mix, follow the recipe, but add some of your own flair. I chose chopped pickled jalapenos (little tip, dump in some of the pickling juice, it will add some depth of flavor and a salty vinegar kick), some honey, and some shredded cheddar. These go great with the fried chicken, and are so easy to make.

A southern appetizer you can add to this meal are some good old fashioned deviled eggs. Make them with traditional dijon mustard, dill relish and a dash of mayo. Always a hit. I added some prosciutto that I baked in the oven to crisp up on top. This is an awesome trick as it adds a taste of salty crispy pork to the top and adds to the presentation. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Best Onion Rings Ever!

I am a huge fan of onion rings, I mean, who isn't? Even if you don't like onions, throw on some breading, plop them in the deep-fryer and even people who shudder at the thought of this bulbous vegetable in it's natural state, will usually concede they are pretty tasty. Well I love onions in any form, but these onion rings really are some of the best I have had anywhere. I got the idea from Jenn Hess over at Last Night's Dinner, and boy am I glad I did. You start with some Sriracha and red onion cut into rings. Toss them together and add some salt and pepper. Let these sit for about a half an hour. This let's the spicy garlic chili flavor really blend into the red onion. The salt will help sweat out some of the moisture in the onion slices.

When your deep fryer (or pot of frying oil) is up to 350 degrees, toss the slices in flour trying to coat them as thoroughly as possible.

Drop them in the fryer and cook them for about 4-5 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Keep in mind they will brown just a little more when you pull them out.

Pull them out of the fryer after letting the grease drip off. Toss them into a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up any additional grease.

I had these with a BACT (Bacon, Arugula, Cheese (Cooper Sharp), and Tomato). They are hands down some really tasty, crunchy, spicy rings. One of the biggest flaws of restaurant rings is that they tend to end up slimy and pull out of the breading. No such problem here. The breading is just flour so it cooks into the onion. They are seriously addictive and I highly recommend them. Don't be afraid to throw them on a burger either. They will blow your mind.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Butcher Burger

Butcher and Singer

1500 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19102-3523
(215) 732-4444

How many steakhouses can Stephen Starr open? I have been to Barclay Prime, and it is fantastic. Although Starr is consistently pretty good in all of his restaurants, he is also consistently way too expensive for me to want to eat at any of his establishments repeatedly when there are so many other independent fine dining restaurants in Philadelphia. As you probably have heard, PYT up in Northern Liberties is really generating some noise, however almost everyone who has eaten there has felt it was a bit of a let down. I am going to pass; I hate the name and the gimmick of the place. Also, Five Guys has ruined me, in that I don’t think I should have to pay for each topping. As you have probably heard, in response to PYT, Butcher and Singer has slashed the price of their Butcher and Singer burger down from $16 to $5.99 - talk about change we can believe in! Well, I had heard many people talking about it, but I wanted to see for myself.

When you walk into the room, it is really pretty spectacular. It has a dimly lit old school feel - like you are on Mad Men or something. All of the servers are dressed finely and wearing pressed pants and Tuxedo shirts. The decorations are pretty cool, and I immediately thought, “sooo, is this whole six buck burger and fries just a rumor or what?” Well, when I looked around, 98% of the restaurant was eating burgers. On a Monday. So I ordered the burger and stuck with water. A soft drink would have probably pushed me over the edge. No need for carbonation and 10 ounces of ground beef during lunch when I have to go back to work. So I order my burger from the snappily dressed waitress, medium rare, of course, and check out the surroundings. Mostly upscale clientele with business people there for the lunch burger deal. Literally three minutes pass, and we have our food. It was insane. They must be back on the line just cranking them out.

It arrived looking like what it was, a monstrous pile of meat and lettuce with a sweet puffy potato bun. The French fries served with it were fried perfectly and SOO addicting (must be the peanut oil and copious amounts of salt!). I took a bite of the burger. Wow, it was delicious, however hard to eat in the form presented. Yes I could have taken some of the lettuce or tomatoes off, but I am not that kind of guy. The meat was cooked perfectly. Red in the middle, pink around, and juicy. The cheddar was great, sharp and flavorful, but not overpowering the rich, quality meat presented in the burger. The onions, while good were greasy - a bit too greasy, in my opinion. The burger was also too greasy. It was sliding everywhere, and given its large stature to begin with, this made for a challenging task positioning it with a proper bun & topping ratio per-bite. Fortunately, I was able to rise to the occasion and finish the entire thing (of course). I understand there will be increased juice when ordering medium rare, that’s the point, but this was straight up grease. I soiled the table cloth and my napkin to over three quarters of its surface area wiping my greasy hands. These were fine linen napkins and table cloths too. That’s a lot of grease for the kind of place that folds your napkin when you go to the bathroom.

All in all I would say the burger is well worth the limited time price tag. I would not pay $16 for it, but then again, I PROBABLY wouldn’t spend that much on ANY burger. But I can’t be sure. When it all comes down to it, even with tip, it is literally the same if not slightly less to eat the Butcher Burger than it is to go to McDonald’s. I would highly recommend trying the former.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pork Barrel Politics

So after much anticipation, the great rib-off was finally upon us. We showed up the night before to prep our first set of ribs (they generously gave us 15 racks!). My team was unaccustomed to the delight of membrane removal, and this was a high-stress trial by fire. We went into the restaurant basement and set up shop. I am still on the disabled list, so I was coaching them, as it is no fun, under any circumstances, much less in a hot crowded basement. It took some getting used to, but everyone did great. We got the 6 prepped racks rubbed in my dry rub, wrapped in cling wrap and back in our bin and into their walk-in. Off to the Asian market to pick up our pork belly and a couple of other necessary ingredients. After that it was a night full of prepping, and then early to bed, as we had to wake up for a 7 o'clock BBQ!

That night, I dreamed of pork and smoke, and I woke up ready to hit the BBQ. The fig puree was blended and after a filling McDonald's breakfast, we were off. When we got there, the street was already crowded with teams - chimneys smoking, people moving like worker ants in the Saturday morning dew. We found our table and started setting up. First thing first, I got a chimney going. It ALWAYS takes longer than you would think to get the grill/smoker hot. We got our area set up, dumped the charcoal into the smoker, threw in a couple of chunks of aged White Oak, and opened the rib packets that we prepped the night before.

I made a mop for the ribs out of apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and some spices including hot pepper flakes and cayenne powder. The mop is applied during the smoking or slow-cooking process to keep the meat from drying out due to the prolonged heat. When the grill was up to temperature (225 degrees) we put on the ribs and the pork belly, which had been marinated overnight in a mixture of apple juice, maple syrup, salt and pepper. The ribs were allowed to smoke for 2.5 hours, then they were pulled, wrapped in foil, grilled (to steam) for 1.5 hours, left to rest for about a half hour and finally finished on the grill for about forty five minutes. The final grill time is spent basting the meat in your desired sauce and letting the meat firm back up. After the smoking and foil time, it is literally falling off of the bone, so be careful when handling. This is great because you can control the level of tenderness.

We chose to use three different sauces that I had made and let people pick their own favorites. I wanted to go for a traditional, southern-style cola BBQ sauce first; I made a Coca Cola based sauce. That was really good, but I decided to kick it up a level on the next one, so I used Dr. Pepper. This was REALLY good. The Dr. Pepper's 31 flavors are complex and tasty, and with the addition of some spices and brown sugar, this sauce has an incredibly flavorful sweet and spicy kick. To round it out, I did a ginger beer and hoisin sauce-based Asian-style sauce. If you have never had ginger beer, you need to go get some. It is SO GOOD. It's like spicy, super gingery soda, and when mixed with Myer's Dark Rum it makes an incredible Dark 'n' Stormy. I am hooked.

We put the ribs out when the time was right for judging, and although I feel as though we had some of the best in the entire competition, regardless of category, we didn't win. I know everyone thinks their own product is always the best, but some of the competitors ribs I tasted were below what I would expect from Applebee's. Cooked using lighter fluid, some thick applications of dry rub, and some mediocre sauces, not too mention the toughness of the meat - some of the ribs I tasted were quickly discarded and disregarded as almost inedible. That being said, some of the other competitors were really on their game and had some truly great pork. Just like everything in life, you win some, you lose some. We had an amazing time, drinking beer and talking BBQ & pork with the contestants and the crowd.

As for the pork belly, we smoked it for 5 hours over hardwood, then sliced it and grilled it so it was a bit crispy. We then grilled some slices of bread, spread our fig puree, topped it with belly, and finished with some chopped chives. If you have never had pork belly, its a must-try. A cut very close to bacon, but fattier, I tell people that it tastes like a cross between bacon and moist pork tenderloin. I am a big fan (as were the people eating it at the event). The fig puree was slightly sweet and the smokey rich pork went great with the fresh onion-y chive on top. The overnight marinade really helped impart a sweet apple taste to the pork before smoking as well. I thought we had a real possibility of winning with that one, but alas, we did not. All in all, the weather held out, the people were great and everyone involved had plenty of pork and beer. I will certainly be back next year, although I will have some new tricks up my sleeve (not to mention two useful arms).

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Full Plate Rib Cook-off

If you aren't busy tomorrow, come check out the rib competition. It should be fun. Although I am injured, I will be competing. Also a great chance to check out the previously mentioned Mermaid BBQ sauce. My team is "Pork Barrel Politics". I will include a recap next week. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


116 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 665-9150

I am a huge fan of Jose Garces, and I (loosely) predict that he is going to be the next Iron Chef. So, on a special occasion last night, I gave Tinto another go-round. This place differs from Amada in that its focus is on Northern Spain - Basque tapas. I must say, they really turn out some exquisite tapas. It is by no means cheap, and the plates are small, but the richness and flavor are quite extraordinary. They recommend 4 plates per person, and being the hungry man that I am, we ordered 9 for the 2 of us. Needless to say, we could have done quite nicely with just 7 - we were stuffed after that first 7, which came out rapid fire, and the final 2 (which happened to be the best) put us over the top.

The first item to come out was a complimentary cheese roll. A crispy Cuban cigar-esque hollow roll, it was served with a dipping sauce of whose ingredients I COULD NOT pintpoint. I do know, however, that that sharp, biting, crispy cheese paired with the provided dipping enigma (possibly a smoked paprika-aioli???) was simply heaven on earth.

Next came the house marinated olives, which were served in an herb-spiced olive oil. These tasted so freshly marinated, they were still clinging to the pit and the flesh was rich, thick and delicious.

After the olives, our Figs wrapped in Serrano ham with a balsamic glaze showed up. These were so decadent. Sweet fig with melting-ly thin sliced salty Serrano and the smooth rich glaze at the base of each one to finish. I could have eaten a dozen of these.

On to the Big Eye tuna tartare croissant sandwich. This was served with a long hot pepper and some tiny dices of fried chorizo. The sandwich was good, but the chorizo was extraordinary - so smoky, spicy and crunchy, I would gladly use it as a garnish for just about anything.

As we were finishing the sandwich, our Arugula salad arrived. This is one of my favorite salads of all time - for 3 reasons (which happens to be the number of ingredients): Arugula, fig, and goat cheese. Arugula is a wonder green; spicy, crunchy and semi-exotic, it has an unmistakable flavor and really plays well with both sweet and savory ingredients. The fig is sweet and juicy, a perfect contrast to the peppery greens. The glory to making this an irresistable trifecta of flavors is, undoubtedly, the inclusion of some of the deep-fried goat-cheese ball in with the other two on every bite. The crunchy, creamy ultra-indulgent cheese was one of the tastiest things I have eaten in recent memory.

Next in line were the best tater tots on the face of this planet. Literally. They were served stacked like a ziggauraut, with a surprise of tomato compote hidden below - like an unseen jewel inside the castle walls. This was all topped (by the server, as the plate hit our table) with a warm, creamy bleu cheese sauce that transcended heaven and earth. The delicious short rib sandwich that arrived soon after, was dipped into every remaining molecule of this sauce, and it did nothing but help the already tender braised shirt rib, served with bacon, asparagus and a celery root aioli. It was a hearty sandwich with plenty of moist, tender short rib meat bursting out the sides.

Starting to feel content, the Berkshire pork belly canape was thrust upon us, topped with a honey liquor and sliced apples. It was so rich that it was ALMOST hard to eat. Luckily, I was able to devour it handily. The belly was a bit crispy and sweet which was teased out by the honey, and the tart apple offset it quite nicely.

So here's where we hit a lull in the food and all of the deliciousness we just ate really started to sink in. I would have called it off right there, if I had been given the chance. But I am certainly glad that I didn't!

After another 15 minutes, we received the final two items - which turned out to be well worth the wait. In all honesty, I wish they would have been brought at the beginning, because I wouldn't have had to over-stuff myself (silly) with their tasty goodness.

The mussels came out first. They were served in a tiny cast iron pot, shelled, in some of the tastiest red sauce I have ever encountered. It was chunky (almost like a tomato-based remoulade), rich, and loaded with mussels & salty chunks of chorizo. (Let it be known that I am a sucker for chorizo.) It was served alongside a cup of well seasoned frites that were perched in a crock atop fresh lemon aioli and was quite a nice and unexpected pairing with the rich seafood pot. I could eat this combo everyday.

The final dish, and lord was I thankful, was the wild mushrooms. They were served with potatoes, shallots and parsley. In addition to my fondness for chorizo, mushrooms are another one of my favorites. [Aside: I make a killer wild mushroom dish myself, and I am going to attempt to incorporate Tinto's crispiness into my own next time. I think that the crisp edges combined with my sherry reduction would result in a collision of deliciousness that will go unmatched.] These mushrooms were large and supple slices that melted in your mouth, with a slight crispness that crunched when you first bite into them. This texture was new to me in the wild mushroom realm, and I will (very) soon attempt to replicate it.

All in all, this was an extremely satisfying night out, and I can only hope to return in the near future. Unfortunately for small restaurant owners in Philadelphia, Garces has set the bar ridiculously high in the genre of tapas.

Injury Report

I met with my surgeon yesterday, and he said I am healing nicely. I have another month until I can get back on my road bike. I am going stir crazy. At least this weekend I will be competing in the Full Plate Rib cook-off. My team is "Pork Barrel Politics". Come check it out this Saturday!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

6 foot hoagie party!

So, my best friend was in town for my sister's wedding, and it just so happened that his birthday was the day after - I wanted to do something special for him. He is an even bigger eater than I am, so I decided on a surprise six-foot-hoagie party. I was inspired by a TV show I had recently seen where they were building one, and it looked delicious. So the hunt was on to find a bakery in South Philly where I could find such a monster. After couple of calls, it was settled that Cacia's on 15th and Ritner had the goods. They have become a local franchise and I have never been let down by their rolls and Italian loaves. For just $3 a foot and 2 days lead time, you are good to go.

We picked up the roll on Sunday, in all its seeded glory, and after some debate as to the correct transportation vessel, we put a bag over each end, and moved carefully. In terms of filling this beautifully constructed flour torpedo, I felt there was too much seeded glory to go with just one single theme - so I decided to go with three.

The first section was a classic Italian. We started with a smear of mayo on one side of the bread (I know THAT'S not classic, but its delicious). Then we gave the other side a drizzle of olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. After that it was time for some herbs, and then the meats. I added Genoa salami, hot capicola, sopressata, and pepperoni. I LOVE these salty, cured delicacies, and they all work SO WELL together. After the meat came a thick layer of prov, and then the veggies. We went with some shredded iceberg (it keeps WAY better than romaine), a sprinkle of finely sliced onion, some fresh sliced tomato, and banana peppers. I think these are the perfect accompaniments to the classic Italian. After that, it was another sprinkle of herbs and an additional drizzle of olive oil.

On to the middle section. Here is something my friend and I have always had a mutual love and respect for, pastrami - well more specifically, corned beef (because pastrami is just smoked and spiced corned beef). So, we went with a twist on an old NY deli sandwich, and made a Rachel hoagie. It started with Marie's thousand island dressing on both sides of the bread, then a layer of coleslaw (our local deli has the same recipe as KFC and it's great), and next we threw down a 50/50 blend of corned beef and pastrami, piled on thick. On top of that delicious meat mix, we laid a healthy dose of Swiss and another generous spread of slaw. It is probably quite obvious that this section of our mammoth sandwich was a winner, but this version far surpassed our expectations with its salty, smoky meat; the cool, creamy, crunchy slaw; the thousand island for the tang; and the sharp Swiss to tie it all together.

Last but not least, this third and final section was a sure-fire crowd pleaser. It started out with a healthy spread of Marie's chunky bleu cheese on the bread and a splash of buffalo sauce on top of the dressing. After that came the thin-sliced buffalo chicken from the deli. On top of that (gasp) more cheese! The cheese was white American (it really adds a smooth creaminess to the sandwich), and we finished with some lettuce, tomato, and a light application of vidalia onion. This all came together to create a deliciously creamy, spicy, crunchy slice of heaven.

The crunchy seeded roll was a perfect canvas for this culinary work of art. We finally wrapped the whole thing tightly in Saran wrap to let the flavors meld. The hardest part was beating people off while waiting for it to settle. It turned out unbelievably well, and it has only gotten better while sitting in the fridge. Look, football season is coming up, so find yourself a bakery that makes big rolls, and have yourself a hoagie party. You will NOT be disappointed!