July 31, 2017 · 4:55 pm
Fried chicken has always been popular in our family. Probably it is in most families. And there have been lots of family cooks who have staked their reputation on their version of the delicacy.
My mother was celebrated among her family contemporaries as the champion, and her special family dinner was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. A picnic in the mountains was an anticipated treat of childhood. My mother would fry up two chickens, pack them into a big glass jar that she reserved for the occasion, and arrange the jar in the back window of our Willys Overland Americar to keep the chicken warm until we reached our destination. (Why none of us ever came down with a fatal food-borne illness I will never know.) At the picnic table we would reach into the jar and pull out a favorite piece – or the back if we were too late. There was never any chicken left.
My mother-in-law often served fried chicken when family had gathered around her table at the farm. The crispy skin and juicy meat stimulated sibling rivalry at the table, sometimes triggereing mild rebuke from PopPop, the patriarch, who had high expectations for table manners.
Sarah, also known as Sally Hurricane, has for years made fried chicken for family meals at the restaurants where she has worked. Now she serves an off-menu treat at RT Rotisserie that is known as Sally Hurricane’s Southern Fried Chicken. I have written about it in this journal, and there is a story about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Susan and Carol also make some mean versions of fried chicken, but Susan has largely turned from cooking to gardening, and Carol doesn’t like to fry things. So, for a recent Sunday family dinner I decided to make fried chicken (one of Carol’s all-time favorite foods) with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes instead of the usual mashers but keeping the traditional cream gravy.
Sprigs of rosemary
Welsh smoked sea salt
Salt-crusted fingerling potatoes
Inspired by a recent visit to RT Rotisserie, I have been thinking about fried chicken a lot lately. RT ages its chickens before roasting them on the rotisserie. The cooks arrange trussed chickens on big racks in a large cold room in order to dry them a bit and make the skin crispier. That’s similar to what is done to make the skin on Peking duck so crispy.
Also, I have become interested in slower cooking: a potato baked longer at a lower temperature seems fluffier, and a braise at a lower temperature seems more flavorful. (Think crock pot?) Usually I start frying chicken at a high temperature until it is brown and then reduce the temperature to complete the cooking. I thought that I would give “slow from the start” a chance. All in all, my experiments turned out ok. I thought the chicken was crispy and tasty. What more can one ask? One important thing I did learn was that when you fry chicken at a lower temperature be sure to get the skin as dark as you want it before you turn it. Turn each chicken piece only once; otherwise it will stick to the pan and you’ll lose the crispy skin that you have been trying so hard to achieve.
In the frying pan
Ready to serve
Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy
- 1 whole chicken
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil for frying
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Using a very sharp large chef’s knife, cut the chicken into serving pieces. You should wind up with 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 or 3 pieces of breast meat depending on how you cut it up, and the back, which you can fry after cutting into 2 pieces or for some other purpose such as making chicken stock. If you prefer, you can buy ready-prepared chicken parts.
- Place the cut-up chicken in a large pie plate and set in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Turn occasionally while it rests.
- When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and poultry seasoning in a sealable quart plastic bag. Mix well, then reserve 2 tablespoons in a separate bowl to be used later for making cream gravy.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is up to heat before you add the chicken. (I used a ceramic cooktop set at 2.4 with a full range of 10)
- When the frying pan is heated, add one piece of chicken to the plastic bag, seal and shake. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake loose any excess flour mixture and place in the hot oil, skin side down.
- Repeat the process until all of the pieces of chicken have been floured and added to the frying pan. If you have one, cover with a spatter shield. Do not cover with a lid.
- Fry the chicken without turning for 15 minutes or until the skin has browned to your liking. Turn the chicken pieces and continue to fry, again not turning, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer may be useful at this point. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 170°F.
- Transfer the fried chicken to a large plate and place in a warm oven until the gravy is made.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and return the pan to the heat. In a Mason jar, combine the reserved flour mixture, milk and chicken stock, seal with a screw lid and shake until completely mixed. Add the mixture to the heated frying oil.
- Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a low boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve while still warm along with the fried chicken.
July 9, 2016 · 8:47 am
Who doesn’t like CFS (chicken-fried steak)? Our older daughter, Carol, for one. That is a surprise since she has roots in East Texas and Shreveport (There are credible claims that Shreveport is actually just an extension of East Texas)
She loves steak, but she believes that all that bread stuff just spoils a good piece of meat. I certainly agree with her point of view when some fancy pants restaurant does a chicken-fried rib eye or tenderloin. In that setting, I just want the real thing.
Chicken-fried steak, on the other hand, is a food of the people: a piece of round steak usually tough as a boot unless it is cooked for hours can be turned into a fork-tender delicacy through systematic pounding, breading, and frying. It becomes a distant relative of the more elegant Wiener schnitzel and veal alla Milanese.
Then there are the required accompanying mashed potatoes. They serve as the base for pouring on the cream gravy. In many a roadside diner they come from a box or are lumpy, having sat for hours in a steam table. Really good mashed potatoes raise the stakes (No pun intended) to something bordering on ethereal.
Finally, there is the cream gravy. No self-respecting CFS appears on the table without a good lacing of cream gravy. Unfortunately, many versions of cream gravy resemble, in both taste and consistency, library paste. In fact, you could probably use it as such when it gels on the plate in a white, immobile blob. But again, there are few things as tasty as a well-made gravy studded with bits of crispy crust and a rich flavor from the fond of the cast iron frying pan.
My mother – who had never been to Texas until I was an adult – made a great CFS. She had her own little secrets. She pounded the floured raw meat with a saucer. She used crushed saltine crackers for the breading. And after browning the meat in a hot skillet with plenty of oil, she simmered the steaks for a half-hour or longer until the meat was tender. Then she raised the heat to get a crisp, brown exterior. I’ve never mastered those final steps, so this version relies on thin steak to be tender.
For mashed potatoes, I have used Sarah’s recipe as printed in the San Francisco Chronicle. For the gravy, I have used the decades-old recipe from our family cookbook.
Steamed broccoli with btter makes a good vegetable accompaniment.
Chicken Fried Steak
- 1 pound round steak, thinly sliced (cubed beef should NOT be considered an acceptable substitute)
- salt and pepper
- all-purpose flour
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg (I wound up using a double yolked jumbo)
- 1 sleeve saltine crackers
- peanut oil for frying
- Trim any fat and silver skin from the steak and, if necessary, cut into serving-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
- Dredge the pieces of steak on both sides with flour. Using the edge of a small plate or saucer, pound each steak in one direction and then at 90°. Turn over, and repeat the pounding process.
- Combine the buttermilk and egg in a pie plate, mixing vigorously to make sure the egg is completely incorporated. Individually, dip each floured steak in the mixture and then transfer to a second pie plate filled with crushed cracker crumbs.
- Coat both sides of each steak generously with the cracker crumbs, making sure that the meat is completely covered. Transfer to a drying rack.
- When you are ready to cook the steaks, heat the largest cast iron skillet that you have over a medium-high flame. Add about 1 inche of peanut oil (canola is also good) and heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. If you have a thermometer, heat to 350°F.
- Add enough steaks to fill the pan. Fry for a few minutes on one side until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Then turn and fry on the other side. If you are cooking in batches, transfer to a warming plate in a 170°F oven until all of the meat is cooked. You will also need to keep warm while you make gravy.
- Make gravy according to the following directions. Then serve immediately while still warm with mashed potatoes and cream gravy.
Round steak, thinly sliced
Pounding the floured steaks with the edge of a small plate
Buttermilk and egg
Saltines in a plastic bag crushed with a rolling pin
Steaks breaded with cracker crumbs ready for frying
Frying up the steaks
- 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 5-6 medium potatoes), peeled and quartered
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, softened
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with heavily salted water. Bring to the boil. Then reduce to a brisk simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are pierced easily with a kitchen fork. Overcooked is better than undercooked. Drain.
- Transfer to a potato ricer in batches. Rice the potatoes into a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir the potatoes with a wooden spoon until excess water is boiled out, about 2-3 minutes.
- Combine the milk and cream in a small pan and heat until they are just at a simmer.
- Add the butter to the potatoes and stir until completely incorporated. Stir in the milk/cream mixture slowly while stirring until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately. If you are serving with chicken-fried steak, you will want to make a well in the middle of each serving to hold some of the gravy.
Yukon gold potatoes
- ¾ cup milk
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons flour
- pan drippings from fried steak
- ¼ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- salt and pepper
- In a jar with tight lid (a pint Mason jar works well) combine the milk, cream, chicken stock, and flour. Cover and shake until the ingredients are well mixed. Set aside.
- Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil from the pan used to fry the steak. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping loose any brown bits.
- Over medium heat, stir in the milk mixture, shaking it first to make sure it is well mixed.
- Stirring constantly, incorporate any loosened brown bits and bring the mixture to a low boil, continuing to cook until the gravy is thickened. If too thick, dilute with a little bit of milk. If too thin, stir in a bit of Wondra flour, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Be sure to make a well in the middle of the heap of mashed potatoes on each plate to get some extra gravy; Put some gravy on top of the steak, too, if you want to feel real down-home.
A traditional down home plate
June 23, 2016 · 3:37 pm
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that our daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Evan Rich, run a popular restaurant in San Francisco named Rich Table. The food there has been described as “New American” and generally is based on the current offerings available in the bounteous farmers’ markets of the Bay Area.
But Sarah has roots in the South as well as having two grandmothers who were excellent home cooks. Both grandmothers took pride in their fried chicken. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy along with home-baked biscuits were staples on the Sunday dining room table at our family farm in East Texas.
That’s also where Sarah got the nickname, Sally Hurricane. As a two-year-old she ran the show. One family photograph shows her wearing her great aunt’s wig borrowed from a wig stand in a back bedroom.
Sally Hurricane has been cooking fried chicken from the recipe in our family cookbook since before she went to culinary school. She has made her version (now revised and considerably improved) for family meals at upscale restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. Inevitably, regardless of the restaurant, when fried chicken and biscuits were the family meal menu, cheers went up from both the front of the house and kitchen staffs.
This week, Sally Hurricane is revealing some treasured family secrets in the food section of the San Francisco Chronicle. She also gives the recipe for mashed potatoes that she learned when she worked for David Bouley. You might enjoy a preview.
Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Restaurants
Tagged as Bouley, cream gravy, Evan Rich, mashed potatoes, New York City, Rich Table, San Francisco, Sarah Rich, Southern fried chicken