Friday, October 3, 2014

Chicken-Fried Catfish

I've always been intrigued by the concept of "Chicken-fried". Google searches will direct you to some information (mostly recipes and a Zac Brown Band song) but long before Google existed it was just a Cracker Barrel fantasy. Summers between elementary school semesters en route to Central Florida, I was often more excited about Cracker Barrel than Disney World. The two dishes I would order the most were catfish and country-fried steak ("chicken" & "country" being interchangeable in this context). Although I'm unsure if chicken-frying is in reference to cooking steak in the same oil used to fry chicken, or if simply the application of breading and frying a steak was similar to the way fried chicken was prepared, I've realized that no one seems to have the answer*. Why should they? It's too delicious to quibble over semantics. 

This week I figured I would take this loose interpretation into my own hands by actually using chicken as a crust for catfish. After crisping chicken skins in the oven until they are brittle and golden, I blended them with potato flakes & breadcrumbs for a more literal 'chicken-fry'.

For the chicken skin:
Preheat oven to 350ºF
Spread skins flat onto a sheet pan
Place another sheet pan on top, sandwiching the skins between the two pans.
(this will prevent the skins from curling and allow them to cook evenly)
Place the sandwiched skins in the oven for 15-20 mins or until crispy throughout.
Remove from oven and remove the top sheet pan; let the skins cool.
At this point you can keep the skins in an airtight container if not using right away. It also makes for an addictive snack; essentially chicken chicharrones, so you could eat them as is if you wish.

For the breading:
Break the chicken skin up into a blender with potato flakes, breadcrumbs, black peppercorns and salt. You can be liberal with the peppercorns, you want the breading to taste of black pepper.
Blend to fully mix all ingredients evenly.
The measurements weren't specific, I just made sure it looked like it would adhere well to the fish during cooking. The fat from the chicken skins will help bind the dry ingredients. If you don't have potato flakes, you can just use chicken skin and breadcrumbs.

For the catfish:
Set up three dishes side by side, each being large enough to fit a catfish fillet
Fill the first dish with flour
Fill the second dish with one beaten egg
Fill the third dish with the chicken skin breading
Season the catfish fillets lightly with salt on both sides (remember the breading is also seasoned)
Dip the fish first in the flour, then the egg, then breadcrumbs
Heat fat or oil (preferably chicken fat or bacon grease) in a heavy bottomed pan to medium high heat (350ºF if deep frying). 
Fry catfish on both sides until crisp and golden.

*I have a theory that chicken-frying originated in the 19th century from the abundance of beef to chicken in certain parts of the U.S., much like pork is to "City Chicken". 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Failure In The Form Of Granita

                       sour milk granita
grilled cantaloupe
lemon basil

Failure #1: Ricotta Non Grata

I've made ricotta before, but in my latest attempt the curds would just not set. There was a faint ring of whey but no sturdy blocks of curd to strain into fresh cheese. Maybe my lemon wasn't acidic enough? Did I add acid at the wrong temperature? Even after adjusting with vinegar and adding back to the heat, there was no positive result. As soon as I was ready to throw in the towel (and the spoon and the pot), I decided to taste the murky milk mélange. The flavor was bright, tangy and straddled the line between buttermilk and yogurt. It's possible that this failure could be rectified.

Failure #2: The Lemon Basil Incident

Not so much an incident as a result of ignorance (though, it would make for an intriguing Seinfeld episode). I bought some beautiful lemon basil from the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and had them wrap it up for me to tame its unwieldy foliage. I was not going home right away and had these precious herbs tucked away in my bag for a good 10 hours. Even when I got home I made the mistake of transferring directly from my bag, still wrapped, into the fridge and forgot about them for another whole day. When I was finally ready to use them, they had gone dark and wilted. Still super fragrant, I hung them upside down in the kitchen window until they dried. This is when I added them to my failed ricotta/sour milk mixture to infuse as well as some sugar and salt to make an ice cream base. I figured I might as well add one failure to the other.

Failure #3: I Only Have Ice For You

Thinking I had come up with a brilliant solution for all of my culinary bungles, I was ready to make an creamy frozen yogurt of sorts, employing all of the benefits of lactic acid with a texture indistinguishable from ice cream (i'll be slinging quenelles in no time). The initial churn proved it to be too soft, which I hoped would be resolved with a quick firm-up in the freezer. When I opened the finished product, too many ice crystals had formed and I really thought my perseverance through all of these failures had ultimately resulted in...failure. However, even though the texture was not what I had planned, that doesn't mean it was bad. The flavor was still on point and I decided to go at it with a fork, right out of the freezer, resulting in a snowy and fragrant lemon basil sour milk granita.

The sweet and sour contrast in the granita gives it a lot of versatility. It can be used as a palette cleanser between courses, just plain dessert or (my favorite way) as breakfast with fruits of any kind. For this dish I tossed cantaloupe in lemon basil oil + salt and grilled them. Kept the cantaloupe on a chilled plate in the freezer before pairing it with the sour milk granita. Though there are only two components to this dish, there are still sweet, salty, sour, charred and fruity characteristics.

• Perseverance is a plus in the kitchen. 
• We should always be thinking of a Plan B, C or even D. 
• How can you utilize creativity to prevent waste?

These are key topics that I consider with every dish I make and every ingredient I buy and something I think all chefs and home cooks can benefit from.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Breakfast Bolognese

Bolognese is a beautiful thing. The quintessential ragú of meat and tomatoes where fat and acidity breaks down into a rich stew of balanced sweetness and umami flavors. Loaded with nostalgia as well, because I'm sure most of our mothers have made some form of pasta & meat sauce for us (tu mámi flavors?).

Most recipes for bolognese will call for ground beef and/or pork, but the beauty of this dish is that you can toss in whatever scraps or combination of meat you have. Leftover charcuterie, pancetta, sausage, ham, bacon, etc. My favorite combo is oxtail and bacon. This time around I used breakfast pork sausage, bacon and headcheese. Considering the breakfast flavors that are very specific to sausage and bacon, I thought about how I could further those flavors to complete a bolognese inspired by breakfast.
After the fat was rendered from the diced bacon and torn apart breakfast sausage & headcheese, I added diced onions and jalapeños until golden and really starting to come together. To that, I included garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon, star anise, soy sauce and some leftover red wine I had laying around (Charles Shaw Cabernet; only the best for me). Once the wine reduced and the brown bits were scraped up from the bottom I added peeled plum tomatoes and let that sucker simmer for about an hour and a half, once the tomatoes melted into the sauce and all the molecules mingled.  Added fresh cherry tomatoes and adjusted the seasoning with salt. Now it's time to assemble.

I paired the breakfast bolognese with french fry gnocchi and topped it off with an egg poached in coffee, soy sauce and maple syrup. Garnished with scallions, tarragon, basil and hush puppy breadcrumbs and black pepper.

The flavors of breakfast are definitely in there: egg, sausage, bacon, maple syrup, coffee and fried potatoes. I'm not looking to be overly conceptual with a novel idea, I just want to introduce familiar flavors to each other. Oh, and don't forget the runny egg yolk. That's almost as important as breakfast itself:

                          The Secret of the Ooze

Monday, August 18, 2014

Revisiting the Green Goddess

Green Goddess is one of those salad dressings invented 90+ years ago at an hotel restaurant, much like the Caesar and Thousand Island. Creamy, from the 1920's and maintaining a steady popularity throughout America. These condiments have often popped up in garish, dusty cookbooks and housewife club manuals; feeding U.S. bellies while quickly going out of style in the modern age due to its mayonnaise-laden heaviness (an undesirable feature for our "health-concious" population). I admit to dismissing the Green Goddess for a long time, but I've always loved how the term "green" can be open for interpretation. The Goddess was no exception.

Most recipes call for mayonnaise and sour cream, which are not staples in my pantry. I decided to substitute those ingredients for avocado and essentially considered what I had on hand that was also green.

• charred tomatillo
• avocado
• garlic
• anchovy
• lime juice
• carrot tops
• tarragon
• basil

This is what is pictured above. I threw all of these ingredients into the blender and adjusted it with salt, nutritional yeast, homemade pineapple vinegar, coconut oil and some coriander fruit I had drying out in the windowsill. Now I see the potential of this dated dressing. It is delicious on practically anything.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chamomile Doughnut

made a yeasted doughnut and tossed it in a ground mix of dried chamomile flowers and white sugar.

it lends itself very well to apple, honey and almond flavors.

chamomile is subtle and complex all at the same time.

this makes for a great August/September doughnut, as summer bleeds into autumn.

milky beverages of any temperature will pair just fine.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Okra Leaf

okra leaf
warm ham vinaigrette
crisp garlic

Okra leaves offer the taste and texture of okra, though less assertive. I love how leaves, tops and flowers can bring a preview of it's attached vegetable; like nature's coming attractions or samples for a curious predator. What's fascinating about okra leaves is the texture. It has a hint of the sliminess of okra, providing this unique consistency unfamiliar to most leafy greens. There's a chew. It also lends itself very well to stews and quick sautés, bringing an organic creaminess from the subtle slime. If you like the taste of okra but find it's inherent ooze to be off-putting, then you should start with it's leaves and eventually work your way down.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Salmon Skin No. 2

salmon skin
tofu crema with habanero and capelin roe
carrot tops & watercress stems dressed in pineapple vinegar

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Flavor does not always have a visual cue. This unassuming bowl of grits is layered with corn flavor from all angles. Ground hominy was cooked in a corn cob stock and corn juice until tender. It was then finished with a cream infused with charred corn husks and popcorn, plus salted butter and some pulverized fresh corn kernels. I think some freeze dried corn and bourbon brown butter can really take it to the next level.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Salmon Skin

salmon skin
pineapple + burnt leek vinegar

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strawberry. Fennel. Black Pepper.

strawberry coated in a shrub of it's own juice
fennel ice cream
black pepper crumble

a solid combination of flavors for dessert

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Roasted and glazed in espresso, clementine juice and coriander. Rested on spent clementine halves, ginger scraps and clementine leaves. Sometimes reserving the offshoots of ingredients during preparation can serve as a last minute vessel for flavor before it gets discarded.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Shaved Ham

We received a spiraled Christmas ham as a gift and I've been keeping it in the freezer since the holidays. A vegetable peeler has been the preferred tool to easily shave the ham to order and only when I need it. To me, the strands produced by the vegetable peel against the sliced grain of meat are the right size for most applications. I usually don't like to bite down into thick chunks of this overly sweet, sodium-filled American classic, so these thin shavings prove more effective at transferring a delicate hamminess throughout. Peeling straight out of the freezer makes it easier because the meat is firmer. Also, the peeler is way easier then trying to balance this beast on a mandolin. (Of course, if you have the option of using an industrial meat slicer, by all means go ahead)

 At this point the ham is very useful. Omelette's, salads, fried rice, for snacking, as a get the idea. However, you can also take this process a bit further by drying out the shavings (I dehydrated them at 115ºF for 45 min). This is great if you want a crispier snack or topping. It is also great for making a quick ham stock, using it the same way you would use katsuobushi

Dehydrated Ham

After drying you can then take it even one step further by pulverizing them into a powder. Ham seasoning. Sprinkle it on everything (preferably something edible).

                                            Ham Powder                                                          

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Leftover French Fries

After procuring a buffet-size portion of leftover french fries, I was far from overwhelmed. I know french fries do not reheat very well (maybe, in the oven...maybe) but I've always thought about repurposing french fries the same way you would normally use potatoes. A lot of applications for potatoes usually call for them to be cooked all the way through and void of moisture, usually replacing the moisture with fat, dairy or eggs. To me, french fries are the ultimate version of a cooked and dry potato.

French Fry Gnocchi

I broke apart the soggy, cold fries into a blender and pulverized it until it became a fine powder (french fry flour). I then applied this flour the same way you would apply a cooked and riced potato in a gnocchi recipe. After forming the gnocchi, I boiled them and shocked them in ice water. Strained, patted dry and reserved in olive oil until ready to serve.

Once ready to serve, refried the gnocchi till crispy and add it to whatever sauce was suitable.

This is like a potato being repurposed and redefined through multiple iterations. To break it down, the potato goes through the following cooking stages (if made from triple-cooked french fries which, in my opinion, is the best way to cook them):

dried out
formed into dough

I think the result is great. Gnocchi with a flavor all it's own but does not compete with accompanying sauce. The dryness of a leftover french fry prevents gumminess in the final dough. Though the gnocchi was a bit drier than I preferred so I think next time I will incorporate some freshly cooked potato along with the french fry flour for a better balance.

french fry gnocchi
lamb ragu
celery leaf
lemon zest