January 16, 2014 by caitlinvaclark
Last weeks contestants on The Taste were challenged to create their “life on a plate.” Being that this was an incredibly personal challenge, drama ensued. Classic reality TV tears, fights, name calling, and general behind-your-back-bitchiness. In all fairness though, the idea of placing a part of yourself on a mini plate without being able to tell the story behind it is so intimidating.
In honor of this challenge, I jumped at the chance to think back on my own lifetime of food. Bite after bite after bite. Yikes. I eat a lot. In the end I closed in on my true food roots. I grew up in the South, but since both of my parents are originally from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, I never really considered myself a true Southern, except when it comes to food. Oh and I do say ya’ll more frequently when I’m around my old stomping grounds, but come on, that’s a very useful word anytime. Saves time and provides clarity.
But let’s talk about the food, ya’ll. I grew up on fried chicken, biscuits, grits, sweet tea, fried okra, pig pickin’s, and hush puppies. The list goes on but so many of the foods have the word “fried” in front of them that this could get embarrassing.
Every month or so growing up, we would head down to the small coastal town of Washington, NC to our sailboat. One of the best treats was hitting up Pam’s Diner for breakfast before heading out on the water for the day. As a little girl, I think I loved this place not only for their greasy fry ups but for the (I now realize, incredibly tacky) Garfield, yes the cartoon cat, decor littering the walls and counters.
In college, a good friend and I spent part of our spring break down at the sailboat. After a wine filled night, we headed to Pam’s Diner for our breakfast fix. Of course we forgot that small town USA doesn’t run on a college kid’s time schedule, so by the time we arrived we had missed our window for eggs and bacon and grits. Instead we were handed the daily menu. Okay, menu is a loose term. It was actually a list of food items hand written on wide ruled paper. Now my friend was from upstate New York and while in someways the further North you get, the more similarities to the South, the abundance of confederate flags and this hand written “menu” are not among them. “What do we do with this? How does this work? What does this mean??” she asked.
“Meat and three, honey,” the waitress responded without further explanation while topping off our sweet tea.
While I may not scream Southern belle, my mom’s buttermilk fried chicken is not only my taste of home but paired with smashed red potatoes and southern green beans, it is in many ways my life on a plate. It is a labor of love that she passed on to me. Okay I’m cheating here. I only made a meat and two rather than three. Tempted as I was to add some mac and cheese to the plate, I decided in favor of my waistline.
Southern style green beans are all about the liquid you cook them in. I make my broth by simmering 5 cups of water with four halved small onions, two garlic cloves, and 1/2 cup of shredded ham hock.
Once the broth has reduced by half, remove all the onions, garlic, and ham and simmer the green beans until soft. Add back about half of the onions, shredded and 1/2 cup of fresh ham hock just before serving.
Serve with your favorite mashed potato recipe. While I love my milk mashed potatoes, I think smashed skin-on red potatoes with sour cream (or greek yogurt) work perfectly with the fried chicken.
I’m not claiming to be a fried chicken expert by any means. In fact this was a bit of an experiment in my kitchen last night. Just trying to remember how my momma did it. (Joking. I told you I’m not really that Southern so no I don’t refer to my mother as “momma.”) But it’s all part of my new year’s new attitude to push myself in the kitchen. So why not break out a big pot of boiling oil?
My tips for the chicken would be to keep the temperature around 325˚F. Any hotter and I had trouble cooking the chicken through before the outside burned. Any lower and you won’t get the gorgeous golden fried goodness that you’re looking for.
If you can’t seem to get the chicken to finish before it’s browned, just finish it on a wire rack in the oven.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken Thighs
1 pint buttermilk
1 tsp mustard powder
4 tsp paprika, divided
4 tsp salt, divided
½ tsp black pepper
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp white pepper
Vegetable Oil for frying
In a large bowl, mix together the buttermilk, mustard powder, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 2 teaspoons of salt, and black pepper. Add the chicken thighs and toss to coat. Refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
In a shallow dish, whisk flour, baking powder, white pepper, and remaining 2 teaspoons of paprika and salt.
Dredge marinated chicken in the flour mixture to evenly coat. Let stand on a plate until ready to fry.
Fill a large Dutch oven or high-sided cast iron pan halfway with vegetable oil and, using a fryer thermometer, heat to a steady 325˚F.
Fry chicken, one or two pieces at a time. Use tongs to drop chicken into the hot oil, laying it away from you into the oil. Cook for 6 minutes. Turn over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the oil temperature and adjust as needed.
Remove chicken from the oil and allow to drain on paper towel. Season with kosher salt. Check for doneness. Keep warm or finish in the oven if necessary.
Soulful Southern Green Beans
2 small onions, peeled and halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup shredded ham hock, divided
5 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ lbs green beans, trimmed and cut to 2 inch pieces
Bring onions, garlic, ½ cup ham hock, and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. Remove cover and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 90 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions, garlic, and ham. Reserve onions. Add green beans and salt to the liquid. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining ham hock and half of the onions, shredded. Heat through before serving.