Crispy Fry Daddy

One of my quests in ‘deep frying’ has been how do you get that crunchy crust on chicken, crunchy moist inside potato fries, without over cooking. Then only to have them get soggy on the plate just before serving.

Or not getting the breading to stick to the bottom of the fryer.

This week I finally got IT!

Double frying. As simple as that.

The coating can be simply a dusting of flour, cornstarch or potato starch. If you want to get more into the batter, I will talk about that in another post. For now I will only get into the frying part.

I use a deep fat fryer, but a deep fry pan will work just as well. The advantage a deep fat fryer for me is the temperature control. I have a Hamilton Beach home fryer. I got it on sale for under $30.00. It has been used reliably for over three years.

Seasoning is a matter of choice. Me I like to season the meat before I do the coating. That way it flavors the meat and not just the outside crust. I usually let it set with the seasoning before coating for about 15 minutes. Then I dredge it in my coating. The chicken wings shown were dredged n potato starch after sitting in minced garlic, salt and pepper.

The oil was heated to 350 degrees. When doing the first fry you do not want to crowd the wings so you need to do them in batches. You place the ‘wings’ In the hot oil one at a time. Each time you hold the pieces so it is submerged about halfway in the oil for a few seconds to set the coating before letting it go. This will prevent it from sinking to the bottom right away and having the coating stick to the bottom.  Make sure you keep your face away from the hot oil because the chicken will pop. When it gets a light crispy brown take it out and let it drain, preferably on a cooling rack. Let it cool while you fry the rest of the batches.

When all the rest are finished do the second fry. This can have all of the pieces go in at the same time. Fry until they are a golden brown. Take them out to drain. They should be crispy.

To get the best results from frying the idea is moisture is the enemy. Whether you are frying potatoes or chicken the idea is the drier the better. Oil should be the right temperature. If the item is dry and the oil to temperature there is a minimum of greasiness to the food. Because it is in the hot oil a shorter amount of time.

Usually when the food is taken out of the fryer it is still cooking and releasing the water in the food. By letting it sit a few minutes the liquid boils out. The double fry method gets rid of the crisp killing moisture. So the next fry is dryer. Sealing in the moisture and providing a crisp outer skin with a moist and tender inside.

A Hungarian gift

The word for paprika comes from the Hungarian paparka. A variation from Bulgarian piperka which in turn came from Latin piper, for ‘pepper’. In the USA paprika simply means any nonpungent red chili.

Today Hungary produces both pungent and sweet paprika. Originally all Hungarian paprika was aromatic and quite hot.

The hybrid that most use in today’s kitchens is a cross of the sweet and the pungent peppers to come up with the benign type that is neither hot nor sweet. It is usually used as a garnish, mainly to sprinkle on top of deviled eggs or potato salad to give it the festive look.

In my opinion any paprika that is worthy of its history of exquisite taste varies with its strength from hot to pleasantly mild. Smoked paprika has a pronounced flavor that starts with a wonderfully rich aroma when toasted with other aromatics (onions, garlic, a little lard, oil or pan drippings).  Wonderful in goulash, paprikash, and chili recipes.

That Warm Afterglow

The last few years I have reflected on what makes a meal satisfying. I have found out that it has nothing to do with the cost of the ingredients. It comes down to basic chemistry and understanding how one ingredient works with another.

On that note, I’ve been watching Chef John, host of the YouTube channel ‘Food Wishes’ for several years. He’s one of my favorites because the videos he does focuses on what he is doing rather than himself. It was quite a while before I ever saw what he looked like – and it wasn’t from one of his food prep videos!

His signature ingredient in most every dish was a dash of Cayenne pepper. I was always curious as to why. Well, I think I’ve puzzled out the answer.

Cayenne pepper originated in what is now French Guiana in South America. Today, it’s grown commercially from New Mexico to Japan. It can be used fresh in the immature green form in salsas, though it’s most commonly used in the form of dried and ground red pods.

So why would a renowned chef use this hot spice, apparently so indiscriminately?

Cayenne plays a very important part in aromatics. A pinch goes a long way in brightening a dish and bringing out the natural flavors of the what you are cooking when you make anything with seafood, chicken, beef, or pork.

The key is to use it only a pinch at a time until you get it right for the dish you are cooking. Remember, for most things you only want to wake it up a bit not make it so hot you can’t taste what you just cooked. What I strive for is a satisfying warm after glow when I finish a meal.

A Real Cut Up

One of the best ways to reduce the cost of meat is to buy larger cuts and do some very basic butchering at home. You can then bag all but the section you plan to use that evening for freezer storage. Your best bets for this method are items like boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt or Boston butt), center cut pork tenderloin, and beef tenderloins.

Why these cuts? First off, they’re the easiest to cut up if you have limited or no meat-cutting skills. You won’t have to work around bone and most of the time you can just carve the meat to the thickness and portion size you desire. (On top of that, these cuts tend to go on sale a fair amount of the time!)

The portions shown in the picture above are taken from a boneless pork shoulder. I cut it up in preparation for a variety of meals (approximately seven) depending on the cooking method and ratio of fat to meat.

Starting from the left and going clockwise: Strips of pork belly, a small pork roast, thick pork steaks, thinner pork steaks, and a number of smaller odds and ends that will end up in stir fry!

By learning to do a little finish home butchering, you’ll be able to buy meat for as low as $.99 cents to 1.89 a pound and turn it into something you would pay $20 per plate for in a restaurant!

Cloth Napkins

Cloth napkins lend a note of fine dining as well as being eco-friendly. You wash them instead of throwing them away. They can be used a couple of times in between washing. Regular napkins can be expensive but I found a way to make them affordable. If you use different colors when there are several people in the family each one can be assigned a color.

One cost-effective method is to use cotton bandannas. The cost is about $10 for a dozen. You can get them in different colors, all the same or a theme. Amazon carries a large selection.

Two swans swimming

Small lettuce wedge and tomato individual salad. Easy and elegant presentation. Shown on a 6 inch salad plate. The stem makes the crown. The center is made by two slices on each side of the tomato.

Ingredients: 1 small tomato, 2 lettuce wedges

Dressing can be any you like but just drizzle it over the lettuce wedges.

Remove the seeds and cut around the stem base inside to form the head. The two halves are then sliced in ‘V’ shapes that intersect and then pulled out to form the wings; do this on both sides of the half.

Cut a slot in the center to fit the swan necks into. You can surround the swans with lettuce or other veggies: Cucumber slices, radishes, or whatever you like.

Thoughts on Beef Brisket v. Beef Rib

Two-and-a-half pounds of beef rib goodness from Valentina’s in South Austin, Texas. Magnificent.

Earlier today, I sampled some of the best beef brisket and beef rib from Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in south Austin. Claiming that one place is better than another can be shootin’ words in Central Texas, so let’s just say that their flavor profile fit my palate best. The brisket and rib were both moist, tender, and balanced out the flavors of salt, pepper, and smoke.

This got me thinking a bit about my own recent experiments with brisket and ribs. Both are cuts of beef, but that’s really about where the similarity ends.

Brisket is comprised of a cow’s superficial and deep pectoral muscles. These are often sold together, but can also be cut and sold separately as ‘point’ and ‘flat’ cut briskets. The most important thing to note is that they’re weight-bearing muscles. Weight-bearing muscle come with a lot of connective tissue, so prep, cooking, and serving methods have to take this into account.

Untrimmed brisket with the fatty side down.

Prepping the brisket requires getting rid of some (or most) of the superfluous fat. This heavy, dense fat on the outside of the muscle is what goes into beef tallow. If it’s thicker than a half-inch it can often turn into a hard, smoky, and knobby substance that’s not very good to eat.

If you’re using a slow dry-heat method like traditional barbecue, then you’ll be leaving some of that fat alone, as it will help keep the meat moist as you cook it. Myself, I’ve ended up using moist-heat methods like braising and sous vide to tenderize the meat without the same need for the fat.

Slow-Braised Brisket slices.

Braising: With this version, I used an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Seasonings include a touch of heat from a half-teaspoon of cayenne mixed with kosher salt and black pepper. This was slow-braised in the oven for ~2 hours on a bed of sauteed onions, a dash of liquid smoke, and white wine. Once the brisket was removed from the creuset, I was able to add a little beef broth to make a kind of glace de viande from the brisket au jus and the now-caramelized onions.

Note: When serving brisket, be sure to cut against the grain for maximum tenderness.

Sous-vide brisket. Notice the difference in color and texture from the braised or BBQ versions.

Sous Vide: This version’s seasoning is simple: One package of dehydrated Lipton French Onion soup – yes, the old 70’s standby. The salt and dehydrated onion mades a nice ‘dry brine’ in which the meat marinates over night.

This is cooked with the sous vide method for 32-36 hours at 135 degrees. Then it’s finished on a hot grill for 75 seconds/side. This time, the final product came out with a marvelously savory onion flavor to compliment the beef.

Note: While you should still cut this against the grain, the brisket here didn’t ‘flake’ the same way. It was steak-like in texture and so tender you could cut it with a fork.

Beef Rib is (ironically) a completely different animal. It’s sliced from a different area, which means that it’s not a weight-bearing muscle. That makes it a little ‘easier’ to cook in that a beef rib can be cooked with dry high-heat methods like grilling. And speaking of making things easy, unless you have a full-sized BBQ and/or smoker, it’s best to purchase this cut as short ribs, where bone and meat have been pre-chopped for you.

Raw beef short ribs. Compare the fat pattern to the raw brisket above.

The rib also differs from the brisket in that the fat is softer and substantially more marbled. Instead of hardening into tallow-like blocks, cooking tends to gelatinize these, making the rib tender and savory.

Beef short ribs in the sous vide. Note the brownish liquid accumulating around the edges. This makes the absolute best beef stock!

Personally, I’ve never found an easier and more delicious method than using sous vide on beef short ribs. Start by seasoning your ribs with a rub of salt (smoked salt is best!), pepper, and garlic powder. Bag it, and then sous vide at 145 degrees for 48 hours. Yes, that’s two days. It’s worth it!

Finishing sous vide short ribs on the grill.

To add a little appetizing color, place the ribs on a high-heat grill for two minutes on a side and serve! The mixture of flavors and even a hint of smoke is amazing. It’s not BBQ, so I call it ‘BBQ-style’ in the sense that you won’t get as heavy a hit of smoke. But you’ll definitely get the concentrated beef flavor in a way you’ll never forget.

Note: Beef ribs are so tender that you can slice them with the grain. Better yet, simply dig in with a fork and enjoy!

Kale Salad Recipe

I used to hate kale.

But that was until I tasted this salad at Ostra, a restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk. It was a perfect balance of sweet, tart, savory, and crisp, without the heavy ‘green’ taste I associated with kale leaves.

I liked it so much, I went home and reverse engineered it. This is a delightfully robust salad that is easy to make. And if you are not a fan of kale, having it this way might convert you like it did me!

The salad the way it is posted and pictured here serves six small portions for about $1.00 each. It’s colorful, hearty, and it’s even Keto friendly!

Ingredients:

 4 cups curly green kale with ribs removed torn or chopped in bite size pieces.

6 oz total of blackberries and/or raspberries. Note: You can substitute strawberries, dried apricots, or cherries.

¼ cup chopped pecans . Note: You can substitute chopped walnuts.

¼ cup feta cheese crumbles

The dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons of honey

1 clove minced garlic

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients save for the kale itself in a bowl and whisk until well combined.

Put torn kale in large bowl, pour a little bit of the dressing on it, and massage the kale with your hand for 2-3 minutes. This is the key step, as the massaging helps to break down the fibrous kale leaves, making it soft to the palate. It also seems to mellow out the taste of the kale so that it’s closer to baby spinach in texture.

Place the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and toss together.

Serve in portions but make sure that some of the berries, pecans, and feta cheese remains on top to give it a colorful punch!

Let’s talk about Paleo

People in the United States are currently getting on the bandwagon that the growth of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and cancer are due entirely due to our eating habits and the types of food we eat.

I do not dispute the fact. Nor do I dispute the fact that exercise or the lack of it is also a contributing factor.

Those that swear by the Paleo diet claim eating this way can reduce inflammation, improve workouts, increase energy, help with weight loss, stabilize blood sugar and even reduce the risk of chronic diseases.  

Paleo focuses on increasing the intake of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Mainly decreasing consumption of processed foods, sugar and salt. To people looking to eat a well-rounded diet, these “guidelines” sound familiar and healthy.

Scientists believe that despite what its health benefits claim, the paleo diet advocates cutting out grains, dairy and legumes. These foods are good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, which our bodies need to maintain a healthy balance. They include cereal, crackers, rice, pasta, bread and beer.

Instead the diet is based on meats; beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, pork and others.

Fish and seafood; salmon, trout, shrimp and shellfish.

Eggs and vegetables such as broccoli, kale, peppers, onions, carrots tomatoes and the like.

Cooking oils include olive and nut oils as well as ghee.

Ghee is basically butter that has been slowly simmered to remove any milk solids and water. By the extended cooking it gives the end product a nutty, caramel like flavor. Much richer tasting than traditional clarified butter. It is suitable for people who avoid foods with lactose.

Ghee has become a popular cooking fat for those following Whole30, paleo diet plans. The other advantage is it is a shelf stable product that does not require refrigeration.

Other than consulting your doctor especially if you are elderly before trying any diet plan this is pretty much all I have to say on those two popular diet plans.

Personally, I believe that a well rounded diet from all the food groups each in moderation is fine and I base my cooking on that idea. What really surprises me is that many of my recipes are both Keto and Paleo friendly or are easily adaptable with only a few simple substitutions.

Let’s talk about Keto

My first three blog posts talk about shopping, cooking utensils and appliances.

Next, I want to talk about a couple of currently popular diet plans. In my opinion, diets alone may provide health benefits, but they do not provide a sustainable method of losing weight. There are many factors behind weight loss, such as overall health, age, and life style. A ‘diet plan’ it needs to take all of these items into account.

Before going on any weight loss plan, I recommend consulting a doctor first. And this comes from someone who avoids doctors like the plague unless there is absolutely no other choice! But I also know that excess weight over 25 pounds is not healthy. Also, if you don’t enjoy the food allowed on the diet plan you won’t stick with it. Many restrictive diets can get repetitious and joyless. If something is fun, tasty and easy you will be more apt to go the distance.

With that off my chest, let’s look at two of the most popular diet plans currently making the rounds: Keto and Paleo.

Basic information about the Keto Diet:

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. To achieve positive results, this diet has to be very low in carbohydrates, high in dietary fat and include a moderate amount of proteins. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy which helps with weight loss, reduced blood pressure, makes for increased energy and often improves sleep and mood. The ketogenic diet can cause massive reductions in blood sugar, insulin levels which is why diabetics and elderly should consult their doctors before trying it. 

Fish and shellfish are very keto-friendly foods. Salmon and other fish are rich in B vitamins, potassium and selenium, yet virtually carb-free. However, the carbs in different types of shellfish vary. For instance, while shrimp and most crabs contain no carbs, other types of shellfish do. While these shellfish can still be included on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to account for these carbs when you’re trying to stay within a narrow range.

Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbs, but high in many nutrients, including vitamin C and several minerals. Vegetables and other plants contain fiber, which your body doesn’t digest and absorb like other carbs. Most vegetables contain very few net carbs. However, consuming one serving of “starchy” vegetables like potatoes, yams or beets could put you over your entire carb limit for the day. Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower have been linked to decreased cancer and heart disease risk.

Cheese there are literally hundreds of different types of cheese. Fortunately, all of them are very low in carbs and high in fat, which makes them a great fit for a ketogenic diet. Cheese also contains conjugated linoleic acid, which is a fat that has been linked to fat loss and improvements in the body. Eating cheese regularly may help reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging.

Avocados are high in several vitamins and minerals, including potassium, an important mineral many people may not get enough of. What’s more, a higher potassium intake may help make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier.

Meat and poultry are considered staple foods on a ketogenic diet. Fresh meat and poultry contain no carbs and are rich in B vitamins and several minerals, including potassium, selenium and zinc. They’re also a great source of high-quality protein, which has been shown to help preserve muscle mass during a very low-carb diet.

Eggs are most versatile foods on the planet. They can be fried, boiled, poached, baked, and scrambled just to name a few ways of preparing them. Eggs have been shown to trigger feelings of fullness and keep blood sugar levels stable, leading to lower calorie intakes for up to 24 hours. You need to eat the entire egg. Most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk. This includes the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect eye health.

Note: Cholesterol scares in the 1970’s caused a decline in the use of eggs. Although the yolks are high in cholesterol, consuming them doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels in most people. New studies have found that In fact, eggs appear to modify the shape of LDL in a way that reduces the risk of heart disease.

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Unlike long-chain fats, MCTs are taken up directly by the liver and converted into ketones or used as a rapid source of energy. This makes it well suited for a ketogenic diet. The main fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, a slightly longer-chain fat. It has been suggested that coconut oil’s mix of MCTs and lauric acid may promote a sustained level of ketosis.

 Plain Greek Yogurt and Cottage Cheese are healthy, high-protein foods. While they contain some carbs, they can still be included in a ketogenic lifestyle. However, both can also be combined with chopped nuts, cinnamon and optional sugar-free sweetener for a quick and easy keto treat.

Olive Oil provides impressive benefits for your heart. It’s high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been found to decrease heart disease risk factors in many studies. In addition, extra-virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants known as phenols. These compounds further protect heart health by decreasing inflammation and improving artery function As a pure fat source, olive oil contains no carbs. It’s an ideal base for salad dressings and healthy mayonnaise.

Nuts and Seeds are healthy, high-fat and low-carb foods. Frequent nut consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, depression and other chronic diseases.

Berries – Most fruits are too high in carbs to include on a ketogenic diet, but berries are an exception. Berries are low in carbs and high in fiber. These tiny fruits are loaded with antioxidants that have been credited with reducing inflammation and protecting against disease.

Butter and Cream have for a very long time been considered to contribute to heart disease due to their high saturated fat content. In recent years several serious studies have shown that for most people, saturated fat isn’t linked to heart disease. In fact, some studies suggest that moderate consumption of high fat dairy may actually reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Much like other fatty dairy products they are rich in conjugated linoleic acid and may actually promote fat loss.

I could go on but what you need to do is research and ask your doctor about what is and is not allowed for a healthy diet plan for you and your physiology. There is no one stop shopping for your individual weight loss, food shopping of cooking type.

Let’s look at Paleo in the next blog post.