One of the least attractive aspects of being able to cook is that you become very critical of restaurant food. Often I find food cooked in local food establishments to be very oily or salty, or too sweet. They’re just indulging the Filipino taste buds, I am told.
Eating out nowadays is a search for a food outlet that will show some restraint in the way it uses the basic ingredients of salt, sugar, oil, and umami sources such as fish sauce and monosodium glutamate. Also one that will not have me worrying that my oily meal has just placed me on the statins-required patient list.
My big letdown recently was a positively reviewed restaurant in a spanking mall. The food was good in the first two bites—but the next ones would have me pausing for a drink of water to eliminate the greasy mouth-feel.
I wondered if I was the only one feeling this way. Most tables seemed to be unable to finish the popular offending dishes and opted to take them out. It was either the portion was too big, or the other patrons, without realizing it, had also been hit with the attack of the oil.
Fried chicken is especially vulnerable to poor cooking methods or standards. Why they continue to be popular is because fat is tasty, but that doesn’t mean that you should have it all the time. The younger people can very well indulge in such dishes without guilt or worry, although the sight of young obese children should already give us a warning that perhaps we should reduce our intake of oily food.
The best way around this is to learn to cook your favorite food so that you can control the quality of the ingredients, and you can ensure that the amount of salt, oil, or sugar will be just right.
My preferred method of cooking fried chicken is to marinate it in buttermilk overnight. Since we don’t have commercial buttermilk available locally, create a substitute by adding a tablespoon of lemon for every cup of milk. Use whole or full cream milk.
A critical ingredient for fried chicken is the oil. Any neutral-tasting oil would do such as canola, sunflower, or vegetable oil. I personally prefer pomace olive oil for the flavor it provides. Pomace is the oil that you get after the first pressing of the olive pulp. It’s olive oil is light so it won’t smoke as fast as extra-virgin olive oil, but it will have a lower point than the other vegetable oils.
Buttermilk fried chicken, a favorite in the American southern states, is defined by its marinade and its crispy, flour-based coating. The following recipe doesn’t exactly have 11 herbs and spices, but it comes pretty close to the flavor of that fast-food favorite.
1 large whole chicken, cut-up
2 cups full cream milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 eggs, whisk slightly
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme or rosemary
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Oil for frying
1. In a liquid measuring cup, ladle in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and then pour in the milk to reach the 2-cup mark. Wait for five minutes before using.
2. Place the chicken pieces in a large Tupperware container or zip-lock bag. Carefully pour in your buttermilk substitute, seal properly, and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to eight hours.
3. Cooking day: First place all of the chicken in a colander to drain. Next prepare your chicken breading. In a large flat plate, combine and mix well the flour, baking powder, and all the dried herbs and spices.
4. Pour the beaten eggs into another flat plate.
5. Start dredging and remember to keep the one hand wet and one dry rule. Take a piece of chicken with your left hand, dip in the eggs and place in the plate with the flour mixture. With your right hand, ensure that the chicken is evenly coated with the mixture; shake off the excess.
6. Place the chicken pieces in a large plate or baking sheet and let them sit for about 15 minutes before frying to ensure that the breading sticks.
7. Pour the oil in a medium-sized pot or electric fryer to about two inches deep. Wait for oil to heat up well before you start frying (if you have a candy thermometer, aim for oil heat of 180 degrees Centrigrade). If not just test it by dropping a few breadcrumbs; if it bubbles quickly around then it’s good to go.
8. Using tongs, gently drop the chicken into the hot oil, one piece at a time. Do not overcrowd. In between frying, use a strainer to take out crumbs from the oil. Cook chicken until they’re golden-brown.
9. Place fried chicken in a rack to drain off, or in baking sheets topped with kitchen paper to soak off the excess oil.
10. Serve the chicken warm with catsup or gravy, and salad or coleslaw on the side.