Don't Get Spooked: How To Simplify Daunting Dishes, From Fried Chicken To Soufflé

Oct 30, 2017
Originally published on October 30, 2017 11:45 am

What foods are you scared to attempt in the kitchen? In honor of Halloween, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst tries to exorcise a few common culinary phobias. She brings Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson her takes on fried chicken, chocolate soufflé and apple pie.


Fried Chicken

There are a few tricks (and many treats) to frying chicken. Ask your butcher to cut the bird into eight to 10 pieces so you are not frying huge pieces.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

  1. I don’t brine the chicken, though many swear that brining produces the best fried chicken. What I do is leave time to marinate the chicken in buttermilk overnight, or for at least three to four hours — it tenderizes, flavors and acts as part of the coating.
  2. When you’re heating your oil be sure to have a deep-frying thermometer (also called a candy thermometer) in the oil so you can constantly keep an eye on the exact temperature. I like to fry at 325 degrees. I find when the oil goes much over 325 degrees (350 is the absolute hottest you want the oil to be) the chicken burns, and when it dips much below 325 degrees you run the risk of having greasy and/or undercooked chicken.
  3. You can fry the chicken in a wide range of fats — Crisco, safflower oil, peanut oil or lard — or a combination of several of these choices.

Serve with hot pepper sauce and/or lemon wedges and plenty of napkins. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 fryer chicken, cut into eight to 10 pieces
  • 2 to 3 cups buttermilk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About 4 cups fat (I use 2 cups safflower or canola oil and 2 cups Crisco)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Generous pinch cayenne

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken in a large bowl and cover with the buttermilk and a generous handful of salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least two to three hours, or preferably overnight.
  2. In a flat-bottomed wok or a large, cast-iron (or heavy) skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Place a deep-frying or candy thermometer inside the wok or skillet and bring the oil to 325 degrees.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix the flour, cornmeal, thyme, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  4. While the oil is heating, remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dip it thoroughly in the flour mixture — do not try to do this step ahead of time or you will end up with soggy chicken! Using tongs, dip all the dark meat — the thighs and drumsticks — first.
  5. When the oil has reached 325 degrees use the tongs to lower several pieces of chicken into the hot oil, without crowding the wok or skillet, and fry for eight minutes without touching. Gently flip the chicken over and fry for another six to nine minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Remove the chicken, letting any excess oil drip back into the wok or skillet, and place on a wire cooling rack skin side up. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Try to cook dark meat together and then white meat in a separate batch.
  6. If not serving immediately, place the chicken on a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and heat in a preheated 400-degree oven for about three to four minutes, or until hot and crisped up. Serve warm.

Buttery Pie Crust

Over and over I hear that home cooks are “scared” to make pie crust. Some of the comments: “It always flakes apart,” or, “Mine tastes like cardboard.”

I, too, used to shy away from making pie crust. But then I realized that it was actually crazy easy.

Body temperature can be a problem. If you tend to run hot, you want to be very careful about overhandling the pastry. My solution? Work with a food processor. By letting the machine gently pulse the dough, I barely handle it at all. The butter needs to be well chilled and the water needs to be ice cold — I add one or two ice cubes to cold water to get it icy cold!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Heavy pinch salt
  • Heavy pinch of sugar (if it’s for a sweet pie)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, well chilled and cut into small pieces
  • About 1/4 cup or more ice-cold water

Instructions

  1. In the container of a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and sugar together. Add the butter pieces, making sure to coat them thoroughly in the flour. Pulse the machine about 15 times or until the butter is the texture of coarse cornmeal.
  2. With the motor running, add only enough water until the pastry begins to pull away from the sides of the container. That means add only less than 1/4 cup to start and let the water work its way into the flour. Add a tablespoon or two more at a time, letting the water become incorporated before adding more. Once the pastry pulls away from the sides of the machine and becomes a single mass, you have added enough water.
  3. Remove from the container of the machine and place on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Fold the paper over and mound the dough into a large ball. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to two days, or double wrap and freeze for up to three months.
  4. When you’re ready to use the pastry, generously flour a clean work surface. Remove the pastry and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Using a well-floured rolling pin, gently roll the dough out to fit the bottom of a pie plate or tart pan. This recipe makes enough for two small-bottom crusts, or one big pie with a topping.

Apple Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe for Buttery Pie Pastry (see above)
  • 6 to 8 apples (about 3 pounds) peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out half the pastry into a 12-inch circle. Line a pie plate with the pastry. Using a fork place fork tines into the bottom and sides of the pastry.
  3. Bake the pie crust for 10 minutes on the middle shelf. Remove and let cool thoroughly.
  4. While the bottom crust is baking and cooling, roll out the remaining dough to a 12-inch round and place on a sheet of parchment or wax paper on a cookie sheet; place in the refrigerator.
  5. In a large bowl gently toss the apples with the cinnamon, ginger, maple syrup, apple cider, flour, lemon juice and salt.
  6. When the bottom crust pastry is cool, pile in the apples, mounding the fruit in the center to be higher than on the sides. Dot with the butter. Dip your finger in cold water and dot the sides of the pastry to help the top pastry to adhere. Place the top pastry over the fruit and crimp the edges together. Use a small sharp knife to create several very thin, small (1- to 2-inch) slits in the pastry, working around the center in a circle — this will allow steam to escape and the apples to fully cook. Place the pie on a cookie sheet.
  7. The pie can be made several hours ahead of time; loosely cover with foil and refrigerate.
  8. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  9. Place the pie on the middle shelf and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 50 to 55 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. If the pastry begins to brown too quickly, cover very loosely with a piece of foil. Stick a small sharp knife in one of the slit holes to make sure the fruit is tender.
  10. Remove and let cool for an hour before cutting. Serves 6.

Chocolate Soufflé

I promise you that, despite soufflé’s image of being a fussy, difficult dish, this recipe is very straightforward. There are, however, a few tricks.

One is preparing your baking dish: Whether you use small ramekins, a traditional soufflé dish or an ovenproof skillet, be sure to butter the bottom and sides of the dish, making sure the sugar coats all the sides. Also, you want to whip the egg whites on medium speed — not high — to incorporate as much air as possible.

Be patient. And most important of all, have everyone sitting down, spoons ready to eat as soon as the soufflé comes out of the oven. The dramatic “ooh-la-la” rise will not last long. You can serve with vanilla-scented whipped cream, but you really don’t need it.

You can make the soufflé batter and let it sit, unrefrigerated, for up to an hour before baking. Serves 5 to 6.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, plus butter for coating the baking dishes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus sugar for coating baking dishes
  • 4 egg yolks*
  • 5 egg whites*
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • Pinch sea salt

*Use 4 whole eggs plus 1 egg white.

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Butter and sugar five one-cup ramekins, a traditional soufflé dish or an 8-inch ovenproof skillet.
  3. Separate the egg yolks and whites. Place the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over very low heat until melted and smooth. Use a soft spatula to stir it as it melts. Remove from heat and let cool for two minutes. Whisk the egg yolks and salt into the melted chocolate.
  5. In a standing mixer whip the egg whites using medium speed until soft peaks form. Keep beating until the peaks begin to hold together. Don’t try to go fast and turn the mixer on high; you want as much air as possible incorporated into the whites. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat on high until glossy and firm peaks hold when you stop the machine and lift the whisker attachment.
  6. Add 1 cup of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture and stir with a spatula gently until incorporated. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining whites until fully incorporated. Divide the mixture between the baking dishes (or place in the skillet or soufflé dish) and bake on the middle shelf. If using small ramekins bake about 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffed up high and golden brown. If using a skillet or soufflé dish bake about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.