Monday 24 July 2017

American dreams: Fried chicken and long lunches

Barack Obama's upcoming visit in May should bring plenty of his countrymen to our shores, so Brenda Costigan hopes to welcome them with some classics from the US melting pot

The Pittsburger
The Pittsburger

With Barack Obama coming in May you can expect non-stop talk about his visit and the United States over the coming months. And it is a great boost to this country.

Hopefully his visit will inspire lots of his countrymen to follow suit and take their holidays here, in which case you'd better be ready for lots of long-lost cousins. You probably issued an invitation a long time ago in the expectation that they would never take you up on it, but this is the year they just may turn up on your doorstep.

My suggestion is to make them feel right at home with some good old US-style meals.

The lovely thing about American cooking is the many influences of the immigrants who have all left their imprint on the American dining table, with dishes such as southern-fried chicken, Caesar salad, American meatloaf, Cajun jambalaya, the hamburger, and bumper sandwiches such as the Pittsburger.

I love the American approach to home cooking; it is really pragmatic. Something as simple as using the cup measurements -- it is such a handy gadget for measuring ingredients.

A recipe such as meatloaf is simple to assemble and cook, feeds a family and carves like a joint. Muffins are mixed together in minutes and popped into the oven. The following are just a few of my American favourites.

THE PITTSBURGER

(Pictured)

This American classic sandwich evolved in Pittsburgh, otherwise known as steel city. When the long-distance drivers finished their journeys they were ravenous, and so the Pittsburger was born -- it's not for the faint-hearted. Made with individual ciabattas, it makes a colourful sandwich for the famished. The ingredients can vary according to your personal taste, but the hot chips are the signature ingredient. Serves 1.

You will need:

1 small individual ciabatta, toasted and slit in two

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

4-6 lettuce leaves, depending on size

2-3 tablespoons coleslaw

Small serving of oven-baked chips

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 small slices cooked ham

2-3 slices of Cheddar cheese

1 tomato, sliced

Place the base of the toasted ciabatta on a plate or board. Spread a little of the mayonnaise over the cut side. Arrange a few of the lettuce leaves on it, top with a layer of the coleslaw and then add the hot, oven-baked chips. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange the small slices of cooked ham on top, then the Cheddar cheese, the sliced tomato, and add more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with more mayonnaise and the final layer of lettuce and, finally, put the other half of the toasted ciabatta on top. Eat now!

BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN

Pieces of chicken are marinated in buttermilk, which is flavoured with herbs and spices, including some fiery hot cayenne pepper. Choose a good-quality buttermilk for the marinade. The buttermilk has a tenderising effect on the chicken, and it also keeps it moist. The chicken is then drained and dipped in some well-seasoned flour -- a little more of the cayenne pepper is included here. The seasoned chicken pieces are then fried in oil. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

1x1.6 kg (3 1/2lb) chicken, divided into 8 pieces (see note)

Flour for dusting

225-350ml (8-12fl oz) fresh buttermilk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Groundnut or sunflower oil

For the seasoned flour, you will need:

110-175g (4-6oz) flour

1 teaspoon salt

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Note:

Remove the skin and bones from the chicken -- the leg bones may be left in, but bear in mind that the chicken will then take a little longer to cook. If you prefer, buy chicken pieces instead.

Have a tin or a board ready, which you have already dusted with flour, to arrange the prepared chicken pieces on.

To make the marinade, in a bowl, mix together the fresh buttermilk, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the paprika, the cayenne pepper, the chopped onion and the chopped garlic, if you are using it, and the dried thyme. Add the chicken pieces and let them steep for a few hours. Drain them off in a colander, leaving any little bits of herbs and the like attached to the chicken.

To make the seasoned flour, mix together the flour, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the paprika, the cayenne pepper and the dried thyme.

Using a pair of tongs, dip the pieces of chicken, one at a time, into the flour mixture. Press the flour firmly on to the chicken and place each prepared piece on to the floured board.

Heat the groundnut or sunflower oil, whichever you are using, in a heavy frying pan until the oil is piping hot. Fry a few pieces of chicken at a time, allowing about six minutes per side -- turn the pieces with an egg lifter, taking care not to knock off the flour crust. Chicken legs with the bones in will take twice as long to cook.

If you like, once they are browned on the outside, the chicken pieces can be transferred to a hot tin and baked in the oven -- preheated to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5 -- until they are cooked through.

Place the cooked chicken pieces on paper towels to drain off any fat before serving.

MACARONI CHEESE

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a very British dish, but it is equally popular in America, where Thomas Jefferson served it in the White House in 1802. Shopping at deli counters in Florida some years ago, I was delighted to see creamy macaroni cheese on sale -- just like we buy coleslaw and other salads. This speedy version is inspired by Nigella Lawson's recipe in her Express book. Serves 4.

You will need:

250g (9oz) macaroni

1 chicken or vegetable stock cube (optional)

250g (9oz) mature Cheddar or red Leicester cheese, grated

250ml (8fl oz) evaporated milk

2 eggs, beaten

Grating of fresh nutmeg or a few pinches of ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 220 C, 425 F, Gas 7. Preheat a wide, ovenproof dish. Rub it with butter when the dish is hot, just before you put in the prepared macaroni mix.

Cook the macaroni according to the packet instructions. If you like, include a chicken or vegetable stock cube in the cooking water for extra flavour.

While the pasta is cooking, put the Cheddar or red Leicester cheese, whichever you are using, the evaporated milk, the eggs, the fresh or ground nutmeg, whichever you are using, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper into a food processor and buzz, or mix the ingredients together by hand.

Thoroughly drain the macaroni and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix the hot macaroni through the egg and cheese mixture and pour into the hot, buttered dish. Sprinkle the freshly grated Parmesan over the top.

Bake in the oven until it is piping hot right through and golden brown on top. If you like a crusty finish, give it a quick blast of heat under a hot grill.

SPARE RIBS WITH SPICY CREOLE-STYLE SAUCE

I prefer to buy spare ribs without any marinade on them so I can flavour them myself. I par-cook the spare ribs in the oven until they are tender, then smother them in the sauce. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

1.125-1.4kg (2 1/2-3lb) pork spare ribs (see note below)

Olive or vegetable oil for brushing

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Coleslaw, to serve

Baked potatoes, to serve

For the sauce, you will need:

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon mustard

2-3 teaspoons Tabasco sauce (or to taste) or 1/2 level teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note:

Spare ribs come in different shapes and sizes, depending on your butcher. Some sell slices of belly pork, which are nice and meaty with a certain amount of fat, while others are like racks of rib bones. Either way, allow about 325g (12oz) per person. If you're using the racks of rib bones, check if they have a layer of whitish, shiny membrane on the back: you will find that this is very tough. Remove it by loosening at the edge with a sharp knife and then use your fingers to pull very firmly until it comes off.

To precook the spare ribs, first preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. Line a wide roasting tin, or tins, generously with foil. Drizzle a little olive or vegetable oil, whichever you are using, over the foil. Arrange the spare ribs (round side upwards) or the slices of belly pork on the foil. Brush with oil. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with more foil to keep the moisture in. Precook until the ribs or belly pork slices are tender, about 45-60 minutes. They will not seem very attractive at this stage!

While the meat is cooking, make the sauce. Mix together the honey, the tomato ketchup, the brown sugar, the mustard, the Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, whichever you are using, the vinegar, the soy sauce, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To finish in the oven, fold back the foil, and, if you like, spoon off any excess fat -- not the juices -- from the tin. If you are using racks of ribs, cut them into individual or double ribs, and turn them over so the round side is downwards. Spoon the sauce generously all over the ribs or belly pork slices and return to the oven, uncovered. Cook them until the meat browns and is flavoured by the sauce. This takes about 20-30 minutes. Be careful not to cook too long or the sauce will burn.

If you prefer, you can finish the meat on a barbecue. Brush the separate ribs or belly pork slices with oil and brown them on the barbecue without the sauce (as it would burn). When they are nice and crusty brown, serve them on a plate and generously spoon the sauce over them. Coleslaw and baked potatoes go well with this dish.

BROWNIES

An American creation, The first brownies were made for the Columbian Exposition in 1893, after a wealthy, chocolate-loving socialite asked a chef to create a dessert smaller than a piece of cake that could be eaten with one's fingers. Brownies went on to become a staple of American baking. I'm partial to this recipe, which is inspired by one of Nigella Lawson's.

You will need:

225g (8oz) dark chocolate

225g (8oz) butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g (7oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, beaten

150g (5oz) ground almonds

100g (3?oz) chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3. Use a 23cm (9in) square tin, lined (base and sides) with baking parchment.

Place a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and melt the dark chocolate and the butter together in it. When they have melted, take the bowl off the heat and add the vanilla extract and the caster sugar. Mix well together. Allow the mixture to cool a little so that it won't scramble the eggs. However, if the mixture gets too cool then the butter and chocolate will start to stiffen.

Whisk the beaten eggs through the chocolate mixture, adding the ground almonds and the chopped walnuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly. Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes until it's set, but still slightly gooey in the middle. Stand the tin on a wire tray to cool. Then cut into squares.

CHOCOLATE SAUCE

Throw calorie caution to the wind and enjoy this chocolate sauce with the brownies.

You will need:

110g (4oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces

150ml (5fl oz) cream

2 teaspoons instant coffee, blended with 2 tablespoons boiling water

1 tablespoon (15ml) golden syrup

Put all the ingredients into a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently, while stirring, until everything is melted and well mixed together. Serve hot, drizzled over the brownies.

L

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