Nikki Giovanni’s Butter-Fried Chicken

Great food, a bottle of wine and great literature go hand in hand…….

New York Time journalist Elizabeth Harris interviewed the poet Nikki Giovanni for an article that appeared in the newspaper during the week of December 14,2020. Giovanni, 77, whose 19th collection of poems, “Make Me Rain,” came out this Fall. In the course of their discussion, Giovanni told  Harris about the butter-fried chicken she makes for dinner sometimes. That recipe didn’t make it into the final copy of the interview, but Harris did share Giovanni’s recipe with the rest of us in a .a brief excerpt found in the NYT Cooking column on-line.

It’s not so much a recipe as it is a no-recipe recipe, like the one’s our Grandmothers would hand down by word of mouth, and it results in an excellent chicken dish. The texture of the outer layer is crispy and the inner part is juicy and tender.  And in Giovanni’s own words:

“I’m a Southern cook so I use whatever is around. Cut the chicken up or if you are lucky and working purchase wings. There is no such thing as too much butter. A half stick is usually good, though. Put a couple of cloves of garlic in the skillet to let them simmer. I like to rub the wings with ginger but I forgot to tell you a shake or two of nutmeg really helps. If summer, get your rosemary from the garden or your tarragon or whatever is green growing. Do not roll a lot of flour on them. Just enough to cover then shake off. Do not batter them. You are not, after all, a chef trying to stretch your money.”
“Cook that floured chicken slowly,” Giovanni emphasized. “If you don’t have time to slowly fry,” she wrote, “then remember the old blues song: ‘Come back tomorrow and try it again.’   

It really takes the hand of an experienced cook to fry chicken in butter as it is a slow and tedious process. Scientifically, it is possible to cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in butter, provided the temperature is kept below the 350° F frying point without danger of burning the chicken and the milk proteins found in the butter, as you find in Italian cuisine. As for bone-in chicken with the skin on, butter helps the skin to go brown because the milk solids in the butter brown, but it doesn’t make the chicken crispier by any means. Butter is used for colour and flavor. For that very reason, we adapted Nikki Giovanni’s recipe and we recommend frying the chicken in a combination of vegetable oil and butter, after thoroughly drying your bird, and reducing the temperature while frying the chicken to a slow simmer. This slow simmering of the chicken in butter is reminiscent of the term, à la meunière, which can be roughly translated as, in the manner of miller’s wifein reference to a French cooking technique in which a whole fish or  fish fillets are lightly dusted in flour and then sautéed in butter. The technique is easily adapted by replacing the main ingredients or incorporating additional elements.

Try it for dinner and see if it doesn’t suit your taste. We think it’s delicious, warm and fragrant, and is most  excellent when paired with  a nice Chardonnay! 

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
One 3-4 lb chicken cut up, or 3 pounds of thighs, drumsticks and wings
1 cup all purpose flour
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 stalk of celery
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 stick of unsalted butter
 

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 175 º F.

To prepare a draining station, set a wire rack in a rimmed baking pan. lined with paper towels; set aside.

Using clean paper towels, pat the chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside on a clean plate.

In a large bowl, add flour, salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, allspice and oregano. Mix them well until it is all incorporated.

Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and set aside on a rack to dry. Repeat the same dredging process for the remainder of the chicken pieces.

Add the  vegetable oil to a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the  oil  to 350 ºF. Add the butter, garlic cloves, rosemary and celery stalk. Add the chicken, and shallow fry for 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to fry the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn and rotate the chicken pieces every few minutes to ensure even cooking and prevent the skin from burning, until the chicken is golden brown in color and the internal temperature of the chicken is 165° F (See Cook’s Notes Below).  

Transfer chicken to the prepared paper towel lined tray, and drain the chicken. Transfer the chicken to the oven to keep warm and repeat frying the rest of the chicken.

Serve immediately with your choice of tabasco sauce and side dishes, like potato salad, coleslaw, collard greens, or green beans.

 

Cook’s Notes:

As an alternative to using a mix of vegetable oil and butter, you can also use Crisco Butter Flavor Shortening. For the record, Crisco shortening has 50 percent less saturated fat than butter and 0g trans fat per serving. It is excellent for frying, and great for baking – giving you higher, lighter-textured baked goods, in addition to adding  a rich buttery flavor to foods.

While frying the chicken, cook slowly of medium-low heat, just about to a simmer, to prevent the flour from burning.

Use thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken, being careful not to touch the bones. Don’t be afraid to break the chicken’s crust to take the meat’s internal temperature; it should read 165 ° F.  Drumsticks/thighs are also done at 175 ° F.  Being on the safe side, a broken crust is vastly preferable to undercooked chicken. Plan on the whole process of  frying chicken to taking around 15–25 minutes, keeping in mind that white meat will cook faster than dark.

 

Recommended Products:

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Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni 

Butter Flavor Crisco All Vegetable Shortening, 48 oz.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Combo Cooker, 2-Piece Set 

Saferell Instant Read Digital Food Thermometer

 

 

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Skillet Lasagna

I am craving comfort foods from my youth, right about now.

I wanted lasagna the way Garfield scratches his belly for it……. I just didn’t feel like cooking it and putting together all the wonderful layers. Between Zoom Calls and family responsibilities and such I have hit a COVID19 wall lately when it comes to cooking…..but I still want lasagna.

One answer to my 99 problems, and my craving for lasagna is easily solved.

Skillet Lasagna!

With this simple recipe, you can enjoy this comfort food any night of the week. Everything cooks in just 30 minutes This easy skillet lasagna recipe uses traditional ingredients like ricotta, mozzarella and Italian sausage for that authentic lasagna flavor. If you don’t have a large skillet, no problem, just use a deep Dutch oven.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1/2 pound uncooked lasagna noodles (1/2 of a 16-ounce box)
1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, divided
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
salt, to taste
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, divided
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with onions, undrained
One 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
3/4 cup Mozzarella-Parmesan cheese blend

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Break the noodles in half and cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the noodles and set aside.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook the meat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until cooked through. Drain the excess fat from the meat and return to skillet. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes, salt to taste and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds — do not burn the garlic.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese, salt to taste, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the basil; set aside.

Remove the skillet from the stove. Add dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture by rounded tablespoons over the sausage. Top with the noodles, making 1 flat layer. Note that the noodles will overlap just a little bit.

Pour tomatoes and bell peppers over noodles, making sure that noodles are completely covered. Add water, and sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon Italian season. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the perimeter of the skillet.

Cover the skillet with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven and uncover and sprinkle with cheese blend. Cover again and let is stand for 3 t0 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. You can let it stand for and additional 5 minutes if you like it less saucy. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped fresh basil just before serving, if desired. Cut into wedges, and serve with a slotted spatula.

Cook’s Notes:
You can substitute the canned tomatoes and diced bell peppers with one 28-ounce jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce.

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Roasted Chicken with Stone Fruits and Red Onion

This recipe was originally created by Melissa Clark, for the New York Times. It is a sheet-pan dinner of roast chicken, plums and red onions. She came up with it as a dish appropriate to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins on September 18, 2020 but it’s outstanding meal that can grace any table for a great family style meal.

This sticky, bright-flavored joyful meal is beautiful to behold and easy to make. This sheet-pan dinner combines sweet plums and soft red onions with crisp-skinned pieces of roasted chicken. Toasted fennel seeds, red-pepper flakes and a touch of allspice add complexity while a mound of fresh torn herbs crowns the top. If good ripe plums aren’t available, you can substitute another stone fruit including cherries, peaches, nectarines or pluots, though if your fruit is very sweet, you might want to add a squeeze of lemon at the end. Serve this dish with rice pilaf, couscous, polenta or warm flatbread for a festive meal.

Recipe Adapted from

Melissa Clark

New York Times Cooking September 2020

 

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons fennel seeds 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

4 garlic cloves, finely grated

2 teaspoons honey

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

A very large pinch crushed red-pepper flakes, or to taste

One whole 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into parts

Kosher salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

2 cups ripe, soft plums, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices

1/2 cup cherries, pitted and halved

1/2 cup nectarines, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices

6 fresh thyme sprigs

1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced from root to stem in 1/2-inch wedges

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

⅔ cup torn mint, basil or cilantro leaves (or a combination), for garnish

Maldon salt flakes, for garnish

 

Directions:

Toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour seeds into a mortar and pound with a pestle until coarsely crushed (or lay seeds on a cutting board and pound them with a can or jar).

Put the seeds into a large bowl and stir in lemon juice, zest, garlic, honey, allspice and red-pepper flakes. Season chicken generously all over with salt and pepper and add to the bowl, turning the pieces to coat them with marinade.

Mix in plums and thyme sprigs. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 425 º F. Put the chicken pieces, fruit and thyme sprigs on a rimmed baking pan. Add onions, spreading them out around the chicken and plums. Season plums and onions lightly with salt.

Drizzle everything with olive oil. Roast until chicken is golden and cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes, removing the white meat if it’s done before the dark meat.

To serve, transfer chicken pieces as they are done to a platter. Spoon the plums and onions around the chicken. Drizzle a little of the pan drippings over the chicken and serve, garnished with the herbs and flaky Maldon salt.

 

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