Crust and the Uproar over White Lily

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

People who complain about the breading on fried foods drive me crazy. I've gone out of my way over all these years to develop recipes with lots of airy, crispy crusts. This is particularly important when serving cold fried chicken. (I've always thought that finding leftover fried chicken in the refrigerator was a blessing second only to finding leftover spaghetti when you have a hangover.) Every time we fry chicken I almost sicken myself eating the crumbs of crust that gather in the bottom of the Dutch oven. I usually have to resort to putting the pot in dishwater to stop myself. And the saltier the crust, the better.

I have always used White Lily Self Rising Flour when frying foods, either alone or in the case of most seafoods, mixed half and half with maseca. Whatever is being fried is first put in buttermilk which fluffs the baking powder in the flour producing the desired result: giant crust.The company has been bought and moved. By all accounts, the new White Lily isn't the same. Biscuit makers interviewed by The New York Times could hardly hold themselves back. I don't yet know it how frying will be affected by this change, but bakers everywhere are up in arms. The company denies that there is any difference.If you have anything to say to Smucker's, who bought out the White Lily company, here's the link .

Speaking of crust, we have begun making a nice zucchini tart and for its crust we use my grandmothers cheese biscuit recipe, only this time its rolled out in a sheet and pushed into a tart ring with a removable bottom. The results are excellent. The filling is made of a little egg, some fresh herbs and the now ubiquitous Chapel Hill Creamery quark. This is sort of like what the French call fromage blanc . I don't know how I cooked without this stuff. It improves almost anything dairy. It enriches custards and stabilizes whipped cream. Mixed with herbs or citrus or chilies it can be a great topping. We sometimes use it on our cheese plate.

I use quark in place of sour cream in the old fashioned Green Goddess dressing that I use in Chicken Savory. This recipe comes from the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking. In place of the scallions and chives, I use savory, which is grown in great abundance by Bracken Brae Farms. I've always loved savory but it is usually hard to find. In old herbals it is referred to as "the green bean seasoning".Chicken Savory is the result of happenstance. I don't usually make stuff up completely out of the blue, but this is an exception. Usually things evolve one from the next. Chicken salads are good in hot weather, but our standard Millionaires' Chicken had been on the menu all spring so we needed something new. Betsey kept bringing in bags of pretty, peppery arugula and as I said all this savory turned up at about the same time. This is my new favorite dish. Other new stuff: I've picked the first blackberries and the first tomatoes have arrived from Walter so look out. Can corn be far behind?

posted by Bill Smith at 1:20 PM 0 comments

A Murderous Heat

Monday, June 9, 2008

Summer arrived overnight, without warning and the kitchen was stiffling. Restaurant kitchens in summer are the stuff of legend. I must have spent a hundred dollars on popcicles this week. It's all I can do. Some people are more affected than others. I have a pregnant woman on staff who had to bail early on one of the worst days. We have an Igloo cooler in the walkin in which we make refrescas -concoctions of fruit juice, ice, water, soda, limes and mint. It's handy for the cooks and it is better than drinking soft drinks all night which are not refreshing at all. Strangest of all, when the temperature dropped to ninety, everyone perked up.

Summer has arrived a little ahead of its traditional produce, like cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelon, but this weather has been a real boon to the space monster plants out front of the restaurant. That hot dry corner seems to be perfect for desert species. The flowers are so dramatic that people walking by them are stopped in their tracks. Hopefully by the weekend we'll at least have cucumbers and the first watermelons so that we can bring back cold fried chicken, which is served with these things plus devilled eggs. The tomato and watermelon salad will have to wait a little longer. We heard from Walter Atwater this week and he says that good summer tomatoes are just a week or so away. He has ninety plants so it appears that we'll have plenty. Speaking of flowers, it seems like the honeysuckle won't quite go away so the sorbet will be available from time to time, but probably won't be on the menu. You'll have to ask.

One last thing to report that both does and doesn't pertain to our kitchen. When I came to work at Crook's in 1993 Antonio Lopez was already working there. In 1995 he returned home to Celaya to start a business- Comida Corrida a take out restaurant. The peso collapsed shorty afterward and soon he and some of his friends were back in Chapel Hill. He got his paperwork in order and began the process of moving his family up here. This took some doing, but now they are all here. I am proud to say that I am now their sponsor with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, having signed documents agreeing to be responsible if they sneak onto the foodstamp or wellfare rolls. I have no fear of this. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a Mass honoring the twenty-fifth anniversary of Antonio's marriage to Margarita.

posted by Bill Smith at 3:50 PM 2 comments

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