August 29, 2012

what makes a wing?

Filed under:, , , , , , , , — cwage @ 5:44 pm


While I have been on hot chicken kick lately, my one true love is the hot wing -- preferrably, traditional buffalo. However, a recent contender for my favorite wings ever are the "extreme heat" wings at Ghot Wingz. Despite not being buffalo (they are more of a saucey sweet/hot barbecue-ish type wing), they are easily my favorite, and are hands-down the best wings I've ever had in Nashville. So good, in fact, that I have yet to even try their buffalo wings because I can't forego the extreme heat.

I had them today, actually, and it got me thinking: we can all agree that the sauce is a key factor in what makes good chicken wings. But what about the chicken itself? This is clearly a huge part of the quality of the final product. To me, Knockout Wings is a great example of this. I really wanted to like Knockout Wings. They came highly recommended. They are located conveniently right down Jefferson from my office. Service is fast and friendly. But their wings just aren't good. I wrote in my yelp review that the sauce itself is good (although my opinion even of that has gone downhill lately), but that the chicken itself just tastes.. gross. The bones are small, and the meat, clinging desperately to the bone, has that sortof dehydrated and withered look, and the taste is much the same. Ghot Wingz' chicken, conversely, is excellent. Large (but not too obscenely hormone-induced huge like you find some places), flavorful, juicy wings.

So what is the difference? I realize that in this wide world, there are myriad ways to raise, butcher, brine, and season chicken meat that will all vastly change the end result. But I find it hard to believe that all of these local hot wing places in question aren't all just buying the same Sysco bagged frozen chicken that everyone uses. But maybe I'm wrong. Does anyone know? Are there different sources for worse/better chicken? Is it possible Ghot Wingz isn't using frozen chicken? Does Sysco offer different grades of quality that you can buy? Is it all the same chicken but different methods (e.g. baking before frying versus not)?

August 13, 2012

hot chicken fried steak

Filed under:, , , , , , , — cwage @ 7:43 pm


So, I will freely admit that this dish had its genesis purely in the amusement I derived from the name: what possible dish could have a nest of more confusing terms than "hot chicken fried steak"?! I'm sure I'm not the first person to be amused by the concept, or even try it. Its construction was pretty straightforward. I took a basic southern-style chicken-fried steak recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I made it, and then I made up a traditional Nashville hot chicken style paste. Et voila.

So how was it? Uhm. Not very good! I mean, not bad. It was basically about what I expected. This may be, in part, a symptom of the fact that I am not a huge fan of chicken-fried steak to begin with. There's something about breaded beef that just doesn't work as well as chicken, or even pork. Beef stands out too much on its own, and it gets in the way of the flavor of the breading or the heat. Something about chicken and sweat-inducing heat just really works in ways that it doesn't with other meat.

I would make hot chicken fried chicken, but then you're basically back to what Bolton's makes and slaps on a stick.

And for all the northerners reading this and going "what the fuck", here's how it works: Fried chicken, you've had. "Chicken fried steak" is a process by which you take a cheap cut of beef, tenderize it rigorously and fry it "in the style of fried chicken", hence: chicken fried steak. And "chicken fried chicken", then, is a chicken breast cooked similarly: tenderized flat and fried in the manner of chicken fried steak. Simple, right?

All in all a fun experiment, but I wouldn't add this one to your classics of southern cooking anytime soon.

June 11, 2012

hot chicken that i made and then ate

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:32 pm


A few corrections since I wrote this:

  • First, nashville style hot chicken is a uniquely southern food, so in my attempt to make the actual fried chicken base, I looked up a recipe for "Traditional southern fried chicken" -- i.e. buttermilk brined, heavily dredged in flour, buttermilk, and flour again. The result is a very thick, very bready fried chicken which is fine on its own, but absolutely wrong for nashville-style hot chicken. Opinions vary, but in my opinion the archetypical nashville-style chicken has to have a thin, flaky breaded crust (more on that later).
  • Second, no sugar. That was a huge mistake -- I'm more open to creative additions of sugar or honey these days, but it's way too easy to overdo it (as I did). Sweetness will detract from the spice and heat.

So, I decided to try my hand at making hot chicken. I loosely based it around this recipe. Before I get into the specifics, though, I want to pat myself on the back a little. Not for successfully making hot chicken, no, but rather for the fact that when I first tried it 5 years ago, I said to myself: there's nothing mysterious about this chicken. Magical and wonderful, yes, but not mysterious. It's obviously a shit-ton of cayenne pepper slathered over fried chicken. So while it may be heretical to downplay the mystery around Nashville's primary culinary claim to fame, I have to say: it ain't complicated. I honestly had a much harder time getting the fried chicken right.

That said, a few details, photos and questions:

  • The assembled ingredients.
  • I marinated the chicken in buttermilk and a random assemblage of salt, onion powder, and garlic powder. I added a little bit of ghost pepper sauce for the hell of it, but it was barely perceptible. The buttermilk marinade had been recommended to me often as a rather traditional way of doing things, but I'm not convinced of its merit. I'm no stranger to the science of how brining and marinating works, and I'm not clear on how buttermilk could have really penetrated the meat that much. It did provide a slightly goopier base for dredging in the flower and aiding a crispy crust, but that's about it. I think next time I'm just gonna brine it like normal.
  • Safety first. I don't fry stuff a lot. You never know. Sometimes I set stuff on fire.
  • An optional but highly recommended accompaniment. Chef's little helper.
  • The resulting paste. Shortly after this photo I realized I needed to make more, and I did, and had a Sugar Accident. I accidentally dumped way too much sugar into it. In the spirit of my "eh, fuckit" attitude to cooking, I just rolled with it. This was a mistake. The sugar was a bit overwhelming and turned the gritty/smokey pepper flavor into a sortof sickly sweet crust in the end. The chicken was still good, but the sugar bumped it out of contention for "Great". Ah well. Similarly, I had a lot of trouble getting it hot enough. I added a bunch of chile to round out the flavor a bit, but I felt like I couldn't add enough cayenne to get the kick I wanted. Maybe the cheap Kroger cayenne I bought was old. Maybe I need to experiment with blending in some hotter peppers?
  • This was probably unnecessary and pointless, but I added some cayenne to the flour before dredging. I figured it couldn't hurt, but maybe the pepper could burn and add a bitter flavor. I didn't notice. I probably won't do it again though.
  • Dredged and ready to fry. Of course, I made a huge mess.
  • I had the slightest bit of trouble actually frying the chicken. I was having trouble getting even the individually cut 8ths (legs and thighs) to cook thoroughly without the crust starting to burn. I had the oil temperature pegged at right around 330F. Do I need to go lower to give the meat more time to cook before the crust burns?
  • And, as usual, I'm incapable of making reasonable portions of anything and wound up with Way Too Much Chicken. Normally this would be a good problem to have, but I have to admit, it's not great. The excess sugar in the crust is a bit much for me. But I'll suffer through it. Somehow.

So there you have it. I feel pretty confident that I can nail it the next time around. As I said above, this dish is not a complicated one, so I think I need to resist my urge to experiment and fuck around. The secret is in the simplicity: a shit-ton of pepper and fried chicken. What more do you need?