Fried chicken livers with pickled onions and pepper jelly

Liver let fry

Originally appeared in the November 21, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

You know the old adage about imitation as a form—nay, the sincerest form—of flattery, right?

That sentiment is not unlike that venerable literary chestnut, as suggested by Saul Bellow, that a writer is a reader moved to emulation.  Back in the summer of 2007 I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans; and when the most opportune occasion presented itself, I surreptitiously broke away from my traveling companions in favor of a solitary stroll through the city.

I happened on a treasure called Cochon (French for hog or pig).  After being seating and settling on a mint julep, I couldn’t help but start with a plate of the fried livers with pepper jelly and toast.  Several bites into the experience, my impression was that the dish was an ingenious riff on the time-honored liver and onions.  So—as my linguistics professor used to say—no tricks here, folks; this is a humble interpretation of an established classic from Cochon.

Like most variety meats, chicken livers are absurdly affordable, making the magical transition from offal to awfully refined all the more impressive.

And if you’re averse to variety meats, I urge you to try this particular variation.  Who knows, you just might be moved to emulation.  Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader—see you next week.

Fried chicken livers with pickled onions and pepper jelly

Serves 6

  • 10 ounces chicken livers, drained
  • As needed, whole milk (to soak livers)
  • 1 ½ cups Drake’s fry mix
  • ½ cup coarse cornmeal
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons jalapeno jelly (plus water to thin)
  • As needed, sliced and toasted sourdough baguette

Pickled onions

  • 1 white onion, cut in half and sliced very thin
  • 5 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 2 fluid ounces white balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of kosher salt, cracked black pepper
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (plus more for garnish)

1.  In a heavy-bottomed, high-sided stockpot (or home deep-fryer, if you have one), heat canola or peanut oil to 350°F.

2.  After draining livers, place in a bowl and cover with whole milk; place in refrigerator and soak livers for 1 to 2 hours (this will draw out impurities, sweeten the livers, and help create a batter before frying).  Meanwhile, pour balsamic vinegar in a medium-size bowl, and slowly whisk in olive oil to form an emulsion.  Add salt, pepper, and sugar, and heat mixture slightly (either over a double-boiler or in microwave).  Whisk again to maintain emulsion and pour over sliced onion; fold in parsley and set aside.

3.  Place pepper jelly in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Thin out slightly with a small amount of water (adjust consistency to your preference).  Set aside.

4.  Combine Drake’s with cornmeal in a shallow dish.  In batches, remove livers from milk and dredge in flour cornmeal mixture.  Deep fry livers until golden brown; drain on rack and season with additional kosher salt and pepper.  Serve fried livers on top of baguette toasts along with pickled onion, pepper jelly, and garnish with Italian parsley.

Carne asada tacos

Many thanks, Frankie

Originally appeared in the September 13, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

It was probably during my fifth or sixth month in my first job at a Mexican restaurant that a cook named Frankie beckoned me to the back of the kitchen.  This was near closing time, and I was at the helm of the expeditor’s station.  I didn’t know what Frankie—a big-shouldered guy with haphazard facial hair and a childlike chuckle—had up his sauce-spattered sleeve; but I was suspicious of the mischievous glint in my amigo’s eye.

“Frankie” was certainly not his real name, but it didn’t matter; like most of the cooks at this establishment (and countless others), “Frankie” was more than a fake-named cook, he was a friend.  On a platter rested three steak tacos, topped with a mix of cilantro, onion, and cradled in warm corn tortillas.  “This is what they should be serving,” said Frankie, vaguely gesturing at the belly of the kitchen.  He squeezed a bit of fresh lime on one of the tacos.  “These are real tacos Mexicanos.”

I gained a great respect for Mexican cuisine—and I’m not talking about the ersatz variety suited to the palates of us gringos.  In the months to come, the cooks (as part of their before- and after-hour rituals) shared with me traditional dishes like chilaquiles and menudo.  So don’t thank me for this recipe.  Thank “Frankie.”


Carne asada tacos

Yields six tacos

  • 2 pounds flank or skirt steak, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ½ red onion, minced
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Zest from 1 fresh lime
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 6 white or yellow corn tortillas
  • As needed, sliced fresh lime

1.  Dice steak into small, bite-sized cubes and place in non-reactive bowl.  Add in oil and lime juice, coating steak thoroughly; allow meat to marinate in refrigerator for at least four hours.

2.  Meanwhile, in a bowl combine onion, cilantro, and lime zest along with a small pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Place a wide-bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat; season steak with a small amount of salt and pepper before adding to hot pan.  Sear meat thoroughly on all sides before removing from heat and allowing to rest (for about 7-8 minutes).  Place a separate sauté pan over medium heat and lightly toast corn tortillas on both sides.  Fill the tortillas with seared steak, top with cilantro along with a generous amount of fresh lime juice.

Published in: on September 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beer-batter fried green tomatoes with sweet beet dipping sauce

Fair food for the fried-inclined

Originally appeared in the August 2, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

With tomorrow being opening day for the 2012 Indiana State Fair, I thought it apt to emulate the deep-fried traditions of the Main Street walkway.  Specifically, the venerable, fried green tomato.  Of course there are numerous types of batters for deep-frying—tempura, egg-white, cornmeal, and beer batters are the first to come to mind.  So what I’ve created for this week’s recipe is a sort of hybrid, intended to please as many palates (ideally uninjured after sampling your deep-fried products) as possible.

First, when deep-frying at home (and I’ll invoke my father’s indefatigable advice), you can never be too careful—unless you’re using a pint-sized electric deep fryer, place your fry-pot on the back burner of the stove; and second (to invoke the shrewd demands of my former chefs) it’s critical that you maintain quality control—prepare everything in an assembly line from beginning prep to plating.

And what’s that purple concoction in the background?  I’m, glad you asked.  No tricks here: sweet beet dipping sauce, which is mind-numbingly simple.  All you do is incorporate a desired amount of canned-beet juice to mayonnaise.  That’s it—a pretty conservative shortcut that pairs nicely with a deep-fried icon.

Beer-batter fried green tomatoes with sweet beet dipping sauce

Serve 3 – 4

  • 2 large green tomatoes
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 fluid ounces amber ale beer
  • 8 ounces all-purpose flour (plus more for dredging)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (plus extra for finishing)
  • 3 tablespoons coarse cornmeal
  • As needed, mayonnaise
  • As needed, beet juice

1.  In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, add enough canola oil to reach hallway up sides of pot.  Using a candy thermometer, slowly heat oil to 375° F., and maintain at that temperature.

2.  Slice tomatoes into ¼-inch discs.  In a bowl, combine egg and beer; whisk until smooth.  In a separate, larger bowl, combine flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and cornmeal; whisk to combine.  Whisk the beer-egg mixture into the dry ingredients until batter is smooth.

3.  Place a small amount of all-purpose flour on a plate, and dredge each piece of tomato by lightly coating it with flour before immediately dipping the tomatoes into the batter (the flour will help the batter stick to the tomato).  In small batches, carefully place the battered tomatoes into the fry oil.  Gently flip the tomatoes after a minute or two, and fry until golden brown (this will take several minutes).  When crispy and golden, remove tomatoes, reserve on a small rack, and sprinkle with additional kosher salt.  For dipping sauce, combine desired amount of beet juice with mayonnaise.  Serve fried green tomatoes immediately.


Buffalo turkey meatballs

A Buffalo wing makeover

Originally appeared in the June 21, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Wings are a wildly popular appetizer and snack, and meatballs are a classic comfort food.  What I’ve done for this dish is take all the savory fingerprints (no pun intended) of your average Buffalo wing, and combined them with the unpretentious approach of an easy-to-recognize meatball.  And to give a nod to the trusty “wing,” I’ve substituted lean, ground turkey in place of chicken.

To retain a velvety internal texture, it’s important to 1) not overmix, and 2) employ some finesse when it comes to cooking; the former is simple to accomplish (read, just resist mixing the heck out of it), but the latter requires a little more attention.  For this application, I advise a shallow poach for the initial phase of meatball cookery.  You want the hot stock to set-up the meatballs, but not cook them through (that will come later).  This also gives you a certain level of control when it comes to refining the flavors and adjusting the consistency of your sauce.

And what would wings be without blue cheese?  Well, the cheese is integrated into the actual meatball base.  And don’t forget to garnish with that cool, crisp accompaniment of celery.  Think of this as a make-over of classic Buffalo wings—no wet-wipes required.


Buffalo turkey meatballs

Serves 3 – 4

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup (or more) whole milk (plus more for final sauce)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Buffalo wing sauce (plus more for final sauce)
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 ½ cups of chicken stock (can adjust with extra water)

1.  In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs and milk.  Allow breadcrumbs to absorb milk until it forms a crumbly paste (may need to add more milk if too dry).  In a separate large bowl, combine turkey, eggs, wing sauce, blue cheese, basil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Once breadcrumbs have absorbed milk, add to meatball base.  Mix contents with hands or a spatula until all ingredients are well incorporated (don’t overmix).  Cover and refrigerate mixture for 2 hours.

2.  In a wide, high-sided sauté pan, heat stock to just below a simmer (you may need to add a bit more stock or water to make sure liquid comes up about ¼ on the sides of pan).  Using a spoon or portion control scoop, form balls from meatball mixture and gently settle into poaching liquid.  You may need to do this in batches, adjusting liquid along the way.  Rotate meatballs from top to bottom until exterior is par-cooked.  Remove meatballs in batches, reserving on a plate.

3.  Add desired amount of wing sauce to stock, along with a small amount of milk (liquid may seem thin but will thicken up after meatballs have finished cooking.  Return meatballs to pan, increase heat slightly, and cover.  Cook for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160° F.  Serve meatballs with poaching sauce, blue cheese crumbles and celery.