Ok, so here’s another cookbook that has a place on my shelf permanently that I want to showcase. It’s pretty much my favorite cookbook ever.
However, I’ll be honest: I’m featuring it this week because I have two packs of chicken thighs in the refrigerator and I want to make fried chicken, and Lee’s book has the omega of fried chicken as far as I’m concerned. E.g., I have tried a lot of fried chicken recipes and this one wins.
His fried chicken recipe (which is coupled in the book with waffles) is pretty emblematic of what is good about this book: it is an exceptionally original approach to a fusion between some pan-Asian ingredients and flavors and U.S. Southern food. (His restaurant is in Louisville, Kentucky.)
So the fried chicken is first very gently poached on very low heat in a half-vinegar, half-water filled pot with some whole garlic cloves and whole spices in the liquid—close to what you’d do if you were making a Filipino-style chicken adobo. Then you let it cool a bit in the poaching liquid (infusing the flavors). Afterwards, you put it in buttermilk, dredge it in flour and spices, and then it’s into the fryer. It really is the most flavorful fried chicken I’ve had or made and it’s quite simple to do as long as you’re comfortable with deep frying. (And that you remember not to overcook it in the vinegar-water mix to start.)
The book is just loaded with really cool and often quite approachably simple fusions like that, but also some very challenging dishes that are really unique. More importantly, Lee has the most distinctive vision of almost any cookbook author in my collection. This is a book where I read the stories. (I’m planning to read his memoir Buttermilk Graffiti soon.)
It’s not structured in the usual “here’s some starters, here’s some salads, here’s some main dishes, here’s some vegetable sides” way at all. For one, it’s really really meat-centered. It starts with a bunch of lamb recipes because he likes lamb. Some of the recipes are smart approaches to standard dishes—braised lamb shanks only with a coconut milk-garam masala “cashew gravy” in the braise, or bbq with pulled lamb rather than pulled pork. The challenging recipes include curing an entire leg of lamb to make lamb “prosciutto”. The next chapter is beef, the next fowl, etc.—but then there’s a big chapter on pickles that is so amazing that I go back to again and again. There’s some bourbon cocktails and bar food near the back.
There’s still a ton of things in here I want make at least once—tobacco cookies (you use a bit of water that’s had a cigar soaking in it), kimchi poutine, on and on. But for today it’s going to be the fried chicken and I think some bourbon-glazed carrots. I’m toying with the curried griddle cakes too but it’s a bit too much.