Everyone likes the taste of fried chicken but maybe not the extra fat. I wanted to get the crispy skin of fried chicken without the frying. It took me a few years to figure out that roasting the chicken pieces in a cast-iron pan gives you a similar result. It’s a simple technique that can easily become standard in your repertoire. Just make sure the surface of the chicken is really dry so that the skin crisps up when it hits the pan. You pan-roast the chicken pieces almost exclusively on the skin side, then transfer the pan to the oven to cook the meat all the way through. To switch things up, I pair the chicken with Middle Eastern flavors. Farro is a form of wheat berry brought to the Southern United States from Europe; it’s prepared much like bulgur wheat is prepared in Lebanese cuisine. I give it a crunchy texture similar to fried rice by toasting the farro grains in the rendered chicken fat. They puff up and take on a glossy sheen, sort of like Honey Smacks cereal. Then I mix in some lemon juice and Brussels sprout leaves for a crisp, bright flavor. A traditional Lebanese tahini sauce rounds out the flavors with some bitterness. When these flavors stand alone, the chicken might taste too salty, the farro too sour, or the tahini too bitter. But when tasted together, they strike a balance. It’s a very satisfying take on a traditional Southern favorite.
I get a lot of hunters asking me how to cook deer meat. Most hunters have the entire animal ground into hamburger because they don’t know what else to do with the meat. Here’s a recipe for all that ground venison you have in cold storage. The venison stands in for lamb in a classic Middle Eastern preparation. You season the ground meat and pack it into a cylinder on a long metal skewer, then grill it. Remember that venison is extremely lean, so you only want to cook these to medium. Otherwise they will get very dry. Gamey meats love the sweet stuff, and the tomato jam pairs perfectly with all the herbs and spices in the venison. It’s like a different look at hamburgers with ketchup—a venison burger on a stick with tomato jam.
Here’s what to make for your next Sunday brunch. It’s mostly bread, milk, and eggs baked into savory Italian bread pudding. A rustic sourdough loaf works best. It soaks overnight in the milk and eggs, so the bread needs to be sturdy. As with an omelet, you can fill a strata with whatever you like, but if you’re not a born-and-bred Southerner, here’s the perfect place to get more comfortable with dry-cured country ham. Onions, peppers, and Parmesan complement the ham. I like some chopped collards in there too. The strata comes out almost like a cake that you can cut into slices. A little salad on the side makes the perfect go-with.
Here’s another one for the backyard barbecue. It’s like Spanish surf and turf with shrimp and pork. The idea came from a Brazilian steakhouse in Atlanta, Fogo de Chao. They roast whole pork loins and carve them for you tableside. It’s good, but I always thought it would be better with some surf to go with the turf. Classic Spanish garlic shrimp is just the thing. The dish is pretty lean overall, but there’s nothing lacking in the flavor department. Garlic, olive oil, sherry, sherry vinegar, and smoked paprika pack tons of flavor into the grilled tenderloin and shrimp. It’s pretty quick too. Once everything’s marinated, it cooks in less than 15 minutes.
I was never much of a beer or wine drinker. I prefer cocktails. And while I admire the skill set required to make the amazing cocktails that are cropping up around the world, I unfortunately do not possess that skill set. I use whatever ingredients I have lying around to make drinks. I employ simple techniques. The inspiration for this cooler is agua fresca, the fresh fruit juice drink found on Mexican menus. It has spectacular flavor. I’ve always loved the taste of watermelon, especially with some added acidity to spark it up. Grapefruit juice and lemon juice are just the thing here. For the liquor, I prefer white whiskey. People always ask me, “Are you a brown liquor man or a white liquor man?” I’m usually a brown liquor man, but here I like the whiskey white so that it doesn’t darken the drink. If you can’t find unaged white whiskey, use white rum or silver tequila.