Welcome to the 2013 Cooking Club! Given it's January and everyone is back on the proverbial wagon, I did toy with the idea of doing a healthy recipe this week. And then I thought "Screw it, January is miserable enough", and went with pure comfort food - so, ladies and gents, I give you Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Spiced Up Mac & Cheese
I pretty much always serve these two dishes together, but the chicken would also be great with green beans & mash, or sweet potato fries. Likewise, the mac & cheese is more than hearty enough to stand alone as a main.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken - serves 4
4 large or 6 small chicken fillets
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
1 small onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, halved lengthways
1 red chilli, roughly chopped
Tbs fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika
Salt & pepper.
1. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, celery, onion, garlic, chili, a teaspoon each of the paprika & cayenne and plenty of salt & pepper. Add the chicken, give it a good stir, then cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for as long as you have - overnight is best, but certainly no less than four hours. Give it another stir every so often.
(The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that I've used a habanero rather than a red chilli in the pic - this is actually a great way to use up the random scotch bonnets and habaneros you always end up with at the end of those multi-packs of chillies. Just leave it whole and score it rather than chopping it if you are using one of these, as they're really hot.)
2. In a large, shallow dish, mix the flour with the rest of the paprika & cayenne and more salt & pepper. Remove the chicken from the milk with a tongs, shake off any excess liquid and dredge through the seasoned flour until completely covered - give it a good shove with the tongs to make sure you get into all the nooks & crannies. Don't worry if there's any thyme leaves or big lumps of pepper stuck to the chicken, it all adds to the flavour.
3. Heat a couple of inches of sunflower oil (don't use olive, it's too strong and with too low a smoke-point) in a large, deep pan until piping hot. Fry the chicken two or three pieces at a time, allowing about 6 minutes per side. Handle very carefully when removing from the pan so that you don't knock off all your lovely, crispy coating. Leave to rest on a warmed platter lined with kitchen towels while you're cooking the other pieces.
Spiced Up Mac & Cheese - serves 4
250g grated strong cheese such as a really mature Cheddar, Leicester or Gloucester
3 tbs Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chilli powder
0.5 tsp garlic granules
Salt & pepper
1. Cook the pasta until just slightly underdone & drain. Stick the same pot back on the heat, allow to dry, then make a roux by melting the butter, then adding the flour and cooking for a good 5 minutes, stirring all the time. (I usually just nick 30g of the seasoned flour that I'm going to use for the chicken.)
2. In a jug or bowl, mix the milk, cayenne, chili powder, hot sauce, garlic granules and salt & pepper. Whisk into the roux a little at a time, then bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
3. Stir the pasta back into the sauce (add a little of the cooking water if your sauce is too thick), pour into a shallow dish & bake in an oven preheated to 200C until golden & bubbling - about 30 minutes.
Serve with the chicken and a spinach & coriander salad.
I hope this is a worthy kick-off to the 2013 Cooking Club - all feedback is welcome - good, bad or indifferent!