Recipes and Stories

30 October 2017: Chicken Pot Pies

October 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Classic American Cooking, Chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Pastry, Autumn Cooking

My Chicken Pot Pie, with carrots, celery, onions, and peas and a basic pastry topping
One of the most welcome of all supper dishes on a crisp autumn evening is old-fashioned chicken pot pie. For warming comfort it may have its equals, but it has no superior.

Like so many homey dishes of its kind, there are probably as many versions as there are cooks, ranging from the elegantly simple triad of chicken, gravy and pastry to those loaded with vegetables, herbs, and spices. Some are even embellished with hard-cooked eggs and ham.

Some are made only with a whole chicken that was cooked specifically for the pie, while others are only made when there are leftovers that need using up. (more…)

6 July 2017: For National Fried Chicken Day—Granny Fowler’s Sunday Fried Chicken

July 6, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Granny Fowler, Chicken, Fried Chicken, National Fried Chicken Day

Granny's Fried Chicken was never this elegantly served, and this isn't perfect, but it's as close as I could get. Photograph by John Carrington Photography
Whenever I think of my Dad’s mother, known to us all as Granny Fowler, I inevitably start to crave fried chicken. My mother and maternal grandmother also made fried chicken that was very fine in its own way, but the one that we all (even Mama and MaMa) agreed was the best was Granny’s. (more…)

30 June 2017: More Summer Salads

June 30, 2017

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Chicken Salad, Chicken, Grapes, Almonds, St. Andrews Academy Cookbook, First Come, First Served . . . In Savannah, Jeannie Knight

Chicken Salad with Green Grapes and Almonds (because the pecans were in the freezer and the almonds were already toasted and ready to use)
About two-thirds of a left over roasted chicken, half a bag of green grapes languishing in the vegetable bin, and a new bundle of scallions. Add in a steaming afternoon in which cooking is out of the question. For most people, the logical sum of all that would’ve been chicken salad with grapes, a modern standard that has been enjoyed all over our country for more than thirty years.

Most people, that is, except for me. (more…)

27 February 2017: Fancy Food and Chicken à la King

February 27, 2017

Tags: Classic American Cooking, Chicken à la King, Chicken

Classic Chicken à la King served over buttered toast
During the post-war 1940s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, when homemaking was still the most common profession for women, a popular form of entertainment was the ladies’ luncheon, either as an end in itself or as a part of a bridge party, garden club, or church circle meeting. The food for these occasions was dainty and fancy: tomato aspic, consommé, creamed chicken and seafood, casseroles, chicken, ham, and fish salads, and congealed and composed salads. How it looked was probably more important than how it tasted, but flavor was still not to be taken for granted.

The king, if you’ll pardon the expression, of all this dainty fare was Chicken à la King. Basically creamed chicken with an attitude, it dates back, as so many things of its kind do, to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, with at least four claims on the credit for its creation. (more…)

6 October 2014: Remembering Daisy Redman and Chicken Madeira

October 6, 2014

Tags: Classic Southern Cooking, Savannah Cooking, Daisy Redman, Chicken, Madeira, Autumnal Cooking

Daisy Redman's famous Chicken Madeira, photographed by John Carrington in the dining room of Savannah's historic Battersby-Hartridge House, where Mrs. Redman's cooking frequently graced the table.
At the end of the 1970s, DuBose Publishing Company of Atlanta released a slim little volume called Four Great Southern Cooks. Despite its unassuming appearance, this book was destined to become one of the great treasures of traditional Southern cooks and food historians. Tattered copies that survive are fiercely guarded as family heirlooms, especially here in Savannah. (more…)

20 June 2014 For the First Day of Summer—Buttermilk Fried Chicken

June 20, 2014

Tags: Southern Fried Chicken, Essentials of Southern Cooking, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Cream Gravy, How to Cut Up a Chicken for Frying, Classic Southern Cooking, Chicken, Fried Chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, photograph by John Carrington Photography
Since tomorrow (21 June) is the first day of summer, it seems like a good idea to visit one of the great icons of the Southern table—fried chicken. Surely no one would argue with that. But it has become so commonplace and universal that most of us, Southerners included, have completely forgotten that it was once a seasonal delicacy, something that could only be had in the spring and summer, the only time of year when very young, tender chickens could be found in the barnyard. (more…)

19 October 2011: Tasting Authentic History

October 17, 2011

Tags: Classical Southern Cooking, Classic Southern Cooking, Chicken Kentuckian, Bourbon, Mushrooms, Authenticity in Historical Cookery, Chicken

Chicken Kentuckian on the sideboard of a late eighteenth century dining room. The silver belonged to Fr. Ralston. Photography by John Carrington
At the Association of Food Journalists’ conference in Charleston earlier this month, four of us participated in a panel about Gullah cooking, the cuisine of Lowcountry residents of mostly West African descent. The core of the panel was a pair of women who were Gullah, author and cultural anthropologist Vertamae Grosvenor and Chef Charlotte Jenkins; Jeff Allen and I rode shotgun as outsider journalist and historian on either side.

The main task was to define Gullah cooking and address whether or not its present incarnation was authentic.

During the question and answer period, a man lamented that Gullah culture had been entirely obliterated by twentieth century development of the barrier islands of Carolina and Georgia.

This even though two Gullah women were sitting right in front of him.

His remark, however, did bring the real issue into focus: it forced the acknowledgment that the discussion had been less about definitions and context than authenticity within the framework of history. Had the Gullah community ceased to exist because its people had changed and adapted to cultural encroachment, and was their cooking, both in the Lowcountry and in the diaspora, still “authentic” in the face of these cultural adaptations?

If you think on that for half a minute, you’ll answer yes, of course it is—as authentic as it was three hundred years ago when the West African slaves who founded this culture first adapted their rice based cuisines to incorporate new ingredients such as cornmeal, beans, and salt pork. To argue otherwise would be like arguing that Italian food has not been authentic since the sixteenth century, when chocolate, coffee, corn, beans, tomatoes, and zucchini were introduced from the New World.

The only constant in life is change. When confronted with that constant, civilizations have three choices: move, adapt, or die. A cuisine that adapts to the forces of change is simply following a natural continuum that began the day the first men and women learned that holding food over a fire did good things to it.

The history of cooking is not a series of contained plateaus ascending like stairs but a free-flowing river that picks things up along the way, has things thrown into it, and in turn tosses things onto its banks and leaves them behind.

The logical illustration of this would be something from a Gullah kitchen; but as Jeff obligingly pointed out to our audience (and as you will readily notice from my picture), Gullah cookery is not part of my heritage.

A dish that is a part of it, that has been on my mind ever since the season turned, is Chicken Kentuckian, a handsome sauté of young chickens basted with bourbon and finished with mushrooms and cream.

It came to me from my former minister, the late Rev. William H. Ralston. Its lineage in his Kentucky family goes back at least to his grandmother, who made it with the family’s young yard chickens, rough homemade whiskey, and mushrooms that had been gathered in nearby horse pastures.

Fr. Ralston used a chicken from the market, refined distillery-brewed whiskey, and white button mushrooms. Though I routinely use the same whiskey that he did, my original rendition added dried porcini mushrooms to lend the earthy depth of the wild mushrooms his grandmother used. In more than twenty years of making it, subtleties that I’m not even conscious of have crept into the pan, making it uniquely my own.

Which version is the most “authentic?” All of them are. No, Fr. Ralston’s probably was not quite like his mother’s and certainly not his grandmother’s, and mine is no longer quite like his, just as your interpretation will eventually become uniquely your own.

Will what you taste be what Fr. Ralston’s grandmother did a hundred years ago, or what he did a mere two decades ago, or even what I do today? No. But will you still be experiencing an authentic taste of history? You bet.

Chicken Kentuckian
Serves 6

2 young frying chickens, no more than 2½-3-pounds each, disjointed as for frying
Salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
8-10 large, wild mushrooms, sliced thick, or ½ pound crimini or portabella mushrooms
½ ounce dried boletus edulis mushrooms (porcini or cèpes), optional
¼ cup unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped scallion
½ cup well-aged bourbon
1 cup heavy cream (minimum 36 percent milkfat)

1. Wash the chickens, pat dry, and spread them on a platter. Lightly dust with salt and flour. Wipe the fresh mushrooms with a dry cloth and slice them thickly. If using dried mushrooms, put them in a heatproof bowl, pour 1 cup of boiling water over them, and soak until cooled.

2. In a large, heavy skillet that will hold all the chicken without crowding, heat the butter and olive oil over low heat. Add the chicken and chopped scallions and sauté, turning frequently, until it is golden and tender, about half an hour. While it cooks, baste every few minutes with spoonfuls of the bourbon, being careful to add it in small amounts so there is never any liquid accumulated in the pan: it should sauté, not steam. When the chicken is cooked through and golden and all the bourbon has been used, remove it to a warm platter.

3. Turn up the heat to medium high. If using the dried mushrooms, lift them out of their soaking liquid, dipping to loosen any sand that is clinging to them, and put them in the pan. Filter the soaking water through a paper towel or coffee filter and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and boil until all the liquid is evaporated. Add the fresh mushrooms and sauté, tossing constantly, until beginning to color, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the cream and scrape loose any residue that may be stuck to the skillet. Simmer until just heated through and starting to thicken, about 1-2 minutes, depending on the richness of the cream. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, pour it over the chicken, and serve at once.