Monday, June 19, 2006

Lit a burner on the stove and offered me a plate

Our Lodge cast iron 10 inch fryer got quite a workout recently. We bought that fryer for one particular purpose: to perfect my secret Maryland panfried chicken. I love to fry chicken in part because it's the only dish I can say I cook by hearing. In a covered pot, it's the tone and frequency of the bubbles that tells me if the oil is hot enough or if it's time to flip the meat. It's just the right amount of concentration: you don't watch it like a hawk, but you can't just walk away either.

It's also a dish that, as near as I can tell, every carnivore likes and many of them associate with special occasions. This particular chicken was to say farewell to our friend Fred, who's moving on to tenure-track pastures, and to celebrate bottling a batch of homebrew with him. We brewed that batch with Mike, another one-year, who'll swing back through town in about a week to pick up his six, and maybe some fried chicken.

The next night was Crawfish Feast, hosted by our friends Bruce and Kimmarie, where two bushels of crawdads met their timely and tasty demise.
Shucking shellfish is primal, and in a different way, so is eating them together. It's renewing to be part of a group of people dipping their hands into the same pot.

Our contribution was Alton Brown's Pineapple Upside Down Cake from I'm Just Here for More Food. I got a lot of credit for that cake, and I did do the bulk of the work. The most important contribution, however, was from Executive Chef Alison who looked in the pan and wisely said "that's not caramel; that'll never be caramel; it's a lost cause early in the recipe; throw it out and start over." (In case you're wondering, it appears important that you not let the butter completely foam out, because the brown sugar won't melt if there's not at least a little water left.) There may be nothing more valuable than a friend who'll stand by you when it's time to cut your losses.

And then the last success was that Bruce and Kimmarie told us to try out a recipe called "Get Breakfast" from Alton's first book. The best description of this recipe I can come up with is that it's a broiled deep-dish potato pancake. I can't say exactly why we hadn't made it... but it's fantastic. And if your cast iron is seasoned enough, this dish of cheese, eggs, and frozen hash browns slips right out beautifully.

I kind of doubt Alton's story that he developed this as a college student, because it's more work than I would've done for breakfast as a hungover 20-year-old. (Admittedly, toast is more work than I usually did for breakfast at that age.) On the other hand, it reheats great and serves four. An enterprising person might make it before a night out, and microwave the leftovers whenever they crawl out of bed.

In the introduction to Cooking from the Heart, Michael J. Rosen writes that "a recipe is a memory made indelible." It appears the alternate is true as well: someone else's recipe can help preserve your own memories.


Anonymous swankette said...

If you haven't tried cornbread in the cast iron yet you really must. One of the things that makes me very sad my Sweetie has food allergies.

1:19 AM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

It might be interesting to keep a diary of the different meals one cooks in one's favorite cast iron skillet. This post may act is a start for that sort of thing?

We had a culinary group set up for the past two years or so: three couples get together every so often and cook new dishes for each other. I'm sad that one of the couples is moving away, but we hope to keep the cooking spirit going. I swear there's something mentally healthy about being intentional with cooking and sharing it with good friends. Enjoy!

11:21 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

Does Alton give a time of day or circumstances? Reid used to prepare absolutely fantastic Japanese food at silly hours of the night - think it was a stress release.

3:04 PM, June 26, 2006  

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