Today’s Recipes: Sunday Fried Chicken, Chuckwagon Beans, Honey-Glazed Cornbread, and Sausage and Grits Breakfast Casserole.
I grew up the youngest of four children and the only girl. With my father and brothers dominating the television choices, I didn’t even know what a “chick flick” was until I was a teenager. I never played with dolls or craved pretty party dresses. I always wanted to be “one of the boys,” and to this day tend toward a less feminine style of decorating in my house. My father always loved Western movies and we shared many evenings enjoying John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford, Jimmy Stewart and other film cowboys in what my father called “shoot ‘em ups.” I can still spend hours watching those movies.
Did you know that “True Grit” began as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post? The next year it was adapted for the screen and a classic movie was born. In an homage to the old Westerns as well as this year’s “True Grit,” I thought campfire foods would be fun. So today you’re getting Chuckwagon Beans and Honey-Glazed Cornbread. If you use an old Dutch oven over a campfire, just like the characters in the movie, you can pretend that there is a huge herd of cattle just beyond the circle of light and Jeff Bridges will be coming along for a cup of coffee any minute!
Another nominated film, set in the Ozarks, is “Winter’s Bone.” A harsh look at the life of a young girl, often without enough food to feed the family. I thought about what I would serve them and my family’s Sunday Fried Chicken would be perfect. Another southern favorite, grits, filling, warm, and comforting, are given a new twist by combining them with sausage and sauteed vegetables. No one will leave the table hungry with either of these meals.
There are some people who think they wouldn’t like grits, but love a bowl of polenta. In reality, they are basically the same thing. Grits, polenta, and cornmeal are all forms of ground corn. The main difference is the degree of fineness of the grinding and whether the husk has been removed prior to grinding. Depending on whom you ask, some people insist that true southern grits are made from hominy, large corn kernels that have had the husk removed in a lye solution and then dried. There is a definite flavor and texture difference between hominy grits and polenta, but if you like one, you will no doubt like the other.
I know that when most people think of fried chicken, they immediately assume that it will be soaked in buttermilk. That may have been needed in the old days when people ate older, tougher birds, but with today’s poultry it isn’t needed. In fact, I think the acid tends to make the meat a little mushy. The best fried chicken I’ve ever had – and I order it whenever it is available – is simply dredged in a seasoned flour and fried in hot oil. That was the way my grandmother made her chicken and I have the cast iron skillet she always used. Whenever I find a really great fried chicken, I always ask how it is cooked. And as with many things in life, nearly every time it is the simplest preparation that tastes the best.
Traditionally our chicken is served with mashed potatoes, pan gravy, a green vegetable and fruit salad. When my parents were young the entire family gathered at their home after church on Sunday and had supper together. Now, when I prepare this simple meal, it brings back fond memories of my family gathered around the table enjoying the food and companionship.
When you are hungry, throw some beans on the stove and rustle up some fried chicken. Bake a pan of cornbread and you’ll have a feast fit for any Southerner or cowboy!!
Sunday Fried Chicken with Pan Gravy
Jane Evans Bonacci © 1973
Yield: about 4 servings
4 to 5 lb fryer chicken, cut up
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp onion powder, optional
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp mixed dried herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage, or oregano, optional
Canola oil or vegetable shortening, for frying
In a heavy pan with straight sides, preferably cast iron, heat enough vegetable shortening to come up about 1/3 up sides of pan. Alternately you can use a deep fryer. Oil should be heated to about 400°F. In a brown paper bag or plastic zip-top bag, combine flour, onion powder, salt, pepper and herbs if using.
Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Working with one piece at a time, drop chicken pieces into seasoned flour. Seal the bag and shake to coat. Set onto a plate. When all pieces have been coated, place a piece of chicken in a large slotted spoon and lower carefully into hot oil. Using a spoon will lessen the chance of splashing and burns.
Using two pans or working in batches if necessary, because chicken pieces should not touch, cook until chicken pieces are browned on all sides. Cover pan and reduce to medium heat; cook for approximately 20 minutes. Remove cover and turn up heat to crisp.
Remove chicken from pan and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a low oven while making gravy from pan drippings.
For Pan Gravy: Remove pan from the heat and stir enough flour into the pan drippings to make a fairly solid paste. Stirring constantly, add enough milk to thin paste to a slightly thickened milk consistency.
Return pan to the heat, and again stirring constantly bring the mixture to a boil. Once at a boil, you have reached the maximum thickening. Add additional flour mixed with water to thicken or more milk to thin. Serve alongside fried chicken.
Jane Evans Bonacci © 1979
Yield: 6 servings
1 tbsp canola oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1-1/2 lb ground beef, pork, turkey, or a combination
1 (16 oz) can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15 or 16 oz) cans Ranch-Style or baked beans
1 (14 oz) can low sodium beef bouillon
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, catsup, or chile sauce
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large, heavy, oven safe pot such as a Dutch oven, heat the oil until shimmering. Cook onions, celery, and peppers until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add ground meat(s) and cook until browned and vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain off excess fat and discard.
Stir in remaining ingredients, taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed. Cover and bake about an hour, until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.
Honey-Glazed Spago Cornbread
Yield: about 6 to 8 servings (makes one 9-by-13-inch pan)
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 oz (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 oz (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-by13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray foil with pan spray.
Sift together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt two times. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Whisk melted butter into eggs in a slow stream. Whisk in oil, milk, and buttermilk. Whisk in dry ingredients just until combined.
Scrape batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Spin pan from front to back and continue to bake for 10 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
To make the glaze: While cornbread is baking, melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add honey and water, and whisk until blended.
When cornbread is done, remove from oven and poke holes all over the bread, about 1/2 inch apart, with a toothpick. Brush with the glaze and cool.
Sausage and Grits Breakfast Casserole
Jane Evans Bonacci © 1992
Yield: about 6 servings
3 cups cooked grits
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely minced
2 green onions, minced, divided
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 lb bulk sausage
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cup half and half
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan; set aside.
In a saucepan, cook grits according to package directions. About halfway through the cooking time stir in the jalapeno and half the onions. When grits are done, add cheese and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Spread evenly in prepared pan.
In a large skillet, cook sausage until browned. Break up any large clumps. Sprinkle sausage with the flour and stir until smooth. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the half and half and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until thickened.
Pour sausage mixture over the grits, covering them completely. Sprinkle the top with cheese. You can make this ahead to his point. Cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours.
Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted. Increase baking time to 45 to 60 minutes if casserole is cold when you put it in the oven. Sprinkle the top with the remaining green onions, cut into squares and serve immediately.
Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material without prior approval is prohibited. I can be contacted via email at: heritagecook (at) comcast (dot) net. Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my website, www.theheritagecook.com.