Today’s disclosure: (Nature PLUS Nurture)
I am genetically predisposed to crap cooking. In the City of Perpetual Grub (New Orleans) I managed to be exposed, almost exclusively, to overcooked meat, cheap TV dinners, rotting produce, rancid school lunches and hundreds of cumulative boxes of Hamburger Helper. I barely escaped childhood through the grace of God by overeating the sides and desserts that came my way.
So you can see why someone like me appreciates good food. I understand intimately how bad food can be, and how disheartening it is to be surrounded by it. On the other hand, my husband was raised, several thousand miles away, with either incredible cooking and scratch baking, or an empty fridge, depending on who he lived with at the time. So he equally appreciates the good side of the food spectrum.
When I met my husband in 2005, I was spending a large percentage of my disposable income avoiding domesticity. Sometimes I paid my sister to clean my house. A lot of times I bought new clothes in lieu of doing the laundry. But all the time, I ate out. The one time I called myself making dinner for my man, we got in a stupid fight at Whole Foods and he wound up making it himself, at his own insistence. Like, when I said I was going to make him dinner, something in his soul knew he would break up with his soulmate if he actually let me. Our love story was just beginning. And we lived to eat and love another day. (Although the way my husband’s mouth is set up, he got to do most of the cooking for 9 years.)
A Love Divine: The “Half-Wich”
Fast forward a few weeks past our first (of many) food fights, to the first morning I woke up at his place. He made me a “half-wich”. How was I supposed to get full on half a sandwich, I wondered. I had decided to grab a follow-up bagel at Einstein’s after he left for work, and 15 minutes later when he finally brought me the half-which, I had become hungry enough to plan on a couple of additional sides too.
But God had other plans for me. This man brought me a 3 inch tall sandwich with half a package of roast beef, red pepper, onion, lettuce, tomato, Italian dressing and salt and pepper. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hated roast beef. I thanked him for the beautiful sandwich and opened up wide for a bite.
Bruh. I can’t describe the gymnastics my taste buds did when I took my first bite, but I’ll tell you this: by the second bite of the sandwich I had called my best friend to have the most dazed, whispered conversation on record while he finished making his half of the “wich”.
“Girl, tell me why this m#%#%#%$#% just made me the best sandwich I’ve had in my entire life?”
She was like “Wait. You’re still dating him? I thought you hated him.”
And I was like “Oh, that fight? Yeah girl, I’m over that. I think I love him. But seriously, this dude…”
Our love triangle with food was lopsided, with my end held up by discounted food from the restaurants I worked at over the years (except when I worked at Olive Garden. No siree, not there). But now I am a mother, and in exchange for room and board, I am now in charge of Feeding My Family Actual Food. At least I had watched a ton of episodes of Chopped over the years. But my poor husband. I had prepared my staple meal of roast chicken, and once again I had desecrated the poor beast. He took a bite and put down his fork . ” I can’t eat overcooked chicken for the rest of my life!” The despair in his voice? Heart-wrenching.
After laughing my ass off, I realized that he had a point. I was becoming my mother. I couldn’t continue to torture this good man with food that smelled way better than it tasted. Not for life. I’m not a monster.
So I applied myself. And by “applied myself”, I mean I consulted Google. Heavily. I Googled every cut of meat I was going to cook that night and used every tip I could find. We were instantly rewarded with amazing sides and moist-as-sin meat. Yay, after years of waiting tables, I could follow directions!
After a few months of faithfully utilizing my Googler, I was able to freestyle, culminating in this week’s triumphs. I made chicken thighs that we actually looked forward to eating, not once, but twice! I can die a happy woman.
We’ve generally avoided chicken thighs because they are fatty and ain’t nobody got time for trimming 12 chicken limbs. But the way our budget is set up…
We’re not recipe people unless we’re baking. We generally season things well, but sometimes struggle with the heat application when cooking. So I’m going to summarize the seasoning aspect in hopes that you, Dear Readers, know how to season your meat.
Triumph 1: Crocked Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Preheat your crock pot on HIGH while you prepare the brine.
- Prepare and add brine: Add salt, pepper, seasoning blend (we use Chachere’s), honey or brown sugar and herbs to 2 cups of water. You may want to try the brine, as long as you haven’t added the raw chicken yet.
- Add the chicken with tongs, careful to submerge each thigh while not splashing the brine. (If you add chicken, then brine, your chicken will stick together and cook poorly as one chicken-appendage mass. You don’t want those kind of undercooked problems. You’ve been warned.)
- Cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours, then turn to LOW.
- Cook on LOW until the brine is completely evaporated/absorbed by the chicken, about 4-5 hours. (Most of the chicken fat will render out by then so it won’t be gross.)
- Serve right away, or transfer immediately to a glass pan to cool, covered, in the fridge. (The chicken will dry out if you let the steam/heat escape before covering and cooling it.)
This is what a Black lady’s house smells like, according to my Caucasian husband.
I am a Black lady.
(It took 11 years of marriage to make my house smell like it, apparently.)
Triumph 2: Buttermilk Baked “Fried” Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Soak the (untrimmed is ok) chicken in 2 cups of seasoned buttermilk. I make a faux-buttermilk by putting 2 Tbl of vinegar in a measuring cup, then adding enough milk to equal 2 cups. Add seasoning blend and a little salt. Let the chicken soak while preparing the next step, or overnight in the fridge.
- Egg wash: 1 egg, 1/3 cup of oil and 1/4 cup of honey in a large bowl. Gently toss the chicken in this egg wash, and let it soak while preparing the flour mixture.
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Flour mixture: 1 cup each of flour and cornstarch, seasoned with a bit of salt, pepper, garlic salt and a dash each of sugar and ground ginger.
- Cover each chicken thigh in flour, then transfer to a greased baking dish or cookie sheet, with plenty of room around each thigh so that the crust crisps nicely. (It will take at least 2 pans to do this right.
- Bake for 20 min, flip each thigh, then bake another 25 minutes.
Bonus Triumph: Smashed Sweet Potatoes
- Wash, peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1×2″ pieces. Add to boiling, salted water.
- Test the sweet potatoes for doneness with a fork, about 10-15 minutes.
- Once soft, drain the sweet potatoes and return to the hot pan, onto the already-hot burner.
- Turn heat to low, and add butter and/or milk (About 2 Tbl of butter and/or 1/2 cup of milk per potato).
- Season with a bit of black or cayenne pepper, Italian seasoning and an optional squirt of honey.
- (Upgrade for holidays/ good behavior: Add roasted garlic or carmelized onions.)
- Smash the sweet potatoes with the edge of a wooden spoon or spatula. Add more milk for smoother potatoes, less if you want more texture.
Now if I can only figure out how to use Panko crumbs…