In Taos, the tradition is to ask, when serving chile: red, green or Christmas? Now that summer is here, it's an outstanding time to enjoy one of everyone's favorite dishes: fried chicken. And I've concocted a version that personifies "Christmas" in July.
My fried chicken is based on my mother-in-law's excellent and classic recipe. But I've tweaked it a bit to give it a Taos twist.
In this interpretation, the dredging flour contains salt, pepper, onion powder and mild red chile powder. You place the chicken in a ziplock bag with the flour and the seasonings and shake until all the pieces are covered in flour. Heat up the oil in the pan, shield yourself with the lid or a splatter guard and add the pieces one by one.
And even though it may seem counterintuitive, my mother-in-law taught me that you want to crowd the pieces in the pan. Place the cover on the skillet, leaving a small space for steam to escape, and ignore it for about 10 minutes. At that point, you'll turn the chicken until every side of each piece is golden brown.
Drain the pieces on paper towels layered on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven. While the chicken is keeping warm, I make a green chile gravy using the pan drippings, chicken broth and some of the dredging flour for a complex and zesty flavor. Spoon some gravy on a dinner plate and set one or two pieces in the center, and, Voila! You have "Taos Christmas" Fried Chicken.
Add a good green salad, such as butter lettuce and blueberries, maybe a dollop of mashed potatoes or a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, and you've got a memorable meal, worthy of your effort and sure to cause your dinner-mates to swoon.
The beauty of fried chicken is that it can be made ahead. You can keep it in a warm oven for an hour or so, or if you make it the day before, store it in the refrigerator. To reheat, simply place on a cookie sheet into a preheated 350 oven for about 15 minutes.
If you're lucky, you may have leftovers. And if you do, fried chicken is especially great for a picnic.
It keeps well, and it's just as good cold. So set some aside for movie night or a concert under the stars in Kit Carson Park.
I like to simplify things with a side dish and salad in one. Tabbouli, made with quinoa instead of bulgar, fits the bill. It contains whole grain, fresh vegetables, olive and cheese, for a hearty side dish/salad. Because quinoa is packed with protein, this type of tabbouli can also serve as a vegetarian main course.
For dessert, simply mix together berries, grapes, and pineapple chunks for a colorful fruit salad or bake some homemade cookies or brownies. Now you've got the perfect picnic basket of food to take with you on your next al fresco excursion. Spread out a blanket, pass out the plates and enjoy!
"TAOS CHRISTMAS" FRIED CHICKEN
Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes 4-6 servings
One whole chicken (preferably free-range or organic)
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon mild red New Mexico chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup or more olive oil
1/4 cup or more canola oil
Cut up the chicken (or buy the chicken already cut up.) You should cut a bit of the breast meat with the wing. Cut each breast in half, so you have 4 pieces. Cut apart the legs and thighs. (Save the back and neck in a bag in the freezer for making broth.) Wash and drain in a colander.
Mix together the flour and the seasonings in a gallon-size ziplock bag. Shake to combine. Place chicken pieces in ziplock bag, seal and shake until all pieces are covered with the flour mixture. Reserve the leftover dredging flour for the gravy.
Heat a large skillet on high, and when hot, reduce to medium-high and add the oils. (You may need to add additional oil so the bottom of the skillet is covered with between 1/2 to 1 inch of oil.)
Carefully test the oil by dropping a bit of flour into it. If it sizzles, it's hot enough for the chicken. Remove the pieces from the ziplock bag, shaking off excess flour, and add one by one to the skillet, shielding yourself from splattering oil with either a splatter guard or the lid of the pan. Crowd the pan; it's okay for the pieces to touch. Once all pieces are in the pan, cover, leaving a small space open for steam to escape. Cook this way for 10 minutes before checking pan.
Check to see if the pieces are browning. If so, turn them over. You may have to lower the heat to medium if they're browning too fast. Every few minutes or so, turn the pieces to brown another side, partially covering the pan each time.
Total cooking time will be 20-30 minutes. The chicken should be a deep golden brown, crispy on the outside, and tender inside. Pierce with a fork to be sure the juices run clear. Place on a paper towel-covered cookie sheet as chicken is done and hold in a warm oven while you make the green chile gravy.
May be fried ahead and kept warm. Or chill overnight and reheat at 325 degrees.
GREEN CHILE GRAVY
Pan drippings from "Taos Christmas" fried chicken
1/2 cup seasoned dredging flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped mild green chile
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of pan drippings. Leave all the brown bits in the pan. Melt in the butter and set pan over low heat. Whisk the flour with drippings until well combined. Slowly, over several minutes, add small amounts of the chicken broth, whisking well to combine. Eventually, you will have a flowable gravy mixture. Simmer, whisking well, until thickened. Add the green chile and whisk well. Taste for seasonings.
Place a ladle of gravy on a plate and set two pieces of chicken in the center. Garnish with parsley, cilantro or watercress.
Makes 1 quart or so of gravy. Extra gravy can be reheated in a pan, whisking well, or frozen for a future meal.
BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD with BLUEBERRIES and FETA
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
1 head butter lettuce
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup diced or crumbled feta cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Carefully remove the root of the butter lettuce. Separate the leaves and rinse individually. Tear larger leaves into pieces. Place in a lettuce spinner, wash and drain well.
Arrange the lettuce in a large open bowl or platter. Sprinkle with the blueberries and the feta cheese.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
QUINOA TABBOULI SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes (excluding quinoa cooking time)
Makes 12 servings.
You can easily double this recipe if you have many mouths to feed. And leftovers keep nicely for the next day.
1 cup dry quinoa, cooked according to package directions
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 small unpeeled English cucumber, scrubbed and diced
4 oz. Feta cheese, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
20 pitted and quartered Kalamata olives
1 1/2 cup finely minced parsley, preferably Italian
1/4 cup finely minced fresh mint
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients well in a large bowl. Allow to sit for at least an hour for flavors to combine. May be made ahead the day before serving and refrigerated overnight. Remove from refrigerator a couple of hours before serving. Toss again and adjust seasonings.