Slap-together Chicken & Dumplings

Making things from scratch is a wonderful thing. All the time, love, and passion that goes in to taking base ingredients and molding them into a completed dish is something to be respected and revered.

I didn’t feel like doing all that work. I wanted to plop stuff into a pot, and boil it off.

So, here we go. Slap-together chicken and dumplings.

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I took a picture of some of the ingredients. Not sure why. I was pretty sleepy.

5(ish) pounds of boneless-skinless chicken thighs.

3 32oz tetrapacks of low-sodium chicken broth

1 26oz can of cream of chicken soup

1 10oz can of cream of mushroom with roasted garlic soup (couldn’t hurt right?)

2 large cans of “Grands” style buttermilk biscuits

1/2 cup AP flour

1/4 cup oil (olive/canola/blended/whatever)

2 TBSP butter or margarine

1 TBSP dried thyme (divided)

1 TSP dried parsely

1 TSP ground black pepper  (divided)

1TSP seasoned salt

1/2 TSP hot sauce (Tabasco/Texas Pete/Crystal/Louisiana/whatever)

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Rinse chicken and pat dry. Trim any excess fat that hangs off. Drop the thighs into a bowl and coat them with the oil making sure to get all pieces equally covered.

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Place them cut-side down on a sheet pan (foiled if you want) making sure to roll them back into their standard thigh shape. Keep the chicken as uniform in size as possible (that’ll make it cook more evenly.)

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Sprinkle the chicken with all of the seasoned salt, half the thyme, and half the black pepper.

(Here’s a few more shots of raw chicken and seasonings for absolutely no reason. Did I mention I was sleepy? Also, I’m a crap photographer that likes to play with his cellphone camera.)

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Preheat the oven to 425. Once it’s up to temp, bake the chicken for 20-30 min or until internal temp is 160 degrees.

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While the chicken is baking fill a large stock pot with all of the broth, both cans of soup, hot sauce, and the remainder of the spices. Make sure there’s at lease half a pot of room left for the chicken and dumplings. Cover, set on med-high heat and bring to a boil.

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While our pot is heating up and the chicken is baking, lets make some dumplings. Put your 1/2 cup of AP flour into a bowl large enough to do some coating.

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Pop the biscuits and separate. Cut each biscuit into 4 equal pieces.

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Then drop them into the flour.

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…and shake until evenly coated. Remove and reserve for later.

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The flour will help thicken the stew as well as keep the dumplings from sticking together during the cooking process.

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Chicken’s done! Let it rest for 20 minutes. No touchy.

(Here’s another picture of chicken. Randomness.)

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Once it’s rested, get to chopping. Nice big chunks. Set these aside.

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Pot should be boiling now. Add the dumplings a handful at the time until they’re all in there. You’ll probably have to sink them down with a spoon, but, be gentle. We don’t want them broken up. Bring the pot back to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

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Once the dumplings have finished, add your butter and chopped chicken and stir lightly. After 3 minutes on the heat, cut the eye off and let sit for 5 minutes. By then the chicken should be warmed back through and you’re ready to serve.

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Hmmm… never noticed that sticker on my big plastic spoon. Wonder what it’s made of? It’s survived about 300 trips through the dishwasher…

Anyways, Happy eating.

TST

On the Road: Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City

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On a trip out of town to attend the wedding of a childhood friend, my traveling companions and I decided to make a pit stop during our 13hr trek and eat at one of Kansas City’s most famous landmarks.

…Well, that’s not exactly the truth. The truth is about a month before we went I suggested that we stop off for Arthur Bryant’s because people keep raving about how amazing the place is, and we were driving smack dab through the city that it’s in.

Ok, more truth. I didn’t suggest. I begged. I begged like a starving dog.

Don’t judge me.

Anyways, it paid off. It’s everything that I wanted in an old-school BBQ joint. Old chairs, formica tables, meat, bread, beans, fries, pickles and sweet tea (who knew you could get sweet tea in Kansas?) We got there a little too early and subsequently the ribs weren’t ready yet, so we all settled for a combo of burnt ends, and one other item off of the menu. I went for the sausage, and was honestly a little perplexed when my lunch was passed around the corner to me. I was expecting link smoked sausage. What I got was what I initially thought was sliced pork shoulder. On closer inspection however, I discovered that I had actually gotten the sausage I ordered. Thinly sliced off of a larger roll, the sausage is smoky, peppery, and has a mild tang. Think highly smoked salami. It was wonderful. As was the pulled pork and brisket that my companions had purchased.

The star of the show, was of course, the burnt ends. Melt in your mouth, super smoky & slightly charred.

Unfortunately the picture above of my burnt ends and sausage combo just doesn’t do it justice. My original “A” shot was just a bit too blurry to post, so I had to skip it for the “B” shot.

As far as sauces go, Arthur Bryant’s sauce is world famous. Partially for tasting like no other BBQ sauce I’ve ever had. It’s, in a word, gritty. Probably a blend of liquids and dry rub. Plus there’s quite a bit of sour tang to it. Personally, I think it does the trick when being slathered on for cooking. The spices help accent the smoky flavor of the meat. It’s just not my favorite for cold-pouring on meat.

Both my companions and myself leaned toward the more “KC-like” AB Sweet Heat or AB Rich and Spicy sauce for pouring and dipping, but, to each his own.

In summary,  Arthur Bryant’s is a top-notch “worth the drive” BBQ destination. Get the burnt ends, they’re life-changing.

If I ever get to go back to KC, I’ll try to hit Oklahoma Joes or some of the other KC hotspots.

Thanks for reading!

TST

Venison Tenderloin Basics

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the slow food movement, venison is showing a resurgence in the American culinary scene. “Game” animals give a rustic flare to restaurants that are trying to capitalize on the public lean toward traditionalism.

I’ve put this article together as a primer for those who might be interested in bringing venison into the home to cook for the first time. However, due to the scarcity of venison at retail outlets you’re best bet for acquiring some is either ordering it online, hunting, or knowing a hunter willing to share. I’ve decided to skip the rundown of cuts & techniques to focus on the on the one part of the deer your most likely to run across, the tenderloin.

The first thing you need to be aware of is cooking venison can be quite different than anything you might have cooked in the past. As you can tell by the above photo, there’s little to no fat in the meat. Deer are very active animals. This in turn leaves little body fat and very small amounts of intramuscular fat. This is a pretty big contrast to something like beef, as cattle tend to be more sedentary. So we have two possible methods of cooking: “Low & Slow,” or “High & Fast.”

“Low & Slow” is not my preferred method for cooking tenderloin, as you’ll have to braise it in liquid to keep the meat from drying out. Other parts of the deer are better suited, so keep the crock-pot in the cupboard until someone passes a hindquarter or shank in your direction.

“High & Fast” it is.

So here’s the basic rundown:

1. Tenderloins will taper from one end to the other. So try and trim off the cone-shaped end to keep the size more uniform. If you feel comfortable trussing, go right ahead, it definitely helps.

2. The older the deer, the wilder it will taste, and the tougher it will be.

3. Rub the loin with oil. You’re cooking this thing HOT. The oil will prevent sticking, and help keep the tenderloin moist.

4. A little salt & cracked black pepper is my preferred seasoning, but you can run the gambit with whatever seasonings or rubs you prefer. Just keep in mind that things like juniper berries, rosemary, and sage are earthy flavors. They’ll pull the gamey-ness of the meat out to the front of the palette. (Some like this flavor profile, some do not.)

5. Start with a room temperature loin. Heat a pan on medium-high. Once the pan has preheated, drop in a tablespoon of oil and add the venison. Immediately drop the heat to medium. Sear on all sides and continue to rotate until the tenderloin has cooked to medium rare. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, on a  carving board for 10 minutes (you’ll need all the moisture you can get, don’t short change the resting period.)

6. Don’t cook the meat past the first stages of medium, or after you let it rest, you’ll have a large gamey deer flavored log for dinner.

7. Slice the meat against the grain in small medallions, no thicker than an inch. I personally prefer carpaccio -thin slices. Serve with a fruit compote (my go-to is blackberry.), or a dime-glace of your choosing.

I’ll have more venison recipes up soon. Thanks for reading!

TST

Fat Back and Hog Jowls

For the life of me, I haven’t been able to figure out why Fat back and Hog Jowls haven’t taken off in popularity in the last few years. With the onset of “Bacon Mania” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon_mania) and the resurgence of “discarded bits” and “offal-centric” cuisine, one would think that it’s a match made in porky heaven.

Lets start of with the basics. Unbeknownst to most people “bacon” can refer to different cuts of pork in different parts of the world. Essentially, the only thing that binds them together is the fact that the majority of things called bacon have been smoked and cured. Bacon, as we know it in the U.S. is typically made from smoked and cured pork belly. But quite a bit of other “bacons” are readily available here in the states.

Example 1: Fatback.

Fatback. Image Credit: Ryan Adams via http://www.chefs-resources.com

Fatback is smoked and cured adipose tissue (subcutaneous fat) from the back of the pig. As it’s name suggests it is mostly fat. Occasionally however, it can include some rind (skin) or meat (back bacon) in it as well.

Fatback is most commonly used as a flavor enhancer (drop it in a pot of peas, collards, etc.) But, I do know people that pan fry it and eat it like belly bacon. (If there’s rind attached, be prepared for it to be quite chewy.)

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the pan-fry fatback method. It produces a ton of grease, is extremely salty to the taste, and can burn quite quickly. I think fatback really shines as a “toss in the pot” ingredient. All that goodness that cooks out of the fat marrys well with something with a high starch content like a big boiler of dry butter beans. The beans will soak up that cooked-off grease and salt and give the beans a nice salty, smoky, pork flavor.

I flip flop my opinions for hog jowls. I think “toss in the pot” with them is a big waste. Here’s why:

Hog jowl is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the smoked cheeks of the pig. It’s often overlooked because most people are turned off at the thought of eating the cheeks of an animal. (I usually laugh at people like this every time they eat a hot dog or a chicken nugget. I’ll let you Google that and find out why.) I think a lot of it has to do with the mental picture of someone slicing a hunk off of the head of an animal and making you eat it. Most Americans don’t want to know where their meat comes from, and don’t like to think about the fact that the meat they eat used to be part of an animal. But at some point, “animal” turns to “meat” and winds up on a grocery store shelf in a nice vacuum sealed package. Then we’re okay with it.

So, just for those squeamish people, here’s a picture of uncooked hog jowl.

Smoked hog Jowl

Smoked Hog Jowl. courtesy: http://www.earthydelightsblog.com

Holy crap! It looks like bacon! Amazing! It’s not a horror show after all!

Now that the hard part is over, lets get down to business.

I’ll just come out and say it. Hog jowls make the best damned bacon you’ve ever tasted. It’s thick, highly smoked, and moderately salty. The outside is crunchy, the inside is chewy and there’s just enough fat to make it have that luscious bacon flavor that drives people nuts.

I cook it just like I cook my belly bacon. In the oven.

Single layer it on a sheet pan, pop it in a 400 degree oven, and turn it every 10 minutes until done. It’s magical. (Some folks brush a little oil on the top of the jowl before putting it in the oven the first time. I’ve never tried it. It’s a little bit of “gilding the lily” for me. But they swear it helps the “outside crunchy/inside soft” texture.)

After it’s done, this is what you get:

Lambert’s Cafe Hog Jowls – courtesy: http://www.gypsynester.com

Looks awesome, right? It is. I’ve had that exact same meal at Lambert’s Cafe in Foley Alabama. It was bacon perfection.

Boiling this stuff absolutely kills it’s potential. I don’t boil hog jowl for the same reason that I don’t boil belly bacon. If you boil it, you’re ruining a great piece of meat. If you just want to add flavor to a boil, use fatback. You’ll get a lot more flavor “boiled out” and you won’t ruin the crunchy-chewy goodness that is jowl meat.

On a parting note, both fatback and hog jowl are a great way to keep moisture in roasted poultry or game birds. Spread slices of either across the top of the bird before slow roasting, and the fat will baste the bird as they both cook.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our look at a couple of oft neglected southern favorites.

Till we meet again.

TST