Special Chicken – The Sustenance of My Youth

Today I want to talk about what might be the THE quintessential food of my childhood. The one that reminds me of home more than any other. It was featured at more birthday dinners than anything else. (It was also featured at a very recent Christmas Eve.) Everyone loved it, even the picky ones. Behold Special Chicken. It’s really called that in the cookbook, we did not make it up.

chicken wings, Hargraves-kid style

These are the ties that bind

Special Chicken is soy-marinated, batter-fried chicken wings. They are delicious, and fairly easy to make. The recipe came from this little flip top Chinese food cookbook my parents have, and this page is particularly well used.

photographic evidence

photographic evidence

As I have mentioned before, when we were very little, my mom did a lot of the cooking, but sometime during my ‘tween years (I think) the role shifted to my dad and stayed there. But not these. These are firmly entrenched in Mom’s camp, forever to remain. Many have tried to duplicate, none have succeeded. Truly. My attempt is close, and good enough for those who don’t know, but  they are sub par by comparison. The littlest tried them for Christmas and says they were enjoyable, but not right. As far as I know, my mom has always followed the recipe exactly – she’s never told me otherwise – but maybe that’s her trick. If we can’t replicate, she can always lure us home with the original.

There are two things I have adjusted a little from the recipe. The first is the temperature. At 375 the oil is way too hot. The wings get too dark and the batter gets unpleasant. 325 is the way to go. (I am not sure what temp Mom uses, since she doesn’t use a deep fry thermometer. She just knows when it’s right.) The recipe also suggests marinating the chicken wings for an hour, but I recommend longer. All day, if you’ve got it. Marinate overnight! It makes this a delightful option for a weekday. These usually meant a special occasion for us, or at the very least a Sunday dinner, but they don’t have to be. Get wild! Make them on a Tuesday! I most recently made them on a Wednesday at the behest of a delightful house guest. (The word is spreading!) They involve deep frying, but don’t let that scare you. It doesn’t require much oil, especially if you have a wok. (Do you have a wok? They are great, get a wok.) Make sure you make extra, because the joy of eating them hot just ever so slightly trumps the joy of eating them out of a sandwich bag the next day – lunch or even breakfast. Doesn’t matter which.

And now, just because I feel like it, and it’s fun, a rundown of some of the best things I’ve eaten in Boston recently and some of my favorite Boston dishes, in general –

A cold corn and coconut milk soup from East By Northeast – revelatory

The whipped goat’s milk feta snack at Tavern Road is one of my favorite snacks OF ALL TIME. So simple and so so good. (They also make an amazing risotto over there. Every preparation has been great.)

The breakfast sandwich at Clover is way better than it has any right to be.

The corn dog at Trina’s Starlite Lounge is a delight.

The johnnycake at Neptune is just nonsense it’s so good. Seriously, mind-blowingly, crazy crazy good.

The classic Chinese BBQ pork sandwich from Bon Me is my favorite lunch.

The Baloney Pony sandwich at the Biggie Brunch at Alden & Harlow still haunts me, and alas, I am afraid I will never get to enjoy it again. I’ll have to settle for the chicken fried rabbit over there. Poor me.

The burger at JM Curley’s. Always and forever.

The corn at Toro, but everyone knows this.

The tuna crudo at Row 34.

There are others, so many others, but that is what I am thinking about right now.

frying

frying

Special Chicken (serves 4-6)

For the chicken:

2.5 – 3 lbs chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats

oil for frying

For the marinade:

2 tbl soy sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 tbl sherry

1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp hoisin sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp salt

For the batter:

2 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken wing pieces, stir to coat, and marinate in the fridge for at least one hour or preferably overnight.

Heat the oil in a wok or another high sided pan or pot to 325 degrees.

Mix the batter ingredients together in a small bowl. It will form a thick sticky dough, and won’t come together cohesively, but that’s ok, just mix a bit until the ingredients are starting to combine. Add the batter to the bowl with the chicken and stir until the marinade and the batter come together to coat the chicken. This will be kind of a sticky mess, and will take some time to come together, but keep stirring until it does. The batter will thin when mixed with the marinade, and all the chicken pieces will be coated.

Deep fry the chicken in batches, without overcrowding, until the pieces are brown and crispy and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate lined with a paper towel and let cool slightly before serving. Let the oil come back to temperature between batches, and continue to fry until all the chicken is finished. Enjoy!!

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Feels Like Home: My Mom’s Gazpacho

Summer in a bowl

Summer in a bowl

I have a post about fish tacos in the works but it is detailed and there are lots of accoutrements and it was taking me awhile, so I am going with this instead. I wanted to get a post out before I go away for the weekend AND I wanted to make sure I got this out while there are still delicious tomatoes to be had at the farmers’ market. If there is ever a time for using good tomatoes, this is it.

This is also the first installment in what will hopefully be another new feature on this here blog, which I will call Feels Like Home. I may have mentioned that we ate well growing up. Not fancy, necessarily – there were four of us kids, and two of us were not super adventurous, so I’m not talking about wild, fussy, earth shattering stuff, but very delicious, nonetheless. My plan is to share some of that with you all, if for no other reason than because that means that I get to make and eat them all again myself. They are all things that make me think of home…

This first one, ironically, is not really ever something I was particularly interested in eating when I was younger. I have realized, despite my insistence that I eat everything, that I actually have a fair number of weird food hangups. Every time I turn around on here I feel like I am telling you about something I don’t really love, or didn’t used to like, but whatever, I’m evolving. Gazpacho is a cold soup. Weird, and usually no thank you, especially since people looooooove to serve it in a shot glass, and in case you missed it, I DO NOT DRINK FOODS. I drink drinks, and I eat foods. I need a spoon with my soup. It is a food. BUT, as it turns out, my mom makes a really good, really crowd pleasing gazpacho. And she serves it in a bowl with a spoon. And with croutons. I think the croutons are what actually won me over.

This is so very easy. Essentially, most everything goes in the food processor, and that is the end of that. The only extra step is to blanch the tomatoes first to remove the skins, which takes less than a minute, and to make the croutons, which while technically are “optional” they are not at all optional and you definitely need to make them. Get some bread, it doesn’t even have to be good bread, any bread will do. Slice it about an inch thick, then cut it into cubes. Brown them in olive oil on top of the stove, or toss them with the oil and stick them in the oven until they get brown. Sprinkle them with salt – croutons! Make a bunch and keep them in tupperware for salads or soup or snacks. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done.

In addition to the croutons, I added avocado as a garnish and I do not regret it. I also added some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes because I had them. I hope Mom approves. The avocado in particular was top notch.

Basically, this is super easy. Make it while the tomatoes are still good. Hurry.

Mom’s Gazpacho (serves at least 6)

2 large tomatoes (about two pounds) (I actually used three medium Brandywines to get two pounds worth.)

One cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

One green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

One roasted red pepper (from a jar is fine!) roughly chopped

One medium onion, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups tomato juice

1 1/2 tsp hot sauce (or more to taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste (be generous with both!)

Croutons for garnish (and avocado, if you have it.)

Cut an X into the base of each tomato, and blanch in boiling water for about 15 seconds. The skins will peel off very easily. Remove the skins and the cores of each tomato.

In a food processor (you will likely need to do it in a couple batches, unless you have a giant, industrial sized food processor) combine all ingredients through the hot sauce, and process until almost smooth. (This is a matter of preference. I like it to be almost a purée, but if you like it a little chunkier, that’s fine! Run it through the processor for less time.)

Combine the vegetable mixture in a large bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar and the salt and pepper. Taste for additional salt, pepper or hot sauce to your liking. Chill well and serve very cold with croutons to garnish. Enjoy!!

All the thoughts…

1. I just finished reading Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker and it was amazing. It was remarkably funny considering it is a book about a mentally ill, suicidal woman that goes home with the intention of ruining her identical twin sister’s wedding. It was witty, exhausting and really really lovely. I got it from Emily Books, an independent bookstore that sells e-books. They pick one book a month, often unknown books by women, that they feel very strongly about. It’s kind of great. And this book is so good. Read it.

2. Have I mentioned how I feel about Candy Crush yet? Basically it’s good that you have a limit five lives before they have to refuel, because without that break I could probably play Candy Crush for ever and ever nonstop, amen.

3. FOOTBALL. It’s back, and I am watching, and Wes Welker is a Bronco. That’s weird. He just dropped a fair catch kick return though. Oops. Good thing he’s not on my team.

4. This is wonderful.

Be good to one another.