Week 15, Meal 3: “Fried” chicken with collard greens and ham hock

Part of the hesitation to do fried chicken on the blog was because, well, let’s face it, have you ever had oven-baked fried chicken better than the fried version?

There’s just something about buttermilk-soaked, double-breaded chicken going from drab to fab in a vat of hot oil that I never thought could be beat.

Before starting this blog, deep-fry oil and cheese were two staples of my not-so-nutritional nutrition plan. But after several weeks of eating Chef Brian’s dishes – most prepared with only 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of oil per serving – I just can’t eat oily foods like I used to.

That’s where Week 15, Meal 3: “Fried” chicken with collard greens and ham hock comes in handy.

I’ve had plenty of “oven-fried” chicken before, Shake ‘n’ Bake and homespun versions, but nothing has come close to matching the explosive flavor or undeniable crunch of Chef Brian’s baked goods.

The Recipe (Yield: 2 servings)

2 chicken legs, bone-in, skin removed
1 c buttermilk
1 t of your favorite hot sauce
1/2 c flour (you wont use it all)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 t paprika
1/2 t ground sage
1/2 t dry thyme
1 t garlic powder
2 t of your favorite hot sauce
2 cups crushed corn flakes

Collard greens
2 bunches of collard greens, stems removed and cut into 1 inch strips
1 t oil
1 shallot, medium dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 smoked ham hock (or 1/3 lb. smoked ham, small dice)
1 qt chicken stock
1 t hot chili flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

For the best results, marinate the chicken overnight. Start by removing the skin from 2 chicken legs. Drop them in a bath of 1 cup of buttermilk and 1 t of your favorite hot sauce. I used Cholula ’cause its the best, but I’m going to try Red Rooster the next time I do this.

Cook time on this one is about 2 hours, so plan ahead. If you need dinner for a weeknight, the greens can be done ahead of time and refrigerate great. Start the greens by removing the stems from 2 bunches of collard greens. Then, cut those leaves down, into 1-inch strips.  Give them a good wash and dry.

Also, give 1 shallot the small dice and mince 1 clove of garlic.

In a large pot, heat 1 t of oil over medium-high heat. Cook shallot and garlic for 1 minute.

Add 1 Q of chicken stock, 1 ham hock and 1 t of chili flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 1 hour.

Add the greens to the pot, a little at a time if you have to to get them all to fit.

Simmer until the greens are wilted and tender, about another 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the ham hocks and allow to cool.

If you’re cooking the greens and the chicken at the same time, you should start to prepare the chicken at the point when you add the greens to the pot. Doing so will allow you the time to finish everything about the same time.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Get the chicken ready for the big bake by first rinsing off the buttermilk marinade from the night before.

Pat the chicken dry, then season it with salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of flour (you won’t use it all). I suggest finding white whole wheat flour.

Get the chicken makin’ station together with a bowl and a dish.

In the bowl, combine 1/2 cup of buttermilk, 2 t of paprika, 1/2 t of ground sage, 1/2 t of dry thyme, 1 t of garlic powder and 2 t of the same hot sauce you marinated the chicken in.

Crush up 2 cups of corn flakes and throw those in the dish.

Give each chicken leg a run through the wet mix and then coat them with the corn flakes. Place on a rack on a baking sheet and cook at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the outside has a nice golden color. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and for another 20-25 minutes. The juices should run clear if you pierce the chicken with a knife.

To plate: Grab a drumstick and your share of the greens, then dig in.

Even though it’s cooked in the oven, the chicken’s breading is just as crunchy as if it were fried. I think this comes from the blast of high heat and then the reduction in temperature to cook the meat over time. The meat is tender and flavored with a hint of hot sauce, and the buttermilk coating just under the corn flakes burst with aroma and spice.

Though the greens are a side here, I could eat a big bowl of these with a slice of cornbread for dinner any day. In fact, that’s going to happen pretty soon, now that I think about it. They’re spicy-sweet from the peppers and the pork, and if you use smoked ham hock, there’s so much depth added by the smoke on the meat.

The last time my mom cooked for me, and the only time she cooked for my wife, she made fried chicken and collard greens. I so regretted never getting any of her recipes before she died.  She was a fantastic cook, and most of my childhood memories come from being with her in the kitchen.

Though I’m doing it healthier than she would have, I’m happy to have a dish in my repertoire that truly is like mom would’ve made.

Thanks, Chef.

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