Spatula! I have two words for you…

Some people come into your life for a very brief time, but leave you with stories that last forever.

A guy I met a long time ago was a doctor in Memphis, TN. At that time he was doing a rotation in the ER at a hospital down there. While he was a southerner, this particular ER was in a rough neighborhood and provided exposure to people and circumstances he hadn’t experienced during his preppy, private school upbringing on the right side of town.

There was, for example, the woman in the delivery room who upon hearing the doctors mention the placenta, decided that Placenta would be a lovely name for her newborn daughter.

Our doctor friend had a lot of stories….But, perhaps my favorite of his encounters took place not in the hospital, but at a nearby grocery store. While shopping for dinner, my southern doctor friend overheard a mother yelling at her ill behaved daughter. She said, and this is a quote: ‘Spatula! I have two words for you: Be Have!’ We were never sure which was more amusing, the daughter being named ‘Spatula’ or the fact that behave was two words…

Since hearing this story, I can’t look at or grab for a spatula without hearing ‘Spatula! I have two words for you…’ in my head. And, it got me to thinking about how many spatulas I really needed when I downsized from the house to the apartment.

Here’s what I’ve found…I need three. Yep, three spatulas. I need this one from Williams-Sonoma

Silicone Slotted Spatula

Actually, I need two of those. I could live with one..but since most of what I make whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, requires a spatula, one is always dirty. In a smaller space it’s important to clean as you go. Still, if you are cooking frequently, it’s almost impossible to always have a clean spatula available.

I like this spatula because the handle is long, the silicone paddle won’t mar your non-stick pots, pans etc and, mostly, because it comes in many different colors.

And, I need a fish spatula. The fish spatula is good for a lot more than just fish. Its slim design makes it ideal for flipping all sorts of delicate foods – I use mine when I make eggs over easy, for example.

This is the one I bought at Williams-Sonoma:

WMF Profi Plus Fish Turner

That’s it. Just three spatulas. And, yes, you could get away with two, but I don’t recommend trying it.

I really don’t know where my southern doctor friend ended up but the stories of two girls named Placenta and Spatula will stay with me forever.

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Lessons Learned: Fry Failure and what kind of roach I would eat.

I believe strongly that I could eat anything if it was fried. After Titanic first came out in November of 1997 catapulting Leonardo DiCaprio to super stardom and teen heartthrob status, I was speaking with a sales guy from the now defunct magazine Teen People. Teen People put Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover for its debut issue in May of 1998 and immediately sold out at newsstand. I believe they even reprinted twice – unheard of for magazines even then. While the sales guy was happy to tell me that the magazine was amazing and far exceeded expectations, he was honest enough to tell me that at the time he could have put a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio on the back of a roach and sold it for $100.

I feel about fried food the way that teenagers felt about Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack in Titanic. And I totally understood his roach example. I hate bugs. All bugs. I even hate butterflies (let’s be honest, they’re really just dressed up moths) and I even hate Lady Bugs. I do not discriminate based on appearance. I just hate all bugs. BUT, I honestly believe that I could eat a roach…if I deep fried it. Seriously.

So the fact that I had never – until yesterday – made fried chicken, amazes me. There are some things about frying that make it a challenge…I live in a small apartment with a very sensitive smoke detector that screeches ‘There is a fire! There is a fire!’ when set off. My neighbors are somewhat used to this, but I don’t want to push it. And…the apartment sort of smells like fried after fying – go figure.

When I visit people with larger kitchens and a good cross draft, however, I try to fry at least one thing. Yesterday it was Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken. But, I must admit…not my best effort…

Here are the directions and my notes that might help should you give this recipe a go:

1. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour 1 quart buttermilk over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

NOTE: Ina uses two whole chickens each cut into 8 pieces. I bought 4 thighs, 4 legs and 2 breasts w/rib meat at the Kroger – not expensive and easier – I’m not a butcher!

2.  The next day…….Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper in a large bowl.

NOTE: When I tasted the finished product, I thought this was too salty – which I NEVER say – and also I added a pinch of Paprika – because the Neelys add ‘pap-a-rika’ and I like the Neelys…I don’t like a lot of heat, but the pinch was just right for a little southern kick. I mean, it’s fried chicken!

4. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and coat each piece thoroughly with the flour mixture.

NOTE: If at all possible – do all of the chicken pieces in one step. In other words, if you have a large baking dish that can fit all of the flour mixture and all of the chicken, that would be best. Otherwise, if you dip in batches, the flour mixture gets all goopy and needs to be remixed. I know because it happened to me.

5. Pour vegetable oil into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot to a depth of 1-inch and heat to 360 degrees F on a thermometer.

NOTE: you can use a pretty deep (3 inches or more) sauce pan safely.

6. Working in batches, carefully place several pieces of chicken in the oil and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until the coating is a light golden brown (it will continue to brown in the oven). Don’t crowd the pieces.

NOTE: Unless you are magic, you must have a thermometer. I tried to do it without a thermometer – using some evaluating temp techniques – and just ended up disappointed in the first batch of chicken I dropped into the oil as the oil wasn’t hot enough and the chicken didn’t crisp up in 3 minutes. It absorbed too much oil and lost some of the coating. I served it anyway…but it wasn’t as pretty and had a bit of a flour taste to it.7. Remove the chicken from the oil and place each piece on a metal baking rack set on a sheet pan.

8. Allow the oil to return to 360 degrees F before frying the next batch. Repeat until all of the chicken is browned on both sides

9. When all the chicken is fried, bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot.

THIS is where my improvising totally failed…don’t tell my brother, but he didn’t have a sheet pan, so I used a wire rack on a cookie sheet and during the baking process of the preparation, the oil from the chicken ended up dripping all over the bottom of his oven…oops! I know, totally stupid. But it’s what happened.

All in all – much learned and I look forward to visiting a larger kitchen again so that I can get a second go at this recipe. And, while the 2012 domestic release of Titanic 3D only ‘met expectations’, I hope that my Ina Garten’s Oven-Fried Chicken reboot will far exceed! Because if I ever need to eat a roach, I want to make sure it’s fried to perfection.