Chasing down Cornell Chicken at Brooks Barbecue

Brooks Barbecue Chicken

Brooks’ award winning chicken. What’s with that pickled apple slice by the way?

Since my exploration of Cornell Chicken I have had the good fortune to eat at the original Brooks Barbecue in Oneonta, NY. This is truly a temple of cuisine—winner of a James Beard Award for excellence in a regional restaurant—and a great value because you can get a full meal for under $10 or a perfectly grilled, moist and tender chicken half to take away for less than six bucks. (Best practice is to bring a cooler, dine in, and pick up a few halves from the to-go window to take home and freeze.) If you are ever on I-88 do not fail to make a stop.

But let’s back up a bit. Cornell Chicken is an invention of the Ag extension in that eponymous hotbed of food experimentation, developed to promote the chicken industry in the early 1940’s. It marinates in an unusually vinegary sauce containing a raw egg (which the food scientists told me is perfectly safe, because of the vinegar) to help emulsify it. The chicken is then grilled. Brooks is one of two families (the other was the Giffeys, who recently closed their restaurant which had sadly gone downhill) to make Cornell Chicken their signature dish.

I had encountered Brooks Barbecue at a number of rural fundraising events but it’s far better if you eat at the source, where the chicken is cooked off on a massive grill the length of a football field. The meat is tender, the marination makes it tangy, and it’s cooked to the point where the meat has a nice crackle to it without being burnt.

If you can’t get to Oneonta (and you’re not likely to, unless you combine your visit with a tour of Spiedies establishments in Binghamton) my recipe is a pretty good stand-in. Be sure to make a generous amount, because it’s hard to stop eating.

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Recipe: Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers

Pork Chop with Vinegar Peppers

Pork Chop with Vinegar Peppers

This Italian-American classic apparently appeared on The Sopranos, but I first encountered it at Danny’s Mio Posto, a high-end place in Saratoga Springs, NY favored by the toffs who frequent the Race Course. Allow 1 pork chop (about 3/4 lb) per person though you’ll probably have leftovers.

Ingredients
Pork rib chops, ideally cut 1″ thick or more (don’t use thin chops)
Vinegar peppers (allow 1/2 c per serving)
Capers (optional, 1 t per person)
Garlic (2-4 peeled cloves per person)
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Olive oil

Method: Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Salt and pepper the chops on both sides. Saute the garlic until tender, then move aside and add the pork chops. Sauce until crisp on each side but not cooked dry, maybe 7-10 minutes per side for a 1-inch thick chop. Remove the chops and add vinegar peppers and about 2 T per serving of their juice to the skillet. Bring to the boil, return the pork chops to the pan, cover and turn off the heat so the chops can cook a little more and absorb some of the vinegar pepper flavor. Serve immediately, spooning the peppers and pan juices over the chops.

Vinegar Pork Chops and sides

Pork Chop and sides

At Mio Posto, pork chops were plated with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. A great combination.

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Cooking with vinegar?!

Enter “vinegar” into the search box at right and just about the entire blog will pop up… seems like it’s almost impossible for me to cook without acetic acid (or its BFF, citric acid). In the spirit of TBT*, here’s a recommended meal with vinegar or citrus in every dish:

VincentSlaw

Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw

There’s never a bad time to gobble up this garlicky goodness, so we’ll start with Vincent’s Cole Slaw. This is by far the most-accessed recipe on Burnt My Fingers, with many thousands of views.

German Potato Salad

German Potato Salad

Half a cup of cider vinegar in potato salad? That’s a crazy amount. But it combines with the bacon fat in German Potato Salad to create a magical sauce that should be bottled and sold as a serum.

Pork Spiedie on Bun

Spiedies in the wild at Spiedie and Rib Shack

The difference between spiedie marinade and regular vinaigrette? Spiedie has a 1:1 ratio of acid to oil. And with the long marinating time, the meat is virtually pickled by the time it hits the grill. You’d normally put spiedies on a puffy Italian roll, but since we’re also serving potato salad that’s carb enough.

Braised Kale

Italian-style sautéed kale

Want a green vegetable side? These Italian-style sautéed greens are fast and easy to make and go with anything. A squirt of lemon juice provides the acid.

Carrot Pineapple Jello

Carrot Pineapple Jello with a squirt of Kewpie mayo

Don’t forget dessert! Carrot pineapple jello was a Texas favorite at family get-togethers, always served with a dollop of mayo. If you want something sweeter, try some fennel pollen shortbread which includes a bit of lemon zest. Bon appetit!

Fennel Pollen Shortbreads

Fennel Pollen Shortbreads

* My occasional TBT or “Throwback Thursday” posts showcase recipes that, for one reason or another never got the attention they deserved. 

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Recipe: Vinegar Peppers

Homemade Vinegar Peppers

Homemade Vinegar Peppers

An essential component of Chicken Riggies and (obviously) Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers, these couldn’t be easier to make. Your home prep won’t be exactly the same as Casa Visco or other Italian-American brands, but it’s definitely close enough to use in recipes. One average bell pepper produces 1 c vinegar peppers.

Ingredients:
Green bell peppers*
White vinegar
Garlic cloves, peeled
Kosher salt

Method: Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stalks, seeds and connective tissue. Cut into bite size pieces approximately 1″ square and stuff into a canning jar along with 1/4 t salt and 2 garlic cloves per pepper. Cover with white vinegar (about 1 cup per pepper), seal the jar and refrigerate. Peppers will be ready in 2 days and will keep for a couple of weeks.

Alternate: Blanch the peppers by bringing vinegar to a boil in a saucepan and pouring it over them. This will result in slightly more tender peppers and they’ll be ready faster but it doesn’t make a major difference in taste.

Cheese Peppers

Cheese Peppers from Burpee

* The Casa Visco jar says they use cherry peppers but I don’t think so because the pieces are too big. Several reliable sources suggest the most authentic pepper to use is “cheese peppers”, so called because they were used as red coloring for Cheese in Spain. You can get the seeds from Burpee (from whom I borrowed the photo) if you want to try growing yourself.

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Recipe: Mejadra (Rice and Lentils with Fried Onions) from Jerusalem

Mojadra

Mejadra (Rice and Lentils with Fried Onions)

There are many recipes for this Middle Eastern comfort food, but the Jerusalem cookbook rendition (with the key addition of currants) the only one worth making. Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side.

Ingredients:
1/2 c lentils*
1 c vegetable or chicken stock
2 medium onions**
2 T all purpose flour
oil for frying
1 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds or 3/4 t ground coriander
1 T olive oil
3/4 t ground allspice
3/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground turmeric
1/2 t sugar
1/2 c currants or raisins
3/4 c basmati rice
1 1/4 c water
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper

Method: bring stock to the boil and add lentils. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until lentils are tender and have asorbed all water, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 inch cooking oil (I like to use corn or peanut oil; the cookbook specifies safflower oil) in a heavy sacepan to about 350 degrees F. Peel the onions and slice into rings, as thin as you can get them. Dredge 1/3 of the onion rings in a little flour with a pinch of salt added. When oil is hot enough that a dropped ring will quickly sizzle, add them to the saucepan. Fry, stiring frequently with a fork, slotted metal spoon or kitchen spider until nicely browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove to a paper towel and drain as you cook the rest of the onions in two batches.

Mejadra Onions

Frying onions for Mejadra

Heat a 1 qt saucepan (you can use the same one in which you cooked the lentils; transfer them to a bowl and wipe it dry) over medium heat and add coriander and cumin; toast a minute or two till they become fragrant. Add 1 T olive oil and rice along with allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook in the oil a minute or two, tossing the rice so the grains become evenly coated, then add water and currants. Briing to a boil, cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook till rice is done, about 20 minutes. Stir to evenly distribute the ingredients and serve warm or at room temperature.

To serve, mix half the onions in with the rice/lentil mixture and put the rest of the onions on top as a garnish. If you want, provide a little plain yogurt which guests can mix in to their preference.

*I like to use the little French green lentils that hold their shape when cooked, but any lentil will do.

** I bet you could use one of those cans of French’s brand fried onions that always make an appearance at the grocery store around Thanksgiving, instead of frying the onions yourself.

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Recipe: Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

Cabbage Caraway Seeds

Cabbage with Caraway Seeds

A Hungarian dish which goes well with Sauerbraten and Kartoffelsalat. From the long out of print “New World Encyclopedia of Cooking” published by the Culinary Institute of Chicago. Serves 6-8.

Ingredients:
1 head red or green cabbage (or a combination), coarsely chopped
1/4 c butter
1 t caraway seed
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 T white or cider vinegar

Method: melt butter in a heavy saucepan then add cabbage, caraway seeds, salt and pepper; toss. Cover and cook over low heat 10 to 15 minutes or until cabbage is wilted. Add vinegar and cook 5 minutes long. Can be served immediately but will be fine at room temperature for awhile.

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How to make NYC pushcart-style hot dogs at home

NYC style hot dog

Your classic “dirty water dog” purchased from a Sabrett’s pushcart in Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan

I bought the above hot dog from a Sabrett’s cart in New York City last week. It was a good value at $2 but otherwise unremarkable except for one element. You could totally replicate the bun, the dog itself, the mustard and the jarred or canned sauerkraut at home. The onions in red sauce… not so much. Unless you follow this recipe.

SabrettSauce

New York style onion-and-tomato hot dog relish

The sauce is a unique combination of sweet/sour and funky, and the fact that most people who have bought the official product on Amazon for $10 a pint jar complain about the taste suggests it’s authentic. But my recipe is just as good and you can make enough for dozens of hot dogs (maybe for your own pop-up pushcart in your neighborhood?) for a pittance. All you need is buns and dogs from the supermarket, your preferred condiments (ketchup is on the Sabrett’s cart but they don’t put it on without asking, thankfully) and this:

Recipe for NYC hot dog sauce

I dislike the #TBT or “Throwback Thursday” conceit on Facebook where people repost what they did five years ago. If it wasn’t interesting then, it’s not interesting today. But it gave me an idea. My own TBT posts will showcase recipes that, for one reason or another (maybe because I was a lazy yutz and didn’t provide a lot of commentary) never got the attention they deserved. The recent corned beef post for St. Patrick’s Day was in retrospect the first of these.

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Recipe: Chinese-Style Tangy Cold Noodles

Tangy Noodles

Chinese-Style Tangy Cold Noodles

Adapted from “Orchid’s Noodles” in Barbara Tropp’s The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (out of print). Be sure to make them at least a day ahead to let the flavors develop. If you can find fresh Chinese egg noodles that are very thin (1/16 inch or so) use them; otherwise substitute Manischevitz thin noodles or equivalent. Serves four as a generous side dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh Chinese egg noodles, or ½ lb dried thin egg noodles
3 ½ T soy sauce
1 ½ T Chinese black vinegar
2 T sugar
2 t Kosher salt
2 T toasted sesame oil
¾ t hot chili oil
¼ c or more green onion rings sliced thin, including some of the green part

Mrs Miller Egg Noodles

These are too thick at 1/4 inch but they were the best I could find on short notice.

Method: boil noodles in unsalted water until just tender; drain. Dissolve the sugar and salt in soy and vinegar mixture then add oils. Pour over noodles and add green onions and mix thoroughly. Save a few onion rings for garnish. Refrigerate overnight or longer (keeps up to 5 days) and serve cold.

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How to reuse pickle juice

Reused Pickle Juice

pickled onions made with reused Puckers pickle juice

Don’t you hate it when people use the same word to describe two completely different things? “Grilling” is an example. It’s cooking things on a grill, obviously, but many say “grilling” when they refer to the process of frying on a griddle which obviously is “griddling”. Grr.

“Pickling” is another instance. In my post “Can I reuse pickle juice?” I took a purist’s approach and specified pickle juice as the liquid that is created through salt fermentation. And no, re-using it is not a good idea because it’s already well inoculated with bacterial beasties which might not get along with a new piece of raw material. Cook with it, drink it, don’t try to reuse it.

But many also refer to “pickling” as the process of preserving a food in a vinegar/salt/sugar medium. That imparts a distinctive taste, but it doesn’t change the chemical composition of the food so I say it’s flavoring, not pickling. Yet, OK, I get it. Instead of making my Quick Pickled Onions from scratch, you could just as easily use the leftover liquid in your Vlasic jar.

I tried this recently with some squishy, uninteresting supermarket onions. The most conservative “pickling” is to dunk your new food in the pickle jar and refrigerate. It will pick up some mild flavor and won’t go bad as quickly so not a bad thing. At the other end of the spectrum, you could bring the pickle juice to a boil and add your foodstuff. I don’t recommend this because it will probably get overcooked.

The middle way is best: heat up the residual pickle juice, then pour it over your food in the pickle jar (having brought everything to the same temperature, or close). That’s what I did with this Pucker’s jar and it’s not bad.

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Recipe: Asian Seaweed Salad

Seaweed Salad

Seaweed Salad (minus the red bits)

This is going to look and taste different than the stuff in the deli case because, first, that contains a huge amount of sugar and second, it has green food coloring. Natural is definitely ono in this scenario. Makes 4 small side dish servings.

Ingredients:
1 pkg seaweed salad mix*, about 1 oz
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 t rice wine vinegar
1 t soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 t grated ginger
1/2 t salt
1 T toasted sesame seeds
1 T green onions sliced thin (optional)

Seaweed Mix

* I used the package I bought for my Ake Poke, so most of the red bits have been removed. You can also use dried hijiki or other thin seaweed. Don’t use thick nori or kelp because that won’t make an appetizing salad.

Method: reconstitute seaweed salad by soaking in water per package directions for 30 minutes or so; drain and press with a paper towel to remove excess water. Mix other ingredients in a bowl then add seaweed and toss. Allow 30 minutes or more for flavor to develop before serving.

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