Beignets de Chien Chaud au Maïs, or, Corn Dogs High/Low

17 03 2010

Nick’s birthday was a few weeks ago, and as it fell on a Saturday when the horses were running at Vincennes, he wanted to get some people together for hot dogs and beer before heading out to the races.  Since it was a special occasion, I wanted to do a little something extra, and I remembered that I read a post a while back about corn dogs, which I don’t even like, historically, but something about being in France makes me want fried things I don’t normally eat when I’m at home in the States.

Can't you just hear the sizzle?

Anyway, it was Nick’s special day, and he loved the idea.  So corn dogs it was.  I used Alton Brown’s recipe, with a couple of changes.  I left out the jalapeño, and seeing as creamed corn doesn’t exist in France, I substituted regular canned corn, buzzed with the immersion blender.

I bought a huge pack of cheap wooden chopsticks at an Asian restaurant supply store to use as sticks, but since French hot dogs (aka Knacks) are so much thinner than their American counterparts (maybe because they don’t go frying themselves in corn batter?) I used only one stick per dog, instead of the recommended two.

Round 1

I was actually surprised at how well this recipe worked.  I don’t know why.  But let me tell you, it was seriously awesome to pull real live corndogs out of the bubbling oil in the Dutch oven.  And do you know what was even more awesome?

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A Vietnamese Apéro

29 06 2009

I know I’ve been a bit of an internet hermit lately.  Chalk it up to three and a half weeks in the USA, never in the same place more than four days.  It went by in a blur of smoked pork (no less than five pork shoulders and two whole roast pigs), friends, and family.  So I apologize for the sparse posting of late, and I promise to get back on track now that I’m home in Paris.

Box containing magical shrimp chips

You may recall that June is the month for French colonial-inspired food here on Croque-Camille.  Aside from North Africa, Vietnam is one of the most influential former colonies in contemporary France, especially in the culinary arena.  Doubtlessly, the cuisine of Vietnam shows some distinct French influences.  I understand that the best baguettes in the world outside France are to be found in Vietnam and Vietnamese bakeries around the world.  (One of these days I’ll have to go test that hypothesis personally.)  It can also be argued that much of the Vietnamese culinary vocabulary derives from French.  I’ve participated in discussions on whether or not pho, the classic Vietnamese soup is named for pot-au-feu, the classic French one-pot meal; whether the Vietnamese word for beef, bo, could possibly have come from the French boeuf; or if the French pain may have inspired the Vietnamese banh (this one being the most likely as I am unsure of any bread-making tradition in Vietnam before the French arrived).  These discussions are rarely conclusive, but seeing as I am a language nerd, I enjoy them anyway.

The tasty opposite of Shrinky-Dinks

Having already lauded the merits of banh mi and pho, I thought I’d highlight one of my favorite easy apéro snacks: Beignets de Crevettes.  Or, as they’re known in our house, Shrimp Chips.  I buy the ones from Vietnam at the Asian market, which are made from manioc (aka cassava, yucca, or sometimes tapioca) – there are some imitation ones with filler like potato available in regular grocery stores, but I haven’t tried them.  Why, when the real thing is cheaper?  Anyway, look at these.  I never cease to be amazed by these things.  Above, I’m holding six in my hand (please ignore the pallid, pre-vacation skin) to give you an idea of their size before frying.  The way they puff up in the hot oil is a source of endless fascination for me.

Frying Shrimp Chips, elapsed time, maybe 10 seconds.

They seem to be made up of thousands of tiny air pockets, just waiting for the chance to expand.  In the oil, they fold and wriggle until they double or triple in size and flatten out into crispy, lightly golden chips.  I like to eat them in two or three bites, savoring the way the bubbles dissolve on my tongue.  They taste vaguely of shrimp, but mostly it’s the salty crunch I enjoy.

Golden fried shrimp chips

Just because I have to buy them at the Asian market, though, doesn’t mean that these are considered at all exotic in modern-day Paris.  The bar around the corner from my apartment serves them at happy hour, which is a welcome change from the more standard peanuts or pretzels.  Why these haven’t caught on in the United States, I have no idea.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Oops, I Did It Again

23 09 2008

And by “it,” I mean Philly Cheesesteaks.  There were, however, a couple of improvements this time around.  First, we had fresh peppers – both red and green – to add to the sautéed onions.

Look at all those healthy vegetables!

Second, we decided to dice the “cheese” and stir it into the steak and pepper mixture before piling it onto fresh baguettes.  And third, I made corn fritters to go with the cheesesteaks.  Remember that corn salsa I made for the torta salads?  Well, I stirred it up with some flour, baking powder, eggs, butter, and milk and dropped spoonfuls of the stuff into hot peanut oil.

Maybe the best frying action shot I've ever gotten.

When they came out of the oil, they looked like this:

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We Found Buttermilk!

7 07 2008

I can’t believe that there has been buttermilk right under my nose the whole time I’ve been in Paris.  I’ve walked right past it countless times, not even considering that it might be just the thing I’ve been looking for.  You see, it is usually labeled in Arabic, with small French writing that explains, “lait fermenté.”  Then Nick and I were in the store the other day, and he exclaimed, “Is that buttermilk?  Lait fermenté?”  I smacked my forehead.  Of course.  It’s been there the whole time, staring me right in the face, and I missed it!

So what was my first thought upon finding this previously unavailable (or so I thought) ingredient?  Fried chicken.  I don’t know why.  I can’t say we were in the habit of making fried chicken back home in the States, or even if I’ve ever attempted it.  It’s also not something I crave in particular.  Sure I’ll read something about fried chicken every now and then, and I’ll get hungry thinking about the crunchy breading, but then I think about the mess involved in eating pieces of bone-in fried chicken, and the sad fact is that most of the time it just isn’t worth it.  You get grease all over your hands and face and it’s so heavy that you end up feeling like you’ve swallowed a rock.  Most of the fried chicken meals I’ve had in my life have consisted of one piece of chicken (invariably dry, yet somehow with flabby skin) and then I fill up on sides: mashed potatoes and coleslaw being my favorites.  Biscuits, too, if they’re around.

But I guess I have been reading up on fried chicken recipes lately, and the Cook’s Illustrated one (in which I had absolute faith) insists on marinating the chicken in seasoned buttermilk before battering and frying.  It sounded so good that it stuck in my mind, hidden away until the moment I saw buttermilk, at which point it popped out and started bouncing around again.  So fried chicken it was.

Since I know almost nothing about making fried chicken, I followed Cook’s recipe to the letter.  It came out fantastically.  The batter was dark brown and satisfyingly crunchy, yet almost light in texture with no unpleasant greasiness.  The chicken underneath was juicy and beautifully seasoned.  I honestly can’t say I’ve ever had better.

Move over, Colonel!  Sorry, Popeye!  French chickens rule!

As you can see, we served it with potato salad (left over from our 4th of July feast – which I’ll be posting on later, I was just so psyched about the chicken I had to write it up immediately) and a batch of our favorite buttermilk coleslaw (also courtesy Cook’s Illustrated).

Ah, Americana in Paris…

Comfort Food

15 04 2008

A little while ago, I was browsing the forums on DallasFood and came upon a story about fried chicken.  It was a very cold and nasty Sunday afternoon, and I was suddenly hit with a wave of homesickness and the desire for some chicken-fried deliciousness from Lucky’s or Allgood brought tears to my eyes.

I began thinking about how to replicate the ever-so-comforting chicken fried steak (henceforward to be referred to as CFS), researching breading/battering methods, cooking oils, and so on.  It didn’t occur to me until several days later that the French steak haché may be just what I need to get the right cut-it-with-a-fork tenderness that only cubesteak can provide.  Upon inspection, however, it really looked more like fancy molded hamburger than anything.  Luckily, there were some thin steaks next to it on the shelf, which had clearly been cut across the grain, and looked as though they may have been tenderized as well.  I picked them up and went home, hungry with anticipation.

As for the recipe, I decided to base mine on the one from Cook’s Illustrated, as they are my go-to source for recipes, especially of the Americana variety.  I set up my breading station with meat, seasoned flour, and a thin batter made from egg, buttermilk (well, milk and lemon juice), baking powder, and baking soda.

Breading set-up for CFS

Meanwhile, I was heating up a large pan of peanut oil on the gas stove.  (Have I mentioned how psyched I am about the gas stove?  This is the first time in about 6 years I’ve had one at home!)  Anyway, when the oil was nice and hot, I dredged the steaks in flour, dipped them in the batter, and carefully placed them in the pan.

Putting the \'fried\' in chicken-fried steak

As you can see, the batter was a little thin.  Not the perfect CFS, but not bad for a first attempt.*  Once it was smothered in cream gravy (which, let’s face it, is just countrified béchamel sauce – France strikes again!) and joined by a heap of buttery mashed potatoes and roasted green beans, I had no complaints.

CFS dinner - the perfect comfort food?

* For those of you who must know, it was more in the style of Allgood than Lucky’s – very thin, crispy breading with a tendency to fall off.

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