Southern baked chicken

February 2, 2010

I’ve been wondering what to call this. In the book, it’s Southern Fried Chicken with Eastern Spices, but that’s a bit of a mouthful, and anyway, I baked mine rather than frying it. I happen to live with someone who would honestly be happy if my idea of a night off was arriving home with a bucket of Colonel Sanders’ finest, but as it’s really not, this is a sort of compromise.

We’ll still in the East this week, with Arabesque – not the Claudia Roden version, which I also have, but a book of the same name by Australian chef and writing partners Greg and Lucy Malouf. It’s organised by  ingredient, all key Middle Eastern flavours, but rather than using them to recreate classic recipes they’ve adapted and borrowed from other cuisines to inspire new dishes. It’s not quite fusion cooking, which I’m a bit distrustful of, more looking at tradition with a contemporary eye. Hence this first recipe, in which chicken pieces are coated in cornmeal, buttermilk and a whole long list of warm spices to create a delicious gnawable crust. I really liked the spice mixture here: the fennel and sugar for sweetness, the cayenne and pepper for heat, the toasting for complexity and the low notes of cumin and coriander seeds. As soon as the smell wafts up from the grinder, you know it’s going to be good.  

So, South-East Baked Chicken? Eastern Baked Chicken? Whatever you call it, sweet potato wedges and a big green salad are called for. Or I suppose you could serve it with corn-on-the-cob and baked beans. You could even put it in a bucket, if you really want.

Southern Baked Chicken  Serves 4

You could do this with chicken pieces, but it’s better value to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself (saying that, I had someone much more knife-competent than me to do the heavy work). Then you can make stock from the carcass, and if there’s only two of you you’ve got a great packed lunch for the next day.

1 chicken (free-range, but that goes without saying)
6 pods cardamom
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar (I used muscovado)
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, depending on taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
100g cornflour
50g fine cornmeal or fine semolina
2 eggs
200ml buttermilk

Joint the chicken into eight pieces: 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings and 2 breasts. Or, get a responsible adult to do it for you. If you want to be really healthy, remove the skin.

Heat the oven to 200c. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and toast the cardamom pods, peppercorns, fennel seeds, salt and sugar, shuffling them in the pan every so often until they start to darken. Remove from the pan and grind in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. They should smell warm and fragrant. Pick out the cardamom husks, leaving the black seeds behind.

Combine the toasted spice mix with the other spices and mix into the flours. Whisk the eggs into the buttermilk.

Dip the chicken pieces into the flour, then the buttermilk, then back into the flour. Place them on an oiled baking tray, turning to coat, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. If you want to fry them, do this first in hot oil until golden brown and bake for only 20 minutes.

Adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s ‘Arabesque’.

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