Sunday, February 7, 2010

Getting mom to make the normal stuff

When I was growing up, the mother of my best friend had a reputation for being a marvelous cook. There was even a rumor that she had a college degree in cooking. This was back in the 60s when women with college degrees were not all that thick on the ground. I assume the degree was home economics or nutrition or something like that, but to our 7 and 8 year old minds, this translated directly as "food." And we were ready to believe it because of the exotic things she made-- easter cake shaped like a lamb and covered with coconut; red velvet cake shaped like a heart.

Of course two houses over my mother was making home made pastitio and baklava, but this was boring, and my friends thought it was weird. I wanted to have Sunday dinner with the Roberts. Pot Roast! Grilled streaks! Even a toffee pull, once. I remember once telling my mother that Mrs. Roberts was a better cook, because she had been to college. I cringe now. So sorry mom, I was just a stupid kid.

But Mrs. Roberts was not immune to the cruelty of children. There was a MacDonald's-like hamburger stand we all went to, called Scottie's (believe it or not, this was pretty much pre-MacDonald's. That's how old I am. Sigh.) Scottie's had greasy, squished, delicious hamburgers, and I remember overhearing Mrs. Roberts telling my mother how her kids had demanded hamburgers like Scottie's. Not the homemade meatloaf in a bun extravaganzas that she was famous for, but flat, plain, skinny, greasy hamburgers.

So she made them. Now that was a hamburger.

Chicken nuggets and homemade potato chips
Boned, skinned chicken, cut into strips
1 egg, lightly beaten

About 3 cups of canola or other light oil

Cornmeal, flour, bread crumbs, in 1:1:3 ratio
Salt, pepper, parsley to taste
Dried rosemary or other herbs

Fill a 2 quart saucepan with corn or canola oil, to about 1 1/2 inches from the top, heat to 400F/200C.

Coat the chicken strips with egg, then roll them in the bread crumb mixture until the entire surface is completely coated. Drop the pieces into the hot oil about 5 at a time, boil for 3-5 minutes depending on how thick they are, until golden, or just starting to turn a bread-crust color.

Do not leave the pot for a single second. As you cook these, moisture will escape from the coating into the oil, which can cause the oil to foam. Very dangerous. If the oil foams, remove it IMMEDIATELY from the heat and start again with new oil.

To drain use a Chinese skimmer or similar utensil, let as much oil drip off as possible, then lay on a newspaper to drain.

For the chips, slice a couple russets paper thin, coat both sides with a fairly heavy coating of salt (to draw off moisture). Lay them in a single layer on a several sheets of paper towels, put another paper towel layer (again, several sheets thick) over them, and weight with something flat and heavy like a cutting board. This is to draw off as much moisture as possible, again so that the oil doesn't foam.

When you're done with the chicken, use the same oil to deep fry the potatoes. You'll know they're done, because they'll look just like potato chips. Again, don't turn away for a second. To drain them, use the skimmer to remove them from the pot, then put them in a brown paper bag and shake the rest of the oil off.


  1. I LOVE this story! And the food looks so much better than any restaurant would serve!!

  2. Even better, I managed to track down my friend (oh the wonders of the internet) and she sent it round to her family. Made my day.