The Busy Kitchen: A little bit of bitter can be good for your soul
BY CHEF VALARIE CARTER The Busy Kitchen
Monday, January 21, 2013
1/21/13 at 6:53 AM
Editor's Note: The Busy Kitchen is a Monday column written by two area chefs - Valarie Carter and Tiffany Poe - who also happen to be mothers of young children. They explore nutrition, cooking for kids and more.
While other regions of the world seem to accept bitter tastes more readily, Americans tend to shy away from most bitter foods other than coffee, chocolate and some beers.
Children seem to have a special aversion to bitter foods. At some point in our evolution, this may have served a life-saving purpose, as many poisons have a bitter taste.
But it's time for our taste buds to grow up. A variety of healthy foods like collard greens, turnips, radicchio, olives and grapefruits have a slightly bitter and wonderful flavor.
You had me at collard greens. A staple of Southern and soul cuisine, you might recognize them best stewed with some sort of smoked or salted pork product.
Soul food was so named during the Civil Rights movement when soul was an adjective used to describe African-American culture. While soul food is essentially Southern, not all Southern food is soul food.
Soul food combines the cuisines of Africa, the American South, the American Indians, as well as European peasant foods dating back to medieval times. It is generational cooking derived from the need to make something out of nothing.
And that something just happens to be quite delicious.
Having done some of my culinary training in Atlanta when New South cuisine was just beginning to get hot, I grew to love collards simply prepared and sautéed only briefly. If you haven't tasted collard greens or think they taste like their bitter cousins - turnips and mustard greens - think again. Collards are slightly nutty and have only a mildly bitter flavor - somewhat of a cross between cabbage and kale.
They are high in fiber, low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as iron and calcium. If you are counting, one-half cup cooked collards has 2 grams effective (net) carbohydrates plus 2 grams fiber and 25 calories.
More great news: January through April is peak season for greens, so enjoy them now while we wait patiently for spring and summer gardens to peak.
Though soul food is completely delicious, it has been recently criticized by some for its heavy hand with fat, salt and sugar.
Case in point: fried chicken. To lighten up this classic dish, I coat it with panko (crispy, Japanese bread crumbs) and bake instead of fry for a super crispy crust. Serve garlicky, sautéed collards and panko chicken with a side of black-eyed peas. It's the perfect nod to soul food without embracing the fat and calories.
SAUTéED COLLARD GREENS WITH GARLIC
2 bunches collard greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed and finely minced
Salt and pepper
To prepare the greens:
1. Remove the stem and the rib from each leaf.
2. Stack a few leaves one on top of another.
3. Roll them tightly, like a cigar.
4. Cut the leaves crosswise or perpendicular to the cutting surface to make tiny strips of collards.
5. Continue until all leaves are cut. (Congratulations, you've just mastered the chiffonade cutting technique.)
6. Wash the greens well in cold water, removing any grit.
7. Remove as much excess water as possible. I like to use a salad spinner.
To cook the greens:
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high.
2. Add olive oil and butter and heat until foamy.
3. Add half the prepared greens, tossing them in the fat. Sauté about a minute and add the remaining greens. Keep the greens moving constantly by stirring or flipping the greens.
4. Add a dash of salt and black pepper.
5. Add minced garlic.
6. Continue to cook for several minutes until greens are wilted and very dark green.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
CRISPY PANKO CHICKEN
1 cut up fryer or chicken pieces of your choice totaling about 5 pounds
1 quart water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick ( 1/4 pound) butter
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons hot sauce (I used Louisiana, but use your favorite.)
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and minced
6 ounce panko bread crumbs
1. In a large zip top bag or bowl that will accommodate the chicken, combine the water, kosher salt and sugar to make a brine.
2. Mix until salt and sugar are dissolved.
3. Remove skin from chicken and trim off any excess fat or membrane.
4. Place chicken in brine and allow to soak for 4-6 hours. (This step is not crucial but it does make the chicken much more tender, juicy and tasty!)
5. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine butter, black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, paprika, cayenne, hot sauce and garlic. Cook until butter is foamy. Remove from heat and reserve.
6. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment for easy clean-up.
7. Place a metal baking rack or cooling rack on the lined sheet pan. This will allow the chicken to get extra crispy on the bottom too.
8. Pour panko crumbs into a shallow dish for coating the chicken.
9. Preheat oven to 425 degrees conventional or 400 convection.
10. Drain chicken well and pat with paper towels to remove excess water.
11. Using tongs, first dip the chicken in butter mixture, then in panko crumbs, pressing the crumbs to the chicken.
12. Place chicken on rack, working carefully so the panko doesn't fall off.
13. Bake chicken for 35-45 minutes or until juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches at least 165.
Original Print Headline: Just a little bit of bitter can be good for your soul
A native Oklahoman, Valarie Carter earned a bachelor's degree in English from Oklahoma State University and an associate of arts in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta. She, her husband and their children live in Muskogee.