Monday, 30 December 2013

Recipe: Perfect Fried Chicken

Making fried chicken should be a simple activity: take jointed chicken, dip in some kind of binding agent (milk, buttermilk, egg or plain water), dredge in seasoned flour, then fry in fat.

But, in the pursuit of an idealised version, there are always plenty of other questions vying for attention. To brine or not to brine? Skin on or skin off? Which flour or flours? Will plain flour suffice or should you reach for more advanced starches? Which type of fat? Shortening, vegetable oil, soybean? What temperature to fry at? And, perhaps most important of all, what seasonings?

These issues can send an obsessive mind into feverish overdrive. More often than is healthy, I lie awake at night mentally running through the various iterations of fried chicken recipes. And my aim by doing so? To approximate KFC’s recipe.

When put like that, it sounds rather sad, I know. Yet I’m far from alone in puzzling over the secrets that yield such a delicious coating. And the benefit of approximating KFC-style chicken is that you can use decent, organic/corn-fed chicken and have greater control over what you're putting into your gob.

Before we come to a recipe, let’s address the aforementioned issues in turn:
  • Brine by all means, but it’s not really necessary. The coating tends to keep the chicken pretty moist even after a prolonged fry (assuming we're talking about legs and thighs here). If you do brine, make it a really light one: since the coating needs to be over-salted, salty meat can be a case of over-egging the pudding. Go for a 1-1.5% equilibrium brine (i.e. weigh meat and water together then calculate the salt in grams as a percentage of the total mass) and soak for 12-24 hours. Add a couple of bay leaves and crushed garlic cloves for a little extra flavour. You can also brine with milk, buttermilk or yoghurt – these not only tenderise the meat but also give the meat a noticeably white hue.
  • Skin is good. The only flaw is that it can slide off whole, taking the coating with it, leaving naked flesh. If you’ve given your chicken a good brine this shouldn’t be as much of an issue. Skinless chicken should be reserved for burgers in my opinion.
  • Flour is a difficult topic. It depends on how much crunch you want. Pure cornflour, tapioca or potato starch will yield loads of crunch but, while good for wings, too crunchy a batter is not quite what we want for pieces. 1:1 plain flour to cornflour is a good starch but 75% to 25% is even better. Modernist Cuisine’s KFC-copycat recipe suggests a mixture of cake flour, plain flour and wholemeal flour. Cake flour is a low-gluten flour that can be approximated by adding cornflour to normal flour, so that makes sense. I can’t really detect what difference the wholemeal flour makes.
  • Fat is another complicated subject. Shortening was originally used if you believe the KFC instructional video from the ‘80s. What you really want is oil that doesn’t oxidise easily when heated and re-heated (so a stable one), drains easily, and has a neutral flavour. Apparently, KFC now use soybean but groundnut oil is your next best bet.
  • I’ve never had any problems frying at 180 for 12-15 minutes. That tends to yield moist chicken legs and thighs with the right degree of colour on the batter. You're aiming for that almost-orange colour of KFC batter. You can invest in a pressure fryer as used by chicken shops but units start at over £1000. (Some crazy fools use their pressure cooker as a fryer, but we're too, um, chicken to do this).
Modernist Cuisine's Fricken recipe

Seasoning really deserves to be discussed in a place of its own, away from bullet points. Firstly, you need lots of salt. Lots. Typically, using 1-2% salt for batter or dough recipes is a good bet, such as 10g of salt in a 500g bread dough; seasoned flour for fried coatings however need more like 9-10% salt. It sounds excessive but you have to think about how thin the layer of batter is. Using pure table salt yields too harsh a flavour, so go for sea salt like Maldon but ground fine so it disperses in the flour evenly. 2 parts salt to 1 part MSG also works well and will get you closer to fast food style. I tend to put all the seasonings (salt, pepper, herbs and spices) in a grinder together, powder them, then add to the flour.

When it comes to other additions, unless you’re a super-taster I think you’ll be hard pushed to pick up much more than salt, pepper and oil in the average fried chicken batter. However, there's obviously more to it than that - namely that elusive blend of herbs and spices. You can easily Google 'KFC recipe' and find people who claim to have reverse-engineered the Colonel's secret recipe. And, in reality, it's not that difficult a feat if you really set your mind to it. The ingredients of these recipes are hotly disputed nevertheless, with some calling for Jamaican ginger and nutmeg, others for marjoram and mustard powder.

The 'secret' recipe
These herbs and spices are always going to be background flavourings so as long as you don't add too much of a strongly flavoured element (nutmeg or sage for example) you'll stay out of trouble. Don't get bogged down in the exact proportions - a certain degree of spontaneity is fine.

Here's my best attempt at fried chicken thus far:

Awesome Fricken
A mix of chicken legs or thighs (enough for 8 - or even more! - pieces)


2 garlic cloves, bashed
2 bay leaves
Water to cover
Salt (1-1.5% of the combined weight of chicken and required water i.e. 500g chicken and 1kg of water would give 15-22g of salt)


Seasoned flour:

300g plain flour
100g cornflour

30g sea salt
10g MSG

15g black peppercorns
5g white peppercorns

1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp caraway
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Generous pinch each of sage, allspice, thyme, cayenne, ground ginger, marjoram, bay leaf (tear off a piece of leaf)

- Combine brine ingredients and mix to dissolve the salt
- Submerge chicken in brine and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more pronounced a flavour it will have

- Remove chicken from brine and allow to drain a little
- Preheat oil to 180 degrees celsius in deep-fat fryer or pan-thermometer combo
- Combine plain flour and cornflour in a bowl (using a clean washing-up tub is a good idea if you're making a big batch)
- Meanwhile, grind seasonings to a fine powder in a spice/coffee grinder, then whisk into flour mixture until evenly distributed
- Dip the chicken pieces in the buttermilk then place in the seasoned flour
- Shake the bowl/tub to coat the chicken (this way you avoid sticky flour hands - a lid also comes in handy here)
- Remove chicken from the flour and shake off excess coating
- Fry in oil until golden/orangey and cooked through (approx. 12 minutes, though it depends on how fresh the oil is and whether you're using a deep-fat fryer)
- Drain on kitchen roll (and dab off excess oil)
- Consume with unrestrained joy (see Mr Bean above)

Thursday, 28 November 2013


Cap'n Manchester

I'm pretty sure we all know SoLIta by now. So I'll skip the preamble and get down to it.

We were invited by Franco Sotgiu ostensibly to try out the new chicken wings menu, and as such were not asked to pay for any of the below.

Let's talk about the good things first.

Now, I'm a wing aficionado. It's a fact Anna can testify to, having watched me devour them by the hundreds - Chinese-style, Korean-style, Jamaican-style, deep-fried, BBQ-d, Buffalo-d, you name it. When Janelle Monae sings "But we eat waaangs [yeah I know what that sounds like] and throw them bones on the ground", she talking about me and her on a night out. I'd say, without exaggeration, that somewhere in my hypothetical last meal there would be some variation on deep-fried chicken wings. You get the picture.  

Ain't no thing but a PB & J chicken wing
SoLIta's wings are good. The range of 'toppings' is far beyond the usual scope of the spicy (read doused in Frank's Hot Sauce) and the sticky barbecue variant that most establishments limit themselves to. Sure, Solita do those too, but they've also got PBJ (Peanut Butter & Jelly), Kiev, BMW (Bacon & Maple), and the Naga-based 'Cry for Help' amongst others.

Anna went for the PBJ and I for the BMW. The skin of the wings had taken on a lovely, uniform golden-brown hue and a gelatinous quality that I love. The meat pulled away from the bone easily, which is more than can be said for a lot of the fried chicken joints I've visited. Despite most of the sauce pooling at the bottom of the bowl, the flavours were still evident and well executed. It's messy work but that's always been part of the charm for me. The peanut butter and jelly isn't as wacky a wing flavouring as it sounds, coming out tasting like a sweetened satay sauce. The BMW had me thinking of american pancakes. In a good way.

My burger was thoroughly tasty too. I opted for a special, the Captain Manchester, on the basis of the photos I'd seen on Twitter. Two mighty patties, lancashire cheese, and a horseradish and ketchup sauce (so Russian dressing without the mayo). It was a beast. I'd expected to manage it all but could only stomach three-quarters. It comes with a free comic too, and you can't say that about many burgers in town. 

Now for the not so good...

Unevenly cooked and bloody steak
We've had issues with steak here in the past: a hanger that had been quite rudely treated, overcooked and unrested. This time Anna ordered the 10oz Prime Rib on the recommendation of a fellow blogger-diner in the hope of a better experience. The waitress informed us it was quite a thickly-cut steak and was probably better served medium. All fine there. Unfortunately, when it came and Anna cut in, it was evident the steak had seen too much of the grill for its slender frame. To call it medium-well would have been kind. With credit to the staff, when this was pointed out a new one was swiftly ordered. However, the kitchen, in their haste to get another one out, didn't rest the steak, leaving the plate swimming in meat juices. Good for dunking chips in, not so good as a salad dressing.

Now this pains me most not because the steak should be cooked correctly, not even because this might happen to plenty of other customers who might otherwise keep quiet. It pains me because it's wasteful. 

Much like last time, the trip has left us in two minds.

The best conclusion to draw is that they do burgers very well. And wings. Despite the Inka grill - the steaks aren't this joint's USP from our experiences. As good as the grill is, the chefs using it need to get a grip with their steak cooking, if we're to consider dropping £16 pounds on one in the future.

The service was friendly, without any of the aloofness which is rife in this part of town (and that was evidenced in our observation of tables other than our own). Atmosphere-wise, I suppose it doesn't help that the place was full of groups as everyone gears up to Christmas. Our feeling is that it's a great place to take your mates, rather than have any intimate, post-work catch-up with a partner.

From all our dealings with Franco, he has been nothing less than accepting of criticism, always keen to get to the root of any problem. And I've always liked SoLIta for not seeming as try-hard as Almost Famous. We'll be back, just not for a steak. 

SoLita on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Seasons Eatings Supperclub, Trove

Venison, oyster, beetroot, gin

Oh, supper clubs; how I love thee. You feed me well for little money and introduce me to food I'd never normally eat and places I never normally visit. Sure, sometimes you may leave me in the middle of nowhere with no public transport home, having stayed for a few too many whiskeys after, or with a rip-roaring hangover after dancing in kitchens in West Didsbury with marrows 'til 3am, but you're always such fun. You're such fun that you made us start our own! And yes, ours have been fun, and we've even tried to get a bit fancy making our own croissants or canapes that take 3 hours from start to finish... 

...but then you go to one that casts a shadow so large over every other supper club, you wonder whether you (meaning us!) can really charge people for what you're dishing up when there's ones like this out there. You know: like the ones you've read about, like the ones they have in - *whispers* - that London, ones that would definitely be called 'pop-up restaurants' if they were south of Droitwich. 

If you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about Seasons Eating, brainchild of two fabulous female chefs, Suzy and Isobel, who have taken residency once a month in our new favourite place, Trove, a bakery housed on the A6 in Levenshulme. The dedicated duo, both chefs by professional, create restaurant-standard menus for very reasonable prices.

November's saw us chow down on course after beautiful course - every dish plated up with precision, with flavours to back up the presentation. The evening begun with a warming spiced apple soup with bay leaf foam and thyme jelly - evidence already that this was no ordinary supper club. The next dish, a sous vide poached egg, with black pudding 'crumb', pickled enoki mushrooms and shallots, finished off with watercress. Almost a take on a full English, though I'm not sure that was their intention - the dish was light and tart enough to awaken the palate for the next course.

The menu stated that there would be venison, oyster, beetroot and gin; in reality there was tempura oyster sitting atop perfectly pink venison, beetroot pearl barley, slices of beetroot, deep fried onion and gin jelly. I wasn't a huge fan of the gin jelly to begin with, but by the time it melted it slipped into the background and didn't overwhelm the other flavours. A teensy bit more salt on the meat would have been lovely (though anyone who has read this blog before will know we are salt FIENDS) but when eaten with the juicy, sea-borne oyster and the deep fried chopped onion, it was perfectly balanced. A dish worthy of any fine dining establishment.

Finally, the dish we were admittedly apprehensive about: szechuan, mandarin, brown butter. To be honest, the unusual pairing of ingredients was one of the main reasons we'd booked on to this supper club: I couldn't wait to see what they were going to do. Chefs always seem to say that desserts should be playful and leave diners with a smile on their face - well this certainly did. Szechuan pepper infused curd filled light, mini doughnuts with segments of mandarin as well as a gel, all finished off with the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted. It was so good, I'd happily buy tubs of this ice cream every weekend if it were on sale. 

Look: if you like food, and you like championing the 'little guys', book yourselves on to their next supper club before they bag themselves a restaurant and a star to boot. They're hosting one at Fig and Sparrow in Manchester city centre on the 14th December - £30 for four courses and a cocktail - its up there with the best food Manchester has to offer at the moment. Follow them on Twitter to find out more. I should point out that we paid for our tickets - this write-up sounds so positive that I'm worried someone will think we've been paid in gold to say what we have, but it's all blummin' true!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Hunan, Chinatown

Clay pot lamb belly - our favourite dish!
It's been so long since I've written a blog post about food that I feel like I've forgotten how to, um, write about food. Unfortunately, the photographs I have to accompany this post certainly ain't the best, so I'm really going to have to pull my socks up if I'm to keep you engaged for the next 5 minutes. We've been a bit sloppy with the ol' blog writing recently - Jamie's been busy dividing his time between two very different writing jobs and I've been preoccupied with finding a new job, and then starting it (oh, and then starting another one too - apparently one just ain't enough no more). We've also managed to move house in the last month; cue silent weeping as we say goodbye to our Swedish show-home style kitchen and hello to a pokey little space so small that we're currently hanging our pans from a curtain pole (supper clubs will certainly be interesting here!).

In celebration of starting aforementioned new job, we thought we'd make the most of my last weekend before entering back into 'normal' working hours and try a new restaurant. I, slightly hungover, really craved Chinese. The only problem was choosing where to go: my knowledge of the cuisine in this city is pretty limited, save a few dodgy takeaways and the delicious seafood in XO sauce from Laughing Buddha in Didsbury village. Thank God then, for Twitter, or more accurately for Aka Hige (Paul) who suggested Hunan in Chinatown. 

Braised taro in chilli and garlic
Hunanese food is apparently known for its plentiful use of chillies and garlic - SOLD. Despite the multitude of both in all of the dishes we had, each plate still managed to differentiate itself from the rest. The menu is extensive so it was difficult to choose, although Paul had recommended the braised taro. Not something I'd ever come across before, we were more than happy to give it a go. Taro is a root vegetable (not dissimilar to a potato) and when braised took on an almost dumpling-like consistency; it came flecked with chilli and spring onions, and turned out to be even better when reheated the next day. 

Our favourite dish was easily the clay pot lamb belly - hot without being overtly spicy laced with the deep, warming spice of star anise, the tender meat fell from the bone (mostly! this was chopped very small, so sometimes it was a case of sucking the meat from the bone...). Lamb belly is a favourite of ours, which we've only recently discovered after making the equivalent of Moroccan ribs with the underused cut - but please don't tell everyone, lest its arrogance overtake its beauty, like the fate of its now-expensive cousin, pork belly.

Duck gizzards ('glandular' stomach) with white chillies
We also - bravely - opted for duck gizzards with white chillies as well as 'fragrant and hot crab'; the latter, something the restaurant draws attention to on its website in the Hunan cuisine section and so we assumed it would be a dish done well. Unfortunately not. Though the crab came with the accompanying tools to extract the salty flesh it proved to be a time consuming task which was not entirely worth the wait. When I finally managed to get hold of enough to eat with the sauce, though generally tasty, I would have guessed the crab were cooked from frozen, and was certainly overdone. The leftfield choice of poultry stomach, though not something I would necessarily order again, was enjoyable and amongst the spicier of the dishes of the night - Jamie was fairly certain it contained salted chillies, which added an extra dimension of heat!

We ploughed our way through four dishes over the course of an hour (as well as a few beers) and landed up with a bill under £40. We're keen to head back to Hunan to try some more of the menu - I think the pork with smoked tofu, five spiced pigs intestines and one of their dry-pot dishes (a speciality of Hunan cuisine) are next on our to-do list. It's worth mentioning that the portions are large and cheap (average price is around £8) so it's an ideal place to visit with friends who enjoy sharing! 

Well, if you managed to make it to the end of this post - thanks for bearing with me as I meander back into food blogging and I promise to try harder next time! No gold stars for me I think, but at least there's one for Hunan.

Hunan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 November 2013

My Picks for The Skinny's Northwest Food and Drink Survey (with GIFs)

As some of you may know, The Skinny Northwest is running their first ever food and drink survey this year. 

We're hoping that it will become something of an annual tradition, not quite as big as Christmas but bigger than National Bath Safety Month. What can I say, we're nothing if not dreamers.  

As the mag's food and drink editor I thought it best to lead by example/drum up votes in as un-cringeworthy fashion as possible. So, here are a few of my picks. With GIFs. Because everything is better with GIFs.

You can find the survey form here: and it'd be great if you could vote too, rather than just stare blankly at the screen. I know Russel Brand says it's not cool to vote but in opposite land it totally is. So, yeah.

Best Pub

The Gaslamp, because the beer selection, the staff, and the setting make me do this inside:

Best Local Brewery

Blackjack, because I like supporting the little guys:

Best Cafe

Caffeine & Co. because their coffee is as smooth as this pervert:

Best Newcomer

Some Place, because when I first walked in I wanted to do this to the owners:

Best Food/Drink Shop

Beer Moth, because their beer selection makes me go insane:

Best Place...When Hungover

Go Falafel, an unusual choice, I know, but they feed when I feel like this: 

Best When... In a Rush

Panchjo's, because, well, they'll feed you tasty things when time is of the essence:

Best Place...For a First Date

Berry & Rye, because it's the bar equivalent of doing this:

Well, that was fun wasn't it? And it's always good to end with a bit of Cage.

I hope that's given you some inspiration. Now, go vote! Or we're sending this woman to get you:

Only kidding!


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Blog North Awards

As some of you may know, our blog - this one, right here! - was shortlisted for the Best Food and Drink blog category at the Blog North awards, part of Manchester Literature Festival. Whilst we didn't come away with an acceptance speech to rival Gwyneth's, there was one whose did - and I mean that in a nice way (for all you Paltrow haters out there). Winner of Best Personal Blog, Wife After Death recounts in a heartbreaking yet simultaneously hilarious manner life after her husband's death. Being a 'food blogger' (I wish there was some synonym I could use for that; its connotations now grate on me like a sandpaper bed sheet), it's easy to become engrained in the world of um, food blogging and ignore some of the wonderful and heartfelt writing that is expedited via the means of our beloved Internet.

Reading the other shortlisted blogs, I hope you'll forgive me for saying - and what poor marketing this is - but that our blog felt somewhat mundane. Hey guys look! We ate a meal. We made a meal. We drank some booze. How can that compare to the art of Thom Writes About Love Songs - a blog that will have you howling like a banshee - or the eye-opening Life Without Papers, Len Grant's second winning blog (his previous 'Her First Year' similarly revealing without any sense of intrusion), or Life Beyond Anorexia, a young woman's attempt to communicate her experiences to her family (the one I was most disappointed to see not win an award).

I'm not much of an expert on things, and I suppose blogging helps us to learn. Writing this blog has taught me a lot about food and drink, introduced me to some people I think are really, well, great to be honest - and made both of us pursue careers in writing. I worked as a copywriter for a while, which Jamie is also now doing - and we both have been fortunate to land writing positions with other external sites. (I realised that writing blog posts all day every day made me hate writing and I couldn't cope with that, so maybe I won't be pursuing a full-time career as a writer for the foreseeable future!).

In short, I guess what I'm trying to say is blogging is fucking great. I might not be as proud of our blog as some deservedly are of theirs, but in time I hope it will improve, that we as writers improve and that we'll become more creative in writing about food and drink. Yes, we may not be helping others to empathise with the plight of immigrants, or provide people with comedy gold, but hey - if writing this blog means others know where's good to get a shawarma, or where does the best cocktail in the North West, then at least we've done some sort of service, right? Hedonistic? Maybe. But hobbies are allowed to be, aren't they?

Congratulations to all those who own awards at the Blog North awards, every one is inspiring and I recommend everyone take a gander. For full details of the winners, take a look at the Blog North site.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Mughli, Rusholme: it's time to say goodbye.

Possibly lamb nihari with a definite side of okra.
We have lived in Rusholme now for almost one year; in this time we have discovered more cuisines than we could ever have hoped for in that narrowly named 'Curry Mile': falafel, shawarma, lamb chops, naan breads bigger than our heads, fried chicken, chips fried in chicken fat, bountiful salads, and lots and lots of rice. Having grown up in Manchester, I was already au fait with many of the Mile's 'Indian' restaurants before moving to the area, including the old Mughli. I've watched the curry scene change: from the faithful British Indian cuisine of my childhood (at places like Jalal's in Burnage and Khandoker's in Parrswood) to a more modern yet nostalgic vision complete with street food influences, fusion, and a focus on regional dishes (think East z East, Zouk and Mughli).

Samosa chaat: uttar pradesh topped with chickpea, potato,
sweet tamarind, yoghurt & crispy sev.
Of those latter restaurants, Mughli is most firmly planted in the present day. Whether it's the iPad-wielding staff or the chilli okra fries, the surprisingly decent cocktail menu or the engaging Twitter presence, this neighbourhood Indian has not rested on its laurels. We've heard how, following a particularly scathing review, the family called a meeting to discuss how to step up their game. Whatever the conclusions were from those talks, they have obviously paid dividends. There's been a favourable review in the Telegraph, near unanimous praise from bloggers, and even an endorsement from Matt Tebbut. The place, it seems, has never seen busier and while people flock to nearby Lahore to be seen (we assume - from our visit, it can't be for the food), it's the food that draws the punters to Mughi.

If you thought after all this I might be setting Mughli up for a fall, I'm not. It's merely time for us to say goodbye - although, we rather hope it's more of 'a bientot' - as we move to the more suburban area of Levenshulme. There'll be no more Friday night hungover trips - although it seems Anna is thankful of this, as she began to worry the owner thought her an alcoholic, or last minute Sunday night "let's make the last little bit of this weekend last" visits.

Ignore the bright colours - Far Far: better than popadoms!
While there may be curry houses in Manchester producing more 'traditional' dishes, that's not entirely the point. Among the trendy Tava rolls and Far Far, the usual suspects are lurking, the CTMs and the Kormas, but what matters is that the food is consistently good and delivers on flavour. And it has done every time we've been since they got back on track (I'm holding back a Railway Curry pun). Mughli has in my estimation overtaken the once exemplary Great Kathmandu which has been steadily declining of late and outclasses its city-centre competitors (although, you must still go - just to meet the Scouse waiter, he's a legend in his own right).
Mughli has recently updated its menu. And we've tried a tiny, weeny bit of it. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of telling people what I've eaten and what I thought of it. Sometimes I deem it necessary, especially when justification is needed to back up a critical review, but most of the time I'd like to say go try it yourself. So do. 

However... if you'll excuse my hypocritical self for a moment, I do have a couple of recommendations: the Machil Masala is rich, deeply satisfying fish dish, while lamb-on-the-bone dishes like the Nihari and the Lahori Karahi are must-haves. I can testify to the quality of the Kati rolls and the Samosa Chaat too. If you've had better (in Manchester!, fuck it - the UK) then please let us know. A side dish of okra is also a must, and fellow bloggers Where To Feed and Bacon on the Beech also proclaimed the gunpowder chips and aubergine mash near-items of beauty.

Machli masala - or whatever it was called before the menu change!

So if you're thinking this place sounds too good to be true, what are the criticisms? Well, they are few and far between and mostly down to their own damn good business. If you're trying to bag a walk in - if it's Friday or Saturday night - then buy a bottle of wine at the bar, and maybe by the time you've drunk it all, there'll be a free table: this place fills up fast. Booking is more than advised. And their naan isn't my favourite in Manchester - but how could it be after I've met breads bigger than my head?!

We couldn't leave without one last meal in the restaurant that is no more than 500 yards from our front door - so Anna has arranged her leaving do from her current job there on Sunday night. Why? Because if you find a restaurant that makes you sad to move, you share it with others. Go. 

Mughli on Urbanspoon