Tyler Florence insists that his signature fried chicken at Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco isn’t Southern-fried. “It’s California-fried,” he says. The intensive cooking process infuses the meat with incredible flavor. Florence starts with Mary’s organic chicken from Petaluma (a town once known as the chicken capital of the world because of its many poultry farms). He sous vides the breasts, legs and wings separately with olive oil, sage, rosemary and thyme then plunges the bags in ice water to stop cooking. After the pieces rest overnight, Florence drops the chicken into a buttermilk wash seasoned with hot sauce and salt. “Then we dip the chicken in my grandmother’s mixture of flour heavily seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder and salt and pepper,” he says. Finally, he fries the chicken in oil seasoned with fresh sage, rosemary and thyme. “The chicken comes out super crispy on the outside and incredibly soft on the inside,” he says. “It’s turned out the be the defining dish in the restaurant, and I’m very proud of it.”
"Everybody likes to joke about chicken—the rubber-chicken prize, or 'This alligator tastes like chicken.' It's calling something boring," says Judy Rodgers, chef-owner of San Francisco's beloved Zuni Café. But chicken done expertly, Rodgers says, "is like a perfect piece of toast with just the right amount of butter. It can be astonishing." She should know: Zuni's roast chicken is considered the best in the country—in a recent poll by foodandwine.com, Rodgers's recipe won by a landslide.
Rodgers joined Zuni in 1987 and, within months, proposed what the menu still calls "Chicken for two roasted in the brick oven; warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dandelion greens, dried currants and pine nuts. (Approximately one hour.)" The dish depends famously on three key elements: small birds, high heat (450 to 500 degrees) and thorough presalting of the chicken several days before cooking. The essence of the Zuni chicken experience, in Rodgers's view, is that "it's like, 'Here. Is. Chicken.' " Pure and bold and underlined. "Then of course there's the family-style thing," she says of the way the dish is presented on a platter. "Eating with your hands, shopping around for the pieces you want. 'Oh, I want a gooey piece! Now I want a crispy piece! Get your hands off the pine nuts!' Plus, it smells good."
I found myself on the horns of a vicious dilemma recently, when I tried to figure out whether I preferred rum punch to a rum and tonic, or vice versa. Some people might say, “Well! You, sir, are one to be bothered by trivial problems,” and in fact they might be right, but given that National Rum Day recently passed, I feel that if ever there were a time to be puzzled by matters concerning rum, this is it. But though I might offend my in-laws by saying so—they’re the rum-and-tonic crowd, where I live—I’m going to have to go for rum punch. It’s an excellent drink in that, aside from the fact that it tastes good, it gives you the feeling that you are sitting in a hammock on an island in the Caribbean, rather than, for instance, sweltering in a shoebox-size apartment in New York.
Classically, rum punch follows the traditional proportions for punch making: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak. A common set of ingredients might be (in order) lime juice, pineapple juice and/or grenadine, rum and water, for instance, but the variations—both on ingredients and proportions—are relatively endless. Personally, I’d suggest trying a combo of pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine for the sweet proportion, and using a good white rum for the strong, then floating a layer of dark rum on top (if you’re making a single drink, that is; it’s hard to float a layer of dark rum over an entire punchbowl). A couple of other nifty recipes: Rum Punch and Puerto Rican Rum Punch.
In terms of what rum to use, there are similarly endless possibilities. One good choice for a white rum, though, is the Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4 Year Old ($15 or so), which has more personality than many white rums; the lightly tangy Ron Matusalem Platino (around $17) is also an excellent option. If you’re willing to search a little (and pay a premium price), the Banks 5 Island Rum ($28) is a blend from five rum-producing regions (Guyana, one of them, isn’t an island—no idea why the Banks folks seem to think it is). Because the blend includes several aged rums, it’s got an impressive depth of flavor and complexity, with a distinctive sugarcane-spirit aroma. Finally, for that dark rum float—though given the price, you may just want to sip it—there’s the Brugal 1888 ($50), which is aged first in ex-bourbon casks and then in ex-sherry casks. (The latter unusual for rum, but not uncommon for Scotch; no coincidence that the majority owners of Brugal also own The Macallan.) The Brugal is impressive stuff. A blend of rums aged between five and 14 years, it has distinct toffee-oak notes, a hint of espresso toastiness, and a finish that isn’t too sweet, which is sometimes a failing of expensive aged rums.
Some kitchen equipment must have been created just so it could get the most hilarious review on Amazon. (I’m thinking, of course, of the Hutzler Banana Slicer, and the 2011 review, titled “No More Winning For You, Mr. Banana!” Currently, almost 48,000 people have found this review helpful. It’s followed by the “Saved My Marriage” comment, which compares the banana slicer to the wheel, penicillin and the iPhone.)
If only I could write reviews like that. Or find kitchen equipment that enables those kinds of reviews. Luckily for me, my excellent colleague at Food & Wine, food editor Daniel Gritzer, is the Simon Cowell of the kitchen equipment world. He took on the task of finding the 10 Best Ridiculous Kitchen Tools. Take it away, Daniel.
Hutzler Banana Slicer
Let’s start with the king of ridiculous devices, the banana slicer that launched a zillion online comments. I thought this was a gag gift at first (as a gag gift, it’s pretty great!), but it turns out there are companies that actually sell this plastic, yellow, banana-shaped slicer. The best thing about it is surely the now-legendary review on Amazon that starts this way: “For decades I have been trying to come up with an ideal way to slice a banana. ‘Use a knife!’ they say. Well...my parole officer won’t allow me to be around knives. ‘Shoot it with a gun!’ Background check...HELLO! I had to resort to carefully attempt to slice those bananas with my bare hands...” amazon.com
Margaritaville Frozen Concoction Maker
If you feel the need to waste away in Margaritaville as literally as possible, you can spend $230 (a bargain from the $425 list price) on this frozen-drink device that claims to shave ice rather than just crushing it. Alternatively, you can buy a good blender and make all the frozen drinks you ever want, plus about a million other things. amazon.com
Norpro Lemon Lime Slicer
Let’s be clear—this is a lemon/lime wedge cutter. If you’re past the point of being able to cut a lime wedge for your Corona, you probably shouldn’t be fooling around with a sharp-bladed piece of kitchen equipment either. amazon.com
Paderno Egg Separator
Here’s a tip: The best egg separator ever is located at the end of your forearm with five fingers attached. amazon.com
MSC Joie Simply Slice Strawberry Slicer
This little, bladed device is shaped like a strawberry so you know what fruit it’s designed to slice. Because it’s also a fruit slicer, it’s drawing plenty of comparisons to the Hutzler Banana tool. One customer noted that they’ll gladly stand in line for the iSlice mini with Bluetooth. amazon.com
West Bend Automatic Egg Cooker
Covered by a clear plastic dome, this egg cooker boasts the ability to hard- or soft-boil eggs just by pushing a button. I’m fairly certain that any civilization that considers boiling an egg to be too difficult an undertaking is doomed. amazon.com
Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker
This machine makes breakfast sandwiches “in the comfort of your own home.” Something that can also be accomplished using a skillet. But more importantly, how do you divide up that one breakfast sandwich? Because it makes only one at a time. amazon.com
Rollie EggMaster Vertical Grill
According to the product description of this electric, egg-cylinder-producing machine, “Eggs might seem like an atypical kabob, but they’re delicious right off the wooden skewer.” Which tells you everything you need to know. amazon.com
Amco Serrated Salad Chopper
You know how a sharp knife never really cuts lettuce properly, making this device totally essential? Yeah, me neither. amazon.com
Amco Peach Pitter/Slicer
Of all the fruit slicers out there, I think I object to this one the most: It leaves so much fruit behind on the pit. Anyone using this should probably stick to mealy, out-of-season peaches. amazon.com
For F&W's September issue dedicated to all things chicken, TV star, philanthropist and New Orleans booster Emeril Lagasse interviews Martha Stewart about her famous birds.
Emeril Lagasse: My foundation helps support the Edible Schoolyard Project at an elementary school in New Orleans. What could my students there learn from raising chickens?
Martha Stewart: Every garden can benefit from a chicken coop and a flock of healthy birds. A little ecosystem can be developed that enables the chickens to eat all the vegetable scraps from the garden, and the owner to eat the eggs from the chickens. There's much to learn about backyard animal husbandry, and raising chickens is an excellent way to teach children the importance of good animal caregiving.
EL: If I were going to raise chickens, what breed would match my personality?
MS: I've always raised a variety of birds, finding that they are extremely interesting to look at and have different personalities. And the old saying that birds of a feather flock together is absolutely true. I think you should raise the big birds, like the Jersey Giants, the Buff Cochins, the Partridge Cochin and the Araucana.
EL: In New Orleans, we have some great chicken dishes. Do you have a favorite?
MS: One dish that I really enjoy is chicken-and-andouille gumbo, which happens to be the signature stew of New Orleans. It bears the imprint of nearly every ethnic group to have settled in the Crescent City. The gumbo includes the "holy trinity" of Cajun and Creole cooking: celery, onion and bell pepper. It must always be served over rice.
EL: What have you learned from raising chickens for so many years?
MS: That I can't possibly buy a store-bought egg. I can't bake or cook or eat anything but my own eggs. They are so good, so rich, so delicious and so nutritious when the chickens they come from are raised carefully and organically in your own backyard.