Thursday, April 28, 2011

Confessions of a Cereal Killer

WARNING: The story you are about to read is true.  No names have been changed to protect the innocent.
              
Yours Truly...Confessed Cereal Killer

It all began when I was a mere child.

Back then, we were taught to not waste things. My folks were Depression Era kids, so passed on their frugality to their young-uns.

So to this day, no matter how hard I've tried, it's always the same. Nope....can't do it!  Just can't bring myself to waste things that still have usefulness.

That includes bread ends, leavings from previous cooking ventures (like extra egg whites) and left overs.  Why not?  It's all food, it's all still good and it all cost money.

I actually make a little fuss over the whole thing, pulling what I call a Left Over Luau once or twice a week.
It's where I get to clean out the fridge and we all get to re-visit some of our favorite dishes before they fade into memory, or invent new things out of the combination of ingredients.

But there is one area of the kitchen that usually gets only scant attention.  You know the place; its where the boxes stand in rows like buildings on Wall Street, awaiting the morning's feeding frenzy.   Where Puffed Wheat, Rice Krispies, Oatmeal, Cheerios and Corn Flakes hold court.

It's the pantry....
It's where I hunt down innocent remnants of morning favorites and bring them to their end.
It's where I do my thing. 

I'm a Cereal Killer....no use hiding anymore.
I use up left over bits of flakes, ohs, krisps, puffs and so on....be it quiche or quick breads, entrees or entertaining snacks, I find a way to bring those mostly empty boxes to their demise.

I've used Oatmeal for breadcrumbs in meatballs, Raisin Bran in cakes and mixed in with brown sugar, butter and a little flour for topping peach cobbler, and even Rice Krispies (or their low-budget alternative) as coating for chicken, chops, veggies and-with added sweetening-confections.

I confess to it all...the endless rolling pin poundings, food processor crunching and even mortar-and-pestle torture of those innocent grains. It's me ! It's me! It's me!
And you know what? Given the chance I'd do it again!
Especially these days, when cereal prices are going through the roof! (providing you still have a roof left for them to go through!)
Chicken awaiting its fate


My most recent victim was a box of Crispy Rice that had seen fresher days.  (See...I don't often go after the newbies).
Oh, it still had a few snaps, crackles and pops left....albeit the bargain variety....so I knew there'd be some crunchiness.

And then there were those chicken thighs...just laying there, freshly washed and dried, skinned and boned....waiting for something to happen.

I confess to the killing of that box of Crispy Rice....and this is what I did.
You can check the forensics, they'll confirm my story. 

CRISPY RICE FRIED CHICKEN

Jack had been asking for fried chicken lately, but I didn't want the usual breaded variety. So I went to my usual haunt....the one place I knew where I could troll for something just right. 
There it was! My hunt was over!
Crispy Rice!  The cereal would be perfect for the job!  
So with rolling pin and ZipLock bag at the ready, I began my dastardly deed by pounding that semi-stale stuff into submission (for lack of better terms) so I could have my way with it....and produced what is now called Crispy Rice Fried Chicken. 

12 - 14 chicken thighs-skinned, boned, rinsed and towel dried
dash of salt/low-salt, pepper, garlic for chicken
2 cups milk (butter milk is better but regular is okay too)* for soaking
2 tsp (or more if you like) Worcestershire sauce
3 - 4 cups powdered Crispy Rice (Rice Krispies or which ever brand)
    (At this stage, I call it Crispy Rice powder for lack of better term)
1/2 to 3/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large or 2 small eggs beaten
oil for deep frying

Get a heavy, deep skillet or wok and put enough oil into it for deep frying.

Have all your tools handy-slotted spoon for working with chicken in the oil, something for draining the raw, milk soaked chicken, something separate for draining the cooked chicken, paper towels, bowls, the whole bit.
Set up your "stations."   (prep over here....cooking over there....cooling yonder)  Having everything ready ahead of time really helps!  Take it from an experienced Cereal Killer.


Then turn your attention to the chicken.
Sprinkle both sides with the dashes of salt/low-salt, pepper, garlic and even what ever other seasonings you want under the coating.
Add the Worcestershire sauce to the milk. Put Chicken into the milk mix to soak for about 15 minutes.

Crispy Rice powder
Next, take the Crispy Rice powder and put it in a bowl.  Add the dried seasonings, flour and baking powder and stir around with a spoon until fully blended. If you like more spice, add more! If you like less, don't use so much.  Spices are like religion....a very personal thing.
Seasonings for Crispy Rice powder -
to taste, but assume about 1 to 2 TBS
dried thyme, dried sage, dried sweet basil, dried marjoram, garlic powder, dried celery leaves.
  The following seasonings also for Crispy Rice powder are to taste and dietary considerations.
         No measured assumptions given here!  Salt or low-salt, pepper,dash of cayenne and/or lemon pepper

When the chicken has soaked for 15 minutes or so (longer is okay too), remove it and let it drain.

Turn on the flame under the oil to medium so that the oil's temperature "comes up" rather than heats up too fast. Best oil temp for this task is between 350 and 375 degrees.
We don't want it to start smoking!

Take the milk mixture and add the beaten eggs. Whisk until everything is mixed up thoroughly.
 Dip the chicken into this milk mixture, then coat it with the Crispy Rice powder.  Shake or tap off any excess. You can coat several pieces at a time, but only put one or two pieces in the oil together for frying!
Crowding will cause the coating to crumble off the meat and burn, uselessly, in the oil.

Make sure the oil is hot enough by testing it with a bread cube.  If the cube starts cooking instantly and browns quickly, it's ready.  Remove the bread cube and have at it!

Put the coated chicken piece(s) into the oil -remember NO CROWDING! 
Wok as deep fryer
Fry for 5 to 7 minutes for side one,  5 minutes for side two.  Times may vary, of course, depending on a number of things...size of food, strength of flame-that sort of thing.  My best advice would be to start with one piece and see how it goes.  That should give you a timing benchmark.

Remember to allow the oil to come back up to temperature between frying. A kitchen thermometer is great for this! But if not, a couple of minutes should do the trick.
Draining the chicken

Put the cooked pieces of chicken aside to drain.

When done, allow the oil to cool COMPLETELY before doing anything to it. 
Some people strain the oil and use it a second time-for deep frying only-others put it in a coffee can and dispose it in the usual manner.

You may want to sprinkle some final seasonings over the finished pieces....it's up to you.
I'd suggest putting them in a warming oven for about 5 minutes while you get the rest of your meal together. Salad is a good thing.  I like baked, buttered yams too.  But it's a personal thing.
Fried Crispy Rice Chicken, Yams & Slaw

So there you have it...my full confession, given freely and of my own accord.  I am a Cereal Killer.
And I will strike again!