A Little Bit of Chicken Fried at the World Food Championships

 

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It was 2008 when the Zac Brown Band came out with their hit “Chicken Fried”. The song was an instant Will Keys favorite with its uplifting country beat and lyrics of love for family, friends and the USA. I can still see him turn up the volume, hear him sing it out loud and flash that big smile of his. That song made him happy and inspired one of my best recipes, yet. Once again I am reminded that this blog is all about a celebration of his life, love and the healing power of food.

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Filled with self-doubt, but encouraged by my husband & daughter (#1 recipe tester…she has incredible taste buds) and supported by Team Saucy Mama, I ventured to the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama along with my long-time best friend and sous chef, Lynn Beamer. Never in a million did I think my signature dish, a little bit of chicken fried, would score a 99.625 out of a possible 100 points. It was the high score of the Recipe category and in spite of a few technical difficulties launched me into second place after three recipes and two rounds of cooking. Hats off to Team Canada who beat me by 1.2 points.

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WHOOSH ❤ Don’t you know that when I was accepting my Top 10 medal that Zac Brown Band song came blaring over the loud speaker. A Little Bit of Chicken Fried and a bear hug from above. Just like that William is up on that stage with me. It’s the most uncanny thing. I just believe and all the doubt washes away.  I will keep cooking because it keeps him close. Like the song says, “Feel the touch of a precious child And know a mother’s love”. He somehow never misses a beat when it comes to cheering me on.

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

And now for the best fried chicken sandwich you will ever eat. Asian inspired and served on a steam bun, it’s all about the crispy well seasoned coating and the juicy flavorful chicken inside. I suggest using boneless chicken thighs, but you can substitute boneless breast, if you must. Top it with the most magical black garlic hoisin, spicy slaw and a crisp sweet potato pickle and call it a winner. Oh, goodness-there is bacon in the mix as well.

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Asian Fried Chicken Steam Bun with Spicy Gingered Slaw & Sweet Potato Pickle

2 cups tempura mix

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons Saucy Mama Sweet Heat Marinade

6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless

Lane’s BBQ Brisket Rub seasoning

peanut oil for frying

6 plain Asian steam buns

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup Jelly Queens Black Garlic Rosemary Sauce

toasted sesame seeds

Gingered Slaw (recipe follows)

6 slices cooked crisp bacon

Sweet Potato Pickle (recipe follows)

fresh cilantro

Whisk tempura mix and salt on a plate. Whisk buttermilk, egg and marinade in a bowl. Season chicken thighs with brisket rub. Dredge chicken in dry tempura mix then drop in buttermilk mixture to coat. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of buttermilk mixture into remaining dry tempura mix and stir with a fork forming small clumps. Dredge chicken again in tempura mixture pressing so clumps adhere. Heat oil to 375F. in large skillet. Fry chicken until a deep golden brown on all sides and cooked to an internal temperature of 165F. on an instant read thermometer. Cook buns in steamer basket until soft and heated through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Open buns and spread inside with hoisin sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Top with gingered slaw, bacon, chicken, sweet potato pickle and cilantro. Close with wooden skewer.

Spicy Gingered Slaw

½ cup mayo

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Spicy Garlic Wing Sauce

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish

½ tablespoon packed grated fresh ginger

1 bag Mann’s broccoli slaw mix

½ teaspoon kosher salt

few grinds fresh black pepper

Whisk dressing ingredients; toss with broccoli slaw. Season with S&P

 

Sweet Potato Pickle

1 small red onion, sliced

1-cup Mann’s Sweet Potato Ribbons

1 star anise

5 peppercorns

½ cup water

½ cup white vinegar

1/3-cup sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Place vegetables in heat proof bowl. Add star anise and peppercorns. In small saucepan, bring remaining ingredients to a boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot mixture over vegetables; let stand until ready to use. Drain. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.

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Big shout out to my Team Saucy Mama. You ladies are my family and I love you to the moon and back. So blessed to have your support and encouragement. I also need to thank the Mann’s Company for their recipe contest that qualified me to get back to the WFC and for their amazing fresh cut vegetables that saved me so much time in the kitchen arena. I made it to the judges table with 1 second to spare in round one. WHEW!

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hugging the winningest sous chef of 2017

 Further thanks to Springer Mountain Farms and The Jelly Queens for sponsoring the Recipe category this year at the World Food Championships. Amazing products created with love and great care here in the USA make the best food.

What’s Meant To Be

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I thought I came to Orange Beach, Alabama to represent my sponsor, Saucy Mama, in the World Food Championships. Leading up to the competition I struggled with my recipes trying to fit them into the parameters of the contest and I actually had a feeling of dread. My goal was to present my flavors, cook to the best of my ability and hopefully make Saucy Mama proud. The pressure was on like a panini in a sandwich press.

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Cuban Fusion

Saucy Mama is a family owned company that prides itself on supporting home cooks. They love nothing more than gathering folks around a table to enjoy good food. While I did not bring them into the winner’s circle I sure felt loved. It was obvious that they were proud of what I had brought to the table. I accomplished my cooking goals and truly had the most wonderful time amongst many friends and my Saucy Mama family.

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Fontina Stuffed Chicken and Mushroom Meatball with Parmesan Frico

However, I am writing this morning because I have another story to tell. It’s not about cooking. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about a chance meeting. It’s about a simple glance through a restaurant window and how that moment changes your life. It’s a story of a young Navy Corpsman who reached out because he thought he might have recognized, Will’s mom. A story about why I was meant to compete in Orange Beach.

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Meet Brandon. Brandon and William became brothers while stationed in San Diego. He caught a glimpse of me through a window as I passed by a restaurant he just happened to be working in. The following morning I wake up to a FB message:

Brandon: Mrs. Keys are you in Orange Beach

Me: Yes. I am cooking at The Wharf. Sandwich competition

Brandon: I saw you last night. I was bartending at the boat bar and I told myself that  couldn’t be you and then I saw FB.

Me: You are giving me the chills

Brandon: I’m upset I did not say something last night. Do you have any plans for breakfast?

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Brandon helped Will land this shark

Meeting Brandon is the highlight of my time in Orange Beach. He loves my son and shares many “Will” stories I haven’t heard before. We laugh and we cry. He insists on driving me to the airport tomorrow at 3:30 in the morning. He’s Will’s brother taking care of Will’s mom. The love is immense. This is my prize. This is the catch of the day. This is why I am meant to be at the World Food Championships. A chance meeting, a mutual love and a reminder my dear boy will never be forgotten. Once in awhile I need that.

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Just Being In the Mix is Enough

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Like a hurricane competitive home cooks are a force to be reckon with. Our passion for quality food and proper cooking technique drives us to be the best of the best rating right up there with those more professionally trained. Our kitchen is our classroom. We study cookbooks like novels. We hone our skills by banging pots and pans together running recipes through countless trial and error practice drills. Sometimes we cause a stir and sometimes just being in the mix is enough. It’s rising to the challenge that makes us better.

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It’s a busy month in the Keys kitchen as I prepare and put the finishing touches on my recipes for the World Food Championships. I love being in the mix of food competition and sometimes just being in the mix is enough. Like the saying goes, “can’t win them all”, but simply making the cut, being judged and recognized as a potential winner keeps one focused and motivated to try, try again. This oyster recipe is just one example of a winner, but loser. It got the attention of a professional culinary organization known as Chef’s Roll. The recipe made the top 25 list among mostly professional chefs. In fact, only 3 home cooks made the list. Gotta love and feel proud when a home cook rates right up there with the professionals and when one (my friend Rebecka) takes second place overall!

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Montmorency Tart Cherry Crudo ~ photo by Rebecka Evans

 

Rebecka’s seafood recipe featuring montmorency cherries is as stunning as she is. You can check out her blog and get the recipe here: at home with rebecka and catch her next month on Food Network’s Clash of the Grandmas’ series. I hope she swoops in like a hurricane and takes those other grandmas down.

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In the meantime, mix up my cherry salsa verde and enjoy some oysters. It’s prime season for these fresh bivalves, so take advantage of it.

Fried Almond Oysters with Dried Cherry Salsa Verde & Chipotle Crema

Dried Cherry Salsa Verde (recipe follows)

½-cup Mexican crema

2-teaspoons adobo sauce from 1-can chipotle chili peppers

1 dozen fresh oysters shucked (reserve 12 rinsed and dried shell halves for serving)

1/3-cup almond meal flour

¼ cup finely chopped blanched almonds

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon cumin

avocado or canola oil for frying

Prepare dried cherry salsa verde; set aside. For chipotle crema, mix crema and adobo sauce until smooth; reserve in a squeeze bottle. In a shallow dish, whisk together almond meal, almonds, flour, baking powder, salt and cumin. In a medium skillet, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches, and heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°. In batches, dredge oysters in almond mixture until well coated, shaking off excess. Fry 1 to 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Fill each oyster shell with about 1 tablespoonful of salsa. Top each with 1 fried oyster. Drizzle with chipotle crema. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Dried Cherry Salsa Verde

2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, quartered

½ cup coarsely chopped sweet onion

1-tablespoon fresh lime juice

1-teaspoon sea salt

1-teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon seeded and chopped jalapeno

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

½ cup whole dried Tart Montmorency Cherries

½ cup small dice jicama

In a blender, process tomatillos, onion, lime juice, salt, sugar, garlic and jalapeno until nearly smooth. Add cilantro; blend well. Pour into a bowl; stir in cherries and jicama.