skillet fried chicken cakes; putting leftovers to work




Tis the holiday season and days full of hunting and gathering.  Shopping for gifts, planning for parties, wrapping gifts, writing cards and so on.  Often, dinner is an after thought and most of us grab something from the market or a favorite take-out spot that we can dump on the table with little to no effort.  When the stress associated with getting everything done, the cookies, the gift wrapping and the decorating, who wants to make dinner?


Even so, a nice dinner on the table at the end of a busy day is just what I want and now that there are just two of us to cook for, I actually look forward to the task.  Generally, helpful hints for the homemaker (laughable isn’t it-me a homemaker?) call for cooking large batches of stuff and serving it all week long or they instruct you to divide it up and freeze it for days like this when cooking is not an option.  That is a sound plan and good advice, just not for me.  When I am faced with eating my way through two gallons of chili or a ginormous pan of baked pasta, I get tired of it quickly.  More often than I care to admit, good food ends up putrefying in the back of the fridge.


One way I have managed to get a menu together that covers the whole week is to pick a few ingredients, purchase them in bulk and prepare different dishes from them so that even though I am essentially eating the same thing, there is enough variety to keep me from getting bored.  Remember my recent series on One Bag of Kale?  A large, one pound bag of kale appeared in four separate meals and no boredom was detected!  This time around, I used a whole, roasted chicken, two of them actually, to fill my menu.  We feasted on soup, creamy chicken and vegetables over rice and a new favorite dish, Skillet Fried Chicken Cakes.




As you may know, we recently relocated to Williamsburg, Virginia and if you are familiar with the geography of the area, you also know that we are a hop, skip and short trip across a couple of bridges from the Chesapeake Bay.  In culinary terms, that means we are smack dab in the middle of oyster and crab country.  Amazingly enough, I am not a huge fan of either one.  Mussels, absolutely!  Calimari, duh, I am Italian, calimari is a given here.  Lobster, now you’re talkin!!!  Crab, meh; I’ll stick with shrimp and lobster.  Oysters, eeewww-can’t even think about them.  However, I can shuck ’em all day long thanks to my first real job after graduating from the CIA.


My husband, on the other hand, has a thing for crab cakes, specifically Maryland Crab Cakes.  Since I do not eat them, I naturally assumed from the name that the cakes were made of blue crabs from the nearby Chesapeake Bay.  However, the difference between other crab cakes and Maryland crab cakes is huge.  In this part of the country, folks like their cakes to be made from fresh crab and little else.  They like them large and pan fried in patties that are so tender they barely stay together and are eaten with little more than a bit of remoulade sauce.   Not being a fan of remoulade sauce or it’s low brow cousin, supermarket tartar sauce in a jar, I never even consider ordering the crab cake special in a restaurant, much less making them at home!


Oddly enough, the dish does sound tasty to me, except for the crab part, and it had me wondering, if we can call tuna the chicken of the sea, could we let a chicken take a deep sea dive?  Would replacing the crab meat with freshly pulled chicken meat work in a crab cake recipe?  You bet it does and despite my enthusiasm for this compromise, I was skeptical that my husband would agree.  The long and short of it all, he devoured them and did not even miss the crab.  Success!


But how can this be a time saver?  Easy, next time you are going to roast a chicken, roast two or three if you can.  Pull one (or two) chicken(s) to pieces, separate out the meat, discard the skin and save the bones and carcass for soup.  Weigh out (yes, weigh it out-a scale is easy to find and surprisingly affordable!!!) a pound of pulled meat for a batch of cakes and set aside the remaining meat for soup, white chili or another of my favorites, chicken and black bean tacos.  You can freeze it until you need it or spend a day in the kitchen making everything-personally, I prefer to freeze components and then thaw and cook them as needed.  The recipe is quick to make and easily doubled if you want to plan ahead; just freeze the cakes and thaw and cook when you want to serve them.


Make these cakes as long as one day ahead, cook them when you plan to serve them and put them on the table with your favorite buns (kaiser rolls for me if I am buying them, homemade otherwise!) and fixings, a local brew and secretly wish for the chaos season to end and for  summer to arrive…

Skillet Fried Chicken Cakes

IMG_1806Recipe is adapted from one that appeared in Food and Wine and was written by Andrew Zimmern.  See the original recipe here.  And for the crab lovers out there, just prepare the recipe as written in the link, I am pretty sure Chef Zimmern knows what he is talking about here!

Makes 8 cakes, serves about 4


1 pound cooked, pulled chicken meat

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 large egg

1 tablespoon mustard, preferably whole grain

1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce

1-2 teaspoons Creole spice mix

1 teaspoon hot sauce

3/4 cup cracker crumbs, about 20 saltines

Oil for frying

Buns, sandwich fixins, pickles


Pull the chicken meat so that it is shaggy and rough, cubes will not bind!  In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, worcestershire, spice mix and hot sauce.  Add the chicken meat and the cracker crumbs and gently mix to combine but take care not to mash it to a paste.  Divide the mixture evenly and form patties.

Pour enough oil into a large skillet so that the entire surface is covered by an 1/8th of an inch over medium heat.  Carefully add the cakes and fry on one side until browned.  Turn the patties and fry the other side until nicely browned and hot in the center.  Lift the cakes from the oil and set them on a tray lined with brown paper or paper towels, serve immediately.


For the OCD, make your own buns, I do when I can and freeze them, find my recipe here



cooking the books: szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice

i am a cookbook hoarder.  i’m not ashamed, it’s a habit that i can live with and speak of out loud without fear of the consequences.  after all, i am a cookbook author, it’s only fair that i collect the books of other authors if i expect anyone to collect mine.  my husband might disagree, he suggests getting rid of the ones i do not use on a regular basis.  i have become adept at getting around this.  my current strategy is to cook from the books that have gathered a little dust.  he is enjoying the results and asks when i will make something again, also asks “what did you cook for dinner today?” with a level of enthusiasm i am not accustomed to.  so you see, my plan is working, for now at least because men can easily be manipulated with food, sometimes.
long, long ago, before children, i bought a copy of irene kuo’s book, the key to chinese cooking.  it was published in 1977 and i have had it since the 80’s when i purchased it most likely from a book club-remember those?  oh how i have dated myself with this post…  this book has been lugged around, cross country twice and recently, i decided i needed to use it or lose it.  
while i have always enjoyed chinese food, it is not something i crave.  but i must admit, i have always loved the stir fries served in restaurants.  the texture of meat and poultry is always so tender and moist.  the secret is the velveting technique and using the recipe in this book works.  to test the theory, i made my husband cook a chicken stir fry using the recipe-after all, he was the one who said you have to velvet the meat to make it tender.  he is fussy about meals so when i see him getting cranky about food-i make him cook it.  but to be fair, i try to make meals that he will enjoy.  and recently, i picked up this book and made him a batch of szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice.  the garden dumped a bowl of beans on me and it was the perfect recipe to use them in.

between our garden and the demonstration garden i work in, i had several types of beans to work with.  from the left; pole beans, royal purple beans, blue lake bush beans, haricot verts and asparagus long beans wrap around the bunch.  i cut them all to the size of the verts to make cooking them easier.

the first and most important step, deep frying them.  the purple beans lose the color and go green pretty quickly.  after frying them, the beans are set aside.  the remaining ingredients are quickly stir fried and the beans added to the mixture at the end.

i could eat these all day.  

the recipe calls for hot bean paste, something i did not have.  my solution was to add a small piece of finely diced cowhorn pepper.  it added more than enough heat!  the recipe also called for ground pork or beef and i opted to omit that completely-the dish was flavorful and filling without it.

to complete the meal, i used ms. kuo’s recipe for shrimp fried rice.  it calls for cooked rice which is a great way to use leftover rice but who keeps 3 1/2 cups of cooked rice in the fridge?  not me!  so i cheated and used a multi-grain rice from trader joe’s.  it is a frozen-cooked product but i know it will be better than anything i could have cooked on short notice.  i need to work on my rice cooking skills. for the purists, it takes about 1 up raw rice to make the needed 3 1/2 cups cooked rice.  and just to make it interesting, i added a few veggies for color; carrots and corn were what i a had available.

szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice
both recipes are adapted from the key to chinese cooking by irene kuo

green beans
1 pound green beans, cleaned and cut in half
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced cowhorn or other spicy pepper(can be omitted or reduced)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon vinegar-cider or rice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
sesame seeds for sprinkling on top

the book uses a technique of preparing a working platter and it is very helpful so i will use it here as well.  place the beans on the platter.  as you prepare the ginger, scallion, garlic and hot pepper,  place them in separate piles on the platter.  in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, soy sauce and sherry and set it aside.  have a heat proof bowl with a strainer ready for the beans.  using a wok, heat the oil to 375.  add the beans slowly by scattering them across the surface of the oil a few at a time to keep the temp from dropping quickly.  stir them constantly to fry them until they look wrinkly, about 3 minutes.  dump the beans and oil into the strainer.  save the oil, you will need 2 tablespoons for the rest of the recipe, keep the remaining oil in the fridge and use it anytime you need oil for a savory dish.

over medium heat add the 2 tablespoons of saved oil to the wok and swirl it around to coat the surface.  add the ginger, garlic, scallion and pepper and stir a few times.  add the sauce, broth and the beans and quickly toss it to coat the beans.  finally, add the vinegar and sesame oil, stir a few times and dump out onto a serving dish and finish it with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

shrimp fried rice
4 ounces raw shrimp-weight is without the shells, only the meat
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
5 tablespoons oil (remember the oil you saved from the beans?)
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups cooked rice
2 large scallions, chopped finely
1/2 cup cooked vegetables-frozen and thawed veggies will work here, i used corn and carrots
soy sauce and sesame oil to taste

if the shrimp are large, chop them into 1/2 inch pieces.  toss them in the cornstarch/water mixture.  heat the wok over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil.  swirl it to coat the wok, turn the heat to medium and scatter in the shrimp.  stir them quickly to cook them and then dump them into a dish and set aside.

wipe out the wok, heat it again over medium-high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil.  again, swirl the oil to coat the wok and heat the oil.  add the eggs.  as they cook around the edges, push them to one side of the wok to allow the still liquid eggs to run into the oil and cook.  tilt the pan if needed and continue to do this until the eggs are no longer runny but are soft and fluffy-almost like an omelet.  scrape them out into a dish and set aside.

reheat the wok over medium heat, no more oil is needed at this point.  add the rice and stir it to heat it, about 1 minute.  add the scallions and cooked veggies and stir rapidly to heat them.  add the shrimp and the eggs and using your spatula (bamboo works well here-it will not melt!), fold the sides into the middle to mix it and to chop the eggs.  drizzle in a little soy and sesame and stir to combine, pour into a serving dish.