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
Recipe 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