Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
This is my fun picnic plate for spring (or summer). It’s simple and made up of a few classics that I just love putting together. Something about fried chicken followed by a bite of a tangy pickles and some crunchy cabbage slaw makes me so happy. It’s such a great mix of textures and lighter than the standard potato and macaroni salad.
While I will always devour fried chicken right out of the fryer, I also enjoy it cold with the cabbage and pickles at room temperature. You decide!
Pickling your own vegetables entails submerging them in a salt and water solution (brine) or an acidic ingredient like vinegar. Simply put, the good bacterium that exists naturally on vegetables consumes the starches/sugars in the vegetable and secretes acids (namely lactic acid) that prevent spoilage. More importantly: pickling adds irresistible flavor, gives them brightness and acidity and, in some cases, even increases their vitamin content!
A few important tips? If you’re planning to keep the pickles for some time before eating, use jars designed for home canning with tightly fitting lids without any dents or rust. Select tender vegetables (that are not wax-coated) of a relatively similar size. Kirby cucumbers, small onions and smaller zucchini or carrots are a few of my favorites. When sealing your pickling jars, submerge them and the lids in separate non-reactive metal pots and gently simmer them in hot water while you prepare your brine. That way you start clean and end the process with something safe and tasty!
Kirby Cucumber Pickles
These are tasty. I even have left them overnight and eaten them the next day. They still have the freshness of a cucumber with the beginnings of a pickle.
¼ cup sea salt
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
8 cups filtered/bottled water
4 lbs. Kirby cucumbers, thoroughly washed and dried
A few sprigs fresh dill, washed and dried
1. Make the pickling liquid: Mix the sea salt, apple cider vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes. Remove the brine from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Remove the jars, one by one, from the boiling water and fill each with the cucumbers and a little bit of the dill.
The cucumbers (or other vegetables) should be fitted tightly and should come within ½ inch of the top of each jar.
2. Pickle the cucumbers: Fill each jar with the brine to the top and tap on a flat surface to remove any possible air bubbles. With the brine all the way to the top, wipe each top and rim with a cloth and tightly seal each jar. Refrigerate. After 24 hours, the lids should be flat on top and offer no resistance when you press down on it. After a few weeks, open the jars and wow!
I love the paper bag method my mom just casually whips up. Simple.
1 whole chicken (3-3½ lbs.) legs, wings, thighs and breasts separated, breasts halved crosswise
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. paprika
3 cups shortening
1. Marinate the chicken: In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, mustard, 1 tbsp. salt and pepper. Marinate the chicken for at least 8 hours and up to 18 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F.
3. Get ready to fry: Melt the shortening over low heat in a large cast iron skillet. Raise the heat to medium and use a thermometer to monitor the oil as it comes to 375F. In a large paper bag, combine and shake together the flour, 2 tsp. salt and paprika. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and toss them in the bag with the flour mix until they are coated. Arrange the coated pieces on a baking sheet.
4. Fry the chicken: use a pair of tongs to arrange the chicken in a single layer in the hot oil. Cook over medium heat 5-8 minutes on the first side or until golden brown. Carefully rotate the pieces to their second side and fry for an additional 3-5 minutes. When the pieces are browned, remove them from the oil and onto a clean baking sheet sited with a rack. Season with salt. Place the tray in the oven and cook for an additional 12-15 minutes or until all of the chicken is fully cooked. Taste for seasoning.
This cabbage slaw can be made hotter or milder depending on your personal tastes. I like the balance of 2 teaspoons hot sauce with the jalapeño. Want it milder? Omit the jalapeño and lower the amount of hot sauce.
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 tbsp. hot sauce
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated on a grater
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Worcestershire
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 medium purple cabbage, halved, cored, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, cut into thin rounds
1. Make the dressing: In a large bowl, combine and whisk together the vinegar, hot sauce, mayonnaise sugar, Worcestershire sauce and salt.
2. Prepare the slaw: Stir the sliced cabbage and jalapeno slices into the dressing and toss—preferably with your hands—to completely coat the cabbage and let sit at least 10 minutes (and up to several hours) to marinate. Taste for seasoning.