Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cooking at Home - Impromptu Chinese Crab Legs

It just wouldn’t be a Saturday if I didn’t stop by Paul Anthony’s butcher shop. As luck would have it, Paul Anthony’s was flush with fresh king crab legs. Once I got home with them, I was stumped. As much as I love steamed crab legs with butter, I wanted something different. So I decided to cook my crab legs with a Chinese twist.

Knowing it would be hard to manage whole crab legs in a wok, I went to work with my kitchen shears.

Mostly cutting at the joints, I did my best to cut larger sections in half for easier eating. Later on, I realized it would have been easier and more authentic to use a cleaver, but hindsight is perfect isn’t it?

Next, I chopped up some classic ingredients.

With my garlic and ginger chopped, I had my black beans and crab ready to go as well.

As always, I got my wok good and hot and then added a decent helping of chili oil.

Hmmm, that’s a lot of chili flakes.

Next up, I added in the rest of the aromatics.

In went the three cloves of garlic and three inches of ginger, and 30 or so seconds later a tablespoon of black beans.

Trying to keep everything simple, I added in the crab claws.

I kept turning them with my spatula, making sure that every piece was well coated. I really only wanted the crab legs to be heated through, so I kept trying little pieces to see what was needed. Through trial and error, I added about a tablespoon of soy sauce and then a tablespoon of shao xing cooking wine.

About 5 minutes later, I turned everything out into a plate.

I’ll admit, it’s not the most stunning visual.

But I was going after quick, easy, and delicious, and this little recipe fit the bill. I love it when a simple plan comes together.

The Old Country Store - Lorman, MS

For anyone that’s paid attention to this pokey little website, they can tell that I have a great deal of respect for Alton Brown, especially his TV miniseries “Feasting on Asphalt”. In its second incarnation, Brown and his crew travelled from one end of the Mississippi River to the other on motorcycles. On his way from Natchez to Vicksburg, Brown stopped at a random country store on the side of the highway. Minutes later, Alton declared that “this is the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life.” With a claim like that, I figured the hour and half ride to Lorman would be more than worth it.

Pulling up to the country store, you see a lot of out of county plates.

And walking up the stairs, you can’t help but notice this claim.

Best fried chicken in the world is a hefty claim, but I’m willing to put my life on the line and eat some chicken.

Once inside, you can tell this building has some years to it. Reportedly 130 years old, it has a few knick knacks to remind customers what it used to be, but the main focus is in the middle of the restaurant.

There are two steamer buffet tables at the Country Store, the first one holding all the cold goods. I was disappointed to find all the watermelon conspicuously absent.

The second buffet table held all the important items. Chock full of greens, green beans, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, ribs, and boiled chicken, this was the epitome of a good country lunch.

You know the veggies are going to be good when there are pieces of meat and bones floating in the liquid. That’s a true sign that Mr. Davis knows his southern cooking.

What’s a country buffet without cornbread?

With my plate full, I returned to my table and took a good look at what I picked out for myself.

The green beans were very tasty and full of subtle meaty flavor. Mac and cheese at the Country Store was simple; nothing too exciting, just good food. The cornbread was interesting. Taking a bite, I noticed it was thick, extremely dense, and just a little salty.

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for.

I took the first bite of the chicken. A little salty with a medium thickness to the battered skin, none of that double battered nonsense they sell at KFC. It wasn’t too heavily seasoned; In fact, all I could really taste was the chicken. That might sound like a negative, but it was refreshing to be able to enjoy just the chicken and not the batter.

Still hungry for more, I started to loiter around the buffet line, and Mr. Davis was quick to notice my anticipation. He let me know that the chicken would be just a few minutes. 10 or so minutes later, I saw him take all of the chicken out of the fryer and get it ready for the buffet line.

Mr. Arthur Davis was nice enough to pose with his chicken, fresh from the fryer. I snagged a few pieces and made it back to the table. If the first pieces of chicken were good, these pieces, fresh from the fryer, were amazing, borderline ethereal. Now I can see why A.B. would call this the best chicken he’s ever had. With each bite, the flaky, crispy crust gave way to a moist and delicious meat with the just slightest trailing hint of saltiness.

Stuffed to the gills with fried chicken and other country fare, I had the entire drive back on the Natchez Trace to reflect on my meal at the Lorman Country Store. If I had been satisfied with the buffet chicken, I would have walked away wondering what Alton Brown was thinking. Thankfully, I was patient and hungry enough to wait for the fresh batch, and my God, did it make a world of difference. I still don’t know if I would call this the best fried chicken in the world, but Arthur Davis gets pretty damn close.

Old Country Store on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Amerigo - Jackson

A long time favorite of the Jackson metro, I haven’t been a frequent patron of Amerigo’s in a few years. I suppose Bravo has taken its place as my go to Italian restaurant, but on Friday, I decided to give the old warhorse another try.

While waiting for a table, I couldn’t help but notice a particular award on the wall. Apparently Amerigo won the award for best Italian restaurant in Mississippi during the 2008 Mississippi Magazine reader’s poll. I can’t help but find that a little dubious, as Bravo is always mentioned before Amerigo, but maybe that’s just me. Unfortunately, I had plenty of time to think about this because I was forced to wait for a table despite the 6 or 7 empty tables right in front of me.

Minutes later, I was seated and left with my menu. The first thing that caught my eye was the cheese fritters appetizer. I remember trying these for the first time when I was about 10 years old. They were massive balls of fried cheese with still cold centers. Hoping time had remedied this, I decided to order the cheese fritters.

I couldn’t help but notice how much smaller the fritters have gotten over the years. Apparently there has been some change because Amerigo is proud to let you know their fritters have been featured in Bon App├ętit. I did a fine job stumping the waiter when I asked what cheeses were in the fritters, but I eventually found out that they consist of fontina, assiago, and parmesan. With a relatively crisp exterior, I quickly realized this was a grown up version of a cheese stick. Served with honey mustard and a chunky homemade marinara, they fit the mold of adult version of the childhood classic perfectly. Even though the cheese fritters have improved over the years, I still don’t see the major attraction. The dish lacks any real hook to reel you in.

It’s always informative to see what your waitress recommends, and my waitress was more than happy to nominate a few dishes as the Amerigo’s specialties. Looking for something a little different, I eventually decided on the house smoked duck and sausage pasta.

Visually, this was a very pleasant dish, but I was annoyed to see an old Amerigo’s tradition was alive and well. In the middle of the dish was a huge clump of angel hair pasta. Normally I love angel hair, but at Amerigo, you can never extract a single strand; their angel hair always ends up being a starchy mass. As a result there was no real integration of pasta and sauce in this dish. It seemed that the rather spicy sauce made a moat around the angel hair. Looking past that, I started in on the almond wood smoked duck. While I could definitely taste the smoke, there was just a little too much and the duck was extremely overcooked. As for the sausage, it tasted like your generic store bought Italian sausage, not too bad but nothing to write home about.

After struggling to read my bill due to the extremely dim lighting, I was quick to wonder what exactly were most people in Mississippi thinking when they nominated Amerigo as best Italian? Are these the same people who can find no faults with Majestic Burger and Rooster’s? Am I too much of a food snob to appreciate the finer points of banality? Either way, when I’m in the mood for Italian, I’ll make my way to Bravo.

Amerigo on Urbanspoon

The Epic Bacon Cheeseburger Quest Part 4 - Char - Jackson

The first week of our search for Jackson’s best bacon cheeseburger had been less than spectacular. It seemed that, one by one, we were exposing revered Jackson institutions. Wednesday, Sam and I planned to meet for lunch and get the quest back on track. Trying to decide between Char or the Cherokee, I decided we should try the high end and see if we fared any better.

I’ve previously reviewed Char and had been less than impressed; I believe I said “it doesn’t excite the senses”. Regardless, I was ready to give Char another try, but this time sticking to simpler fare.

Right away, I was glad we had agreed to try Char. As much as I love a good greasy spoon, there are few things finer in life than a clean restaurant with dark woods, clean white tablecloths, and an attentive wait staff.

Less than a minute after being seated, we had our order ready. Two orders of the Char burger, dressed with lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and red onions on a toasted egg roll. A two dollar extra of Tillamook sharp cheddar and bacon make the char burger exactly what we’re looking for.

10 or so minutes later, the burger is ready and what a sight for sore eyes. No flimsy turkey bacon or magic disappearing American cheese on this burger. With a real, cultured cheese and honest to goodness slices of apple-wood bacon, this is what a bacon cheeseburger should look like.

The first bite, as always reveals the truth. The cheddar definitely compliments the burger.

I might even go so far as to say the sharp Tillamook cheddar slightly dominates the burger, but at the end of each bite, the flavorful beef of the patty shines through and shows just how well prepared this burger is.

One thing I can’t emphasize enough is how nice it is to finally taste a quality piece of bacon. This is a well smoked, well flavored piece of pork. Even better than the first bite, I found the ethereal bite for this burger. It comes right in the middle, just where the two strips of bacon intersect. Not only do you enjoy the beefy patty and sharp cheddar, you get a double dose of bacon that just makes everything zing.

Sam and I had to throttle ourselves in for this rating.












While discussing our scores, a few interesting comments came to the forefront; this was the first truly juicy burger we had enjoyed. Also the fries were a very complimentary to the burger. However the biggest shocker was the price. Two bacon cheeseburgers with fries at Char were cheaper than two signature majestic burgers and one fry. Not only was Char cheaper, the service, quality, and overall enjoyment are leagues ahead. It may be too early to pick a favorite in this competition, but the Char burger is making a quite the case for itself.

For my first review of Char, please click here