Chicken Supreme

Poultry's perfect for lots of dishes

April 28, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk, | Suzanne Loudermilk,,sun food editor

Did somebody say, "Cluck"?

When Herbert Hoover promised a chicken in every pot in 1928, he probably had no idea how prophetic the pledge would be. Today, Americans are gobbling up an increasing amount of the versatile bird -- and not just in the proverbial pot.

Since 1968 when we consumed 37 pounds of chicken per person per year, we have broiled, roasted, grilled, fried, sauteed, poached, microwaved, stir-fried and stewed our way through an additional 37 pounds of white and dark meat a person for 74 pounds of plump poultry on our plates annually.

And cookbook authors have taken notice. More and more chicken how-to's are arriving on the publishing scene every day. Neither Publishers Weekly nor the American Booksellers Association tracks the number of chicken books on the market, but just check the stores. There are plenty.

"We're delighted to see the outstanding number of cookbooks," says Richard L. Lobb, spokesman for the Washington-based National Chicken Council, an industry group. "If you feel chicken fatigue setting in, you can pull down one of the cookbooks."

In recent months, several new ones have come to roost -- from "Fried Chicken" (Broadway Books, 1999) by Damon Lee Fowler, "Monday to Friday Chicken" (Workman, 1998) by Michele Urvater, "Chicken" (Chronicle, 1999) by Elaine Corn, "Wings Across America" (Carol Publishing Group, 1999) by Armand C. Vanderstigchel, "Empire Kosher Chicken Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, 1999) by Katja Goldman and Arthur Boehm, and many others focusing on the ubiquitous bird.

That doesn't even include generic books with whole chapters dedicated to the roaster. Or the Internet, where you can scratch up recipes on Web sites like the Chicken Council's www.eatchicken.com.

"There are probably more things you can do with chicken compared with any other protein," Lobb says. "You can have a chicken dish every day of the year."

Urvater targeted the hectic workweek with her cookbook, offering strategies for the harried home cook. Some of the recipes can be ready in 30 minutes. Others need weekend preparation, so leftovers will be available for the daily grind.

Featuring chicken made sense.

"It's America's favorite food," says the New York chef. "You can use it like a blank canvas."

Urvater creates a poulet palette with such dishes as Pretty Fast Chicken Gumbo, Florida-Style Grilled Chicken Salad, Chicken Reuben Sandwich, and Chicken With Tomatoes and Basil.

She recommends keeping the freezer stocked with various chicken cuts, including skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlets; tenderloins cut into strips; and ground chicken. Her pantry is stocked with pasta, grains, various oils, seasonings, condiments such as hoisin sauce and spaghetti sauce, and refrigerator items like carrots, yogurt and cheese to turn around quick meals.

Fowler focuses on frying in his book -- a technique that has been snubbed in recent years. "I think people are still scared of it for lots of reasons," says the Savannah, Ga., resident. "I hope people realize fried doesn't necessarily mean high fat."

He gives step-by-step instructions for deep-frying and offers recipes from around the world, including our own Maryland Fried Chicken.

Fowler says he searched several 19th- and 20th-century cookbooks before choosing the version in the book. "This one stood out," he says. "It seemed to be universal."

He pairs it with a wonderful gravy -- made with an indulgent 2 cups of whole milk -- for an old-fashioned meal that brings to mind dinners with Aunt Bea, June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson.

But, reminds Lobb, "The humble chicken has gone far beyond fried chicken."

Veteran cookbook author Elaine Corn takes a seasonal approach in her newest book, pairing available produce with poultry to come up with 150 recipes, such as Grilled India Spice Thighs; Chicken Breasts With Garlic, Orange and Kiwifruits; and Asparagus Chicken With Ginger and Black Bean Sauce.

"Chicken is so neutral," says the California resident-turned-restaurateur. "You really can't exhaust chicken."

Maryland Fried Chicken

Serves 4

1 frying chicken, weighing no more than 3 pounds, cut up for frying

salt and freshly milled black pepper

lard or vegetable oil, for frying

1 cup all-purpose flour

Cream Gravy (recipe follows)

Wash the chicken, pat dry and sprinkle liberally with salt and a few grindings of pepper. Set aside.

Choose a deep, lidded cast-iron skillet that will hold all the chicken in one layer without crowding it. Fill with enough lard or oil to come about 1/2 inch up the sides. Over medium-high heat, bring the fat to 365 degrees to 375 degrees (hot but not smoking).

Beginning with the dark meat, roll the chicken in the flour, shake off the excess, and slip the pieces into the fat. When the chicken is all in the pan, cover it and fry until the bottoms are nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Turn, cover and brown the second side.

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