perfect recipes from my imperfect neighborhood
Talk to someone in intown Atlanta for longer than 5 minutes, and you’re going to get asked the question. You may even ask it yourself just to get it over and done with. For Atlanta intowners, the question is the equivalent of the doggie butt sniff. Sure, it may seem a little intimate for a first meeting, but it’s expected amongst our kind.
“So, what neighborhood do you live in?”
About half of the time, the response I get when I answer to the question goes something like this:
“Oh. *gulp* That’s nice.”
You see, I live in a transitional neighborhood. Which in ATL-speak translates as:
A neighborhood – primarily occupied by low-income and elderly blacks – with severely depressed property values and higher-than-average crime rates that is slowly becoming populated by middle-class professionals with active social lives who want a good deal for their real estate dollar.
Living in a neighborhood like that ain’t no bed of roses. Hm. On second thought, it sorta is a bed of roses. There’s a lot of sweet-smelling good things about the neighborhood - neighbors who actually talk to each other, kids playing in the streets, and friendly older people who’ve lived here for multiple generations. There’s also our little community garden.
On a recent visit, I picked a small handful of dill from the shared herb garden a few streets over, simply because it smelled so good. As soon as I had a whiff, I got an instant craving for salmon and rushed off to get some. One of my favorite ways to eat salmon is pan seared with a little dill and lemon butter. I especially love the crispy, seared crust you get when you order pan seared salmon at a restaurant, but wasn’t exactly sure how to achieve the same result at home. A quick search on the interwebs though, and I was in business.
Perfect Pan-Seared Salmon with Dill
2 salmon filets, skin on
1-2 sprigs of fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic or 1 shallot, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ tbsp butter, softened
1-2 tbsp cold butter
salt and pepper
Pat the salmon filets with a paper towel to be sure they’re dry. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Spread softened butter on both sides of the filets. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet on medium-high. Add filets, skin side down and cook for 5 minutes. Flip with a spatula and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes (for medium doneness). Remove salmon and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium, add the garlic or shallot and sautee until light golden brown. Add lemon juice to the pan, using the spatula to scrape up any bits left behind. Remove the pan from heat, add a tablespoon of cold butter, and stir constantly until it melts completely. Add the dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Top salmon fillets with lemon slices. Pour the butter sauce over the salmon filets and serve.
Thanks to the Gastronomer’s Guide for this technique. It yielded the best salmon I’ve ever cooked at home. A golden crust on both sides, and the neighborhood dill was the perfect accompaniment.
But back to the bed of roses that is my neighborhood. In addition to the often-overlooked flowers that come with living here, there are the all-too-obvious thorny frustrations. We have less than our fair share of quality services, restaurants, and retail outlets, and more than our fair share of shady characters, and absentee landlords. Not too long ago, one of our neighbors’ homes was burgled. Since they don’t make Hallmark cards for such occasions, and since my neighbors had not-so-subtly hinted how much they loved fried chicken, I felt the neighborly thing to do was to whip up a batch for them. Sinking your teeth into some crispy, juicy fried chicken can help ease the greatest of pains. Even the pain that comes from some roguish bastard stealing your Xbox.
Perfect Buttermilk Fried Chicken
3 lbs of cut chicken pieces
1 carton of buttermilk
¼ cup mixture of ground herbs of your choice (I use: marjoram, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg)
1 onion, sliced
3 cups of flour
1-2 tbsp seasoned salt
2 cups of canola oil
a large paper bag
Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Liberally season with the ground herb mixture. If you really want to get up close and personal with the bird, rub the seasonings into and under the skin. Place the seasoned chicken in a large bowl and cover with buttermilk. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight (8-12 hours).
The next day, add the flour and seasoned salt to a large paper or plastic bag. Drain the chicken in a colander, and add a piece at a time to the bag, shaking well before adding the next piece. Let the chicken rest from 15 minutes to an hour (the longer the chicken rests, the crispier the outer skin will be).
Heat canola oil in a heavy skillet on medium-high. The oil is ready when a pinch of flour sizzles instantly when dropped in the oil. Add the chicken a piece at a time until the pan is full, but not too crowded. Cook for 12-15 minutes on one side, adjusting the heat as necessary so that the skin achieves a golden brown color, but doesn’t burn. Using tongs, flip to the other side and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and juices run clear when you pierce the chicken. Remove chicken and allow to cool on a rack or drain on paper towels. If you have problems getting the chicken done on the inside, finish cooking the chicken in the oven at 375 degrees until desired doneness is achieved.
The amount of time invested in making this chicken is absolutely worth it. The result is tender, juicy, well-seasoned chicken with a crispy, golden crust. My neighbors seemed to really like it, and I like to think that it helped them forget about the recent theft for just a few finger-licking moments.
Yep. My little neighborhood is certainly no Pleasantville, but some days it’s absolutely perfect.