|Reading the new book Basic to Brilliant, Ya’ll felt like a chat over coffee with Virginia Willis, or so I imagine. She shares stories about her family like blackberry-picking in Georgia with her grandfather, and how her grandmother might have laughed at the 'high cotton‘ version of Brunswick Stew in the book. There are also tidbits about her experiences training and working in France, learning from Anne Willan at La Varenne, and then returning to the US to work on television shows with Bobby Flay and Martha Stewart. The mix of her upbringing in the South, her training in France, and her professional experience has resulted in a repertoire of down-home food elevated through perfect execution and in some cases, French dishes with a southern accent.
Photo by Helene Dujardin © 2011
She also shares smart observations about ingredients and food history. Willis describes the rise and fall of rice farming in southern coastal areas and the popularity of grits in the South, pointing out that΄instant grits are offensive.‘ She then goes on to explain the parts of corn kernels and how the best coarse-ground grits are made. In the introduction to the meat chapter, grass-fed and finished beef and its associated challenges and costs are compared to feedlot-finished beef. In her always friendly voice, Willis discusses the time when meat was a luxury rather than a choice. She offers solid information and leaves it up to readers to make informed choices based upon what’s available.
For every recipe in the book there’s a basic approach, followed by a tip for making each dish a bit more special or brilliant. The brilliant part might be a garnish, another way of presenting the dish, or maybe a slightly more involved technique at some point in the process. I’m not exaggerating by saying all of those tips really are brilliant, and while they take a little more time, they’re all very doable. I tried the Chilled Haricots Verts with Crème Fraiche, and for that recipe the brilliant tip is to make a mushroom-breadcrumb topping by chopping dried porcinis and chunks of bread in a food processor and then browning them in a sauté pan with melted butter. The topping made the dish like a sophisticated salad version of green bean casserole. For the Roasted Tomato Soup, the brilliant tip is to bake little Gruyere Flans and float one in the center of each serving. The Bittersweet Chocolate Bread Pudding is made brilliant with Chevre Caramel Sauce. Making a caramel sauce with goat cheese instead of cream is so inspired, that might even be beyond brilliant.
Right away I had to try the Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce from the Starters and Nibbles chapter. The wings were marinated in a spicy mix with curry powder, soy sauce, and chopped jalapenos, and the sweet-savory dipping sauce was made with Greek yogurt, peach preserves, and hot sauce. Here, the brilliant tip was to turn the wings into chicken “lollipops.” Willis writes that she learned this technique from Jacques Pepin on television. The wings were separated into drumettes and flat pieces, and the wing tips were removed and saved for stock. For the drumettes, the tendons were cut at the narrow end and the meat was scraped down to the thicker end, leaving the bone exposed like a lollipop stick. For the flat pieces, which were a little more challenging, the two bones were separated at one end the meat was scraped down the bigger bone, and the smaller bone was removed. The end result was great-looking chicken pieces that were very easy to pick up and eat, and the flavors from the marinade and the dipping sauce were ample reward for the extra effort.
Read more on Lisa's adventures with Basic to Brilliant, Y'all on her blog Lisa Is Cooking.
Curried Chicken Wings with Peach Dipping Sauce
Reprinted with permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.MAKES ABOUT 24
- 3 pounds chicken wings (12 to 14 whole wings)
- 1 teaspoon Madras or spicy curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 to 3 jalapeños, cored, seeded, and very finely chopped, plus more for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup plain low-fat or whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
- 3 tablespoons peach preserves
- 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
To prepare the chicken wings, cut off the wing tips (reserve to make stock), and halve the wings at the joint. In a large bowl, combine the wings, curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, soy sauce, canola oil, jalapeños, garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the yogurt, preserves, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Remove the marinated wings from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil. (I don't like to use a nonstick baking liner on the baking sheet in this instance because the curry can stain the silicone.)
Transfer the wings without crowding to the prepared baking sheet.
Bake until the wings are deep brown and the juices run clear, turning once, 15 to 20 minutes per side. (If you like charred bits, after the 40 minutes, turn the oven on to broil for about 5 more minutes.)
Taste the yogurt dipping sauce and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and serve the hot wings with the dipping sauce on the side.
Brilliant: Chicken "Lollipops"
I first learned this watching Jacques Pépin on television. It's impossible to watch him without learning something. This converts regular old chicken wings to Brilliant hors d'oeuvres.
To prepare the "lollipops," cut off the wing tips (reserve to make stock), and halve the wings at the joint. (This will leave you with the drumette and flat.) Using a paring knife, cut the tendons at the narrower end of each drumette joint. Hold that end with a kitchen towel and scrape down the meat as far as possible toward the thicker end to make a plump lollipop shape. Then, take each flat and cut through the cartilage at one end of each piece, separating the bones. Scrape the meat down the larger bone to make a lollipop shape; remove and discard the smaller bone. Proceed with the Basic recipe to marinate as instructed.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.