Virginia Willis Blog

How to Fry Chicken – Southern Fried Chicken

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Southern Fried Chicken

When my dear grandmother was alive and I would come home to visit, it did not matter if it was 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon—I would walk in the door and she would be standing at the stove frying chicken for me. Yes, clearly I was spoiled absolutely rotten. But also I think it’s pretty clear how I feel about the subject: there are few foods in this world I love as much as I love as Southern Fried Chicken.

Last meal request? Fried Chicken.
Tired and grumpy?  Fried Chicken.
Homesick and missing Mama? Fried Chicken.
Celebrating a momentous occasion? Fried Chicken.

Wait, what? Where’d Lighten Up, Y’all go?

Well, here’s the deal and I even write about it in the headnote for Oven Fried Chicken on a Stick in Lighten Up, Y’all. Oven fried chicken is NOT Fried Chicken. It’s a good substitute, but we all know that a Broadway understudy is really, really good, but just not quite the star that everyone wants to see.

Fried Chicken is so loved in the South it’s become a caricature, a cartoon. But, to define Southern Food by only Fried Chicken is a gross oversimplification. Especially when there’s fast food fried chicken, gas station fried chicken, and grocery store fried chicken, none of which can hold a candle to real honest-to-goodness homemade skillet fried chicken. So, I save my calories for incredible fried chicken, not mediocre fried chicken. Southern Fried Chicken is serious business. And, if you thought there was only one Southern classic, I would simply remind you that there are as many Southern Fried Chicken recipes as there are Southern grandmothers.

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As if I didn’t love her enough, my dear and wonderful friend Rebecca Lang has written an entire book that celebrates and glorifies my favorite Southern recipe, Fried Chicken: Recipes for the Crispy, Crunchy, Comfort-Food Classic. Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite people on this planet. She is smart, beautiful, kind, talented, sweet, sassy, a great cook, and a positively brilliant cookbook author.  Her latest book goes straight to my heart! A whole book dedicated to Fried Chicken!

She covers all the Southern favorites such as Buttermilk-Soaked Fried Chicken, Fried Chicken Smothered in Gravy, and Nashville-style Tennessee Hot Chicken. Yet she goes beyond Southern Fried Chicken and explores international fried chicken—fried chicken from Saigon, China, Brazil, Mexico, and Korea. She’s even created a Gluten Free Fried Chicken!

The photography is mouthwateringly beautiful and these recipes are guaranteed to work. She’s a diligent and expert recipe tester and cooked through a whole hen house to make sure these recipes are the best they can be. This is the end-all, be-all book if you want to know how to fry chicken.

This blog post, as Rebecca’s lovely book, celebrates Fried Chicken. To tantalize your taste buds, I’m including Rebecca’s recipe for Chinese Lollipop Chicken and my recipe for my grandmother’s classic Southern Fried Chicken. And, at the end, I am sharing a short photo tutorial on “How to Cut Up a Chicken. I find it’s cheaper to buy a whole bird and break it down yourself.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia 

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Southern Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6

1 (4-pound) chicken, cut into 9 pieces (see below)
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups canola oil

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place the flour in a shallow plate and season with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Heat the oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat until the temperature measures 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.

Meanwhile, to fry the chicken, starting with the dark meat (since it takes longer to cook) and working one piece at a time, dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, turning to coat. Shake to remove excess flour. Reserve any leftover seasoned flour for the gravy.

One piece at a time, slip the chicken into the hot fat without crowding; the fat should not quite cover the chicken. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature at 375°F. At this stage, a splatter guard (a wire cover laid over the pan) may prove useful to contain the hot grease. The guard lets the steam escape, while allowing the chicken to brown nicely.

Fry the pieces, turning them once or twice, until the coating is a rich, golden brown on all sides, 10 to 14 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the juices run clear when pricked with a knife, an additional 10 to 15 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh should register 170°F.) Remove the pieces and drain on the prepared baking sheet. (Do not hold the chicken in a warm oven; it will get soggy.) Enjoy immediately.

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Rebecca’s Chinese Lollipop Wings 
Serves 4
5 cloves garlic, peeled 
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 
11teaspoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon hot chile sauce, such as Sriracha 
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 teaspoons light sesame oil 
1 egg, beaten 
3 tablespoons cornstarch 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1teaspoon ground white pepper 
2 pounds chicken drumettes Peanut oil, for frying 
Cilantro, chopped, for serving
To make the marinade, process the garlic and ginger in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely chopped. Add the salt, chile sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg, cornstarch, flour, and pepper and pulse twice to combine. Transfer the marinade to a large mixing bowl. 
To form the lollipops, grab the exposed bone at the end of each drumette and use a paring knife to push all of the meat to the other end, exposing the bone and forming a rounded lump of meat at one end (to look like a lollipop). The bone should be stripped of all meat to form about a 1-inch stick for the lollipop. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the marinade, toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. 
In a deep fryer or large, deep stockpot, heat 2 inches of peanut oil over high heat to 350°F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. 
Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Carefully place the lollipops in the hot oil. Fry for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Maintain a frying temperature of 325°F. Drain the lollipops on the wire rack.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

Reprinted with permission from Fried Chicken, by Rebecca Lang, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by John Lee. For more information about Rebecca, please visit www.rebeccalangcooks.com

How to Cut Up a Chicken

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Cut the wing tip off and save it for stock. Sometimes, when frying chicken, I leave the wing fully intact in its three sections and cut it off so they are their own piece and not connected to the breast.

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Remove the thigh and drumstick.

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Make sure to insert the knife into the meaty area of the thigh known as the oyster.

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Look for the line of fat that divides the thigh and drumstick. This indicates where the joint meets and where best to cut. If you have a hard time here, it means your knife is in the wrong place.

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If the knife is directly between the joint it will cut easily through the cartilage.

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Cut through the rib cage to nearly separate the full chest from the backbone.

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Place the tip of your knife through the hole nearest the neck. You’ll need to put some umph into it to cut through the bone and completely remove the back from the chest.

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Divide the full chest down the middle. The sternum will require a little effort and leverage, but the soft cartilage at the point of the triangle is soft.

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Chicken breasts are so large, I often divide the breast into 2 pieces.

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The method results in 4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 1 back. You can fry the back as a cook’s treat or save it for stock.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Eat Wild: Elderflower Cordial

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Eat Wild

Recently, I’ve been studying a couple of foraging books and trying to use more wild food in my kitchen. Serving locally foraged ingredients has become a feature of international haute cuisine over the last few years. I’m finding that there seems to be a great deal of interest in eating wild with Appalachian and Southern chefs, as well. There’s a long history of harvesting from the creeks and rivers, forests and woods in the South, driven by necessity rather than trend. I know that as a gardener, I feel exceptionally fulfilled when I make and cook from our endeavors. Harvesting from the wild (well, actually, the edge of the yard) and cooking from it feels even more incredible.

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We’ve got lambs quarters and purslane growing prolifically in our vegetable garden, so that’s pretty easy. Lambs quarter is like spinach on steroids, super vibrant and vegetal. Monsieur Milbert used to grow purslane in the potager at Chateau du Fey; it’s quite odd to see it as a weed. In fact, our garden is in such desperate need of weeding, I feel positively virtuous by considering these two weeds as wild foods. “I think that’s really the whole point of eating “weeds” or wild food. It brings to mind the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It’s just a way of looking at food and how it gets on our plates with a different perspective.

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So far, it kinda sounds like there are a good many weeds that are edible. But this also causes me to consider, just because it is edible doesn’t mean it needs to be or has to be. Queen Anne’s lace tempura? Cattail pollen pancakes? There are also a lot of notations like, “best eaten in a salad” or “dried leaves make a healthy herbal tea.”  Hmm. Well, I am sure I could make tea out of the yard trimmings, but I prefer English breakfast…. Still, it does seem to be an opportunity to enjoy something that’s not cultivated, something truly wild. I am very cognizant that there is a whole group of wild foods that we don’t eat just because we, as a people, have lost that wisdom. As a cook, I am very curious about regaining at least some of that knowledge.

We’ve grown accustomed to our food being neatly packaged for us, especially in the US. I think that Europeans have a much stronger sense of harvesting from the wild. One of my favorite French factoids is that pharmacists in France are trained to identify certain fungi, and if in doubt, mushrooms can be taken to a pharmacist who will inspect them and declare whether or not they are edible.

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Even though I remember harvesting berries from the woods as a child, I admit I am still somewhat fearful of eating wild foods. We picked these wild black raspberries from around the corner. Bursting with flavor, there’s just something there that a cultivated berry doesn’t have. But there’s just a vestige of uncertainty when harvesting foods from the wild, especially when the foraging books aren’t exceptionally clear and the photographs aren’t as definitive as one might wish. I’d also like to point out that an unusual amount of safe, edible wild ingredients closely resemble one form or another of not-so-edible, deadly herbage – and none I might add that cause a gentle death. Lots of asphyxiation and turning blue and such.

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Recently, in a fit of eat wild-DIY, I braved one of these possible mishaps by making Elderflower Cordial. This is a mildly fragrant, lightly floral simple syrup best served with seltzer water or club soda for a refreshing summer drink. Some recipes indicate that it can be added to sparkling wine as a type of kir royale sauvage, though I think it’s a bit too sweet to add to wine. On the other hand, Elderflower Cordial with vodka and soda sounds like a perfect summer grown-up drink.

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I felt so certain with my harvest that I made enough to share as food gifts. (Speaking of food gifts, I’m really looking forward to Food Gift Love by Maggie Battista that will debut this fall.) I had intended to make Elderflower Champagne, but read one too many blog posts about bursting bottles and cork missiles. Hilarious to consider that I could overlook possible poisoning with hemlock, but the deal breaker was the potential of a sticky mess.

So, maybe I won’t go toe-to-toe anytime soon with Hank Shaw or René Redzepi, but I am very excited to explore what the wild world has to offer.

Bon Appétit Y’all
Virginia

PS. Lots of events upcoming in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine before I swing back down South after Labor Day. Please check out my events page

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Elderflower Cordial
Makes about 2 quarts

1 1/2 quarts water
5 cups sugar
30 elderflower heads
Zest of 3 oranges

Bring the water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. Place the flower heads in a large bowl with the orange zest. Pour over the cooled syrup. Cover and let steep for 2 days. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilized bottles and seal.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Frozen Treats: Avocado Popsicles and Coconut Ice Cream

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Frozen Treats

Homemade ice cream and sorbets are some of my favorite summertime sweet desserts. (Peach is undoubtedly my favorite!) I like ice cream, I mean who doesn’t like ice cream? But I really enjoy making ice cream. Homemade ice cream is special and there are so many inexpensive ice cream machines it makes it really accessible. Fresh fruit sorbets are exceptionally simple to make, light and more healthy than many ice cream recipes. It’s just a matter of blitzing a bit of fruit with a sugar simple syrup, agave, or honey. And, I find making sorbet a great way to use berries and fruit that are no longer picture perfect.

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Recently I taught at Rancho la Puerta where my friend chef Denise Roa is doing the same sorts of things with savory ingredients by making paletas, or popsicles. I tasted a few of their frozen concoctions and was very inspired and intrigued. The tomato and herb and  lemon verbena and lime were bursting with flavor. However, the one that really blew me away was avocado. Wow. It  was incredibly creamy and rich, yet dairy-free, simply made with pureed avocado, agave, and water. I recently reworked a version at home with great success.

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That experiment also inspired me to think a bit more creatively when it comes to other flavors of ice creams and sorbets. I also have a dairy free family member and like to be able to serve “inclusively”, meaning I cook dishes that everyone can enjoy. I also often look to the tropics for refreshing summertime desserts.

With July heating up and the produce stands filling up, we’ve been working to eat more vegetables and vegetarian dishes. I’ve been reading my friend and colleague Nancie McDermott‘s Simply Vegetarian Thai CookingWith the temperature rising, tropical cooking is often the way to go. I also admit, sometimes I need a spicy spark to get me out of my Southern-French trained chef box.

You very likely may have read a blog post or an article I’ve written in the past that mentioned Nancie. I’m a huge fan. She’s The Expert on Southern Cakes and Pies — and Asian cooking, too! She gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a North Carolina native, and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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These recipes look phenomenal! There are authentic curries, stir-fries, rice and noodles, and sweets and drinks. Nancie’s a phenomenal cookbook author. Her recipes work and the instructions are clear. She’s a great writer. More than anything I love cooking her recipes because then I feel like my beautiful, sweet, smart, awesome friend is in the kitchen with me! Her Coconut Ice Cream ties in seamlessly with my summertime frozen treat recipe exploration.

Today I am sharing recipes for her Coconut Ice Cream and my Avocado Popsicles. I hope you enjoy!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia

PS I have lots of classes, signings, and events coming up including Nashville, Lexington, Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as Weathersfield, VT and York, ME. Please check out my events page!

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Coconut Ice Cream

Makes about 2 cups

Here is the classic Thai ice cream that sweetens the hottest evening in Thailand’s upcountry small towns. It could not be simpler and it could not be better. You can jazz it up with flavors and additions in the modern manner, but in my opinion it is perfect as is. Thais love it sprinkled with chopped peanuts and served in tiny bowls.

You can make the ice cream base in advance, cover, and chill for up to 1 day before you churn it into ice cream.

2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk (about 3 1⁄2 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp salt

In a heavy saucepan, combine coconut milk, sugar and salt. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring often to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.

Cover bowl and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve at once or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 weeks.

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Avocado Popsicles

Makes 8 to 12 (depending on the size of the mold)

1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 ripe avocados
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Halve the avocados in half lengthwise. Remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a blender, along with the cooled syrup, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as needed. Add the lemon juice and blend just until combined. Divide the mixture among the molds, snap on the lid, and freeze until solid, about 4 hours.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

virginia willis books on www.virginiawillis.com

Coconut Ice Cream Recipe Courtesy of Simply Vegetarian Thai Cooking by Nancie McDermott, 2015 © www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

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Celebrate Summer with Sustainable Seafood

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Celebrate Summer

The Fourth of July means fireworks, fun, flags, and of course food. It’s time to celebrate summer! Nearly 80% of Americans will be grilling this weekend, making it one of the biggest seafood buying weeks of the year. A lot of folks will be grilling burgers and brats, there will be flocks of barbecued chicken, and plenty of smoked pork shoulders and beef briskets, too.  We’re doing a little bit of both this weekend. Slow smoked brisket on the Big Green Egg one night — and fresh fish and shellfish the next. It’s the best of both worlds!

According to the USDA, we should to be eating seafood twice a week. Seafood and shellfish are high in protein, low in fat, and the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish are good for your heart. As you are making your seafood purchases, make sure to consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines to ensure you are purchasing sustainable seafood. So what does “sustainable seafood” mean? Sustainable seafood is defined as fish or shellfish that is fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on ocean health and ensures the availability of seafood for future generations. As a result of technology, we are now consuming fish at a higher rate than ever before. The global fishing community’s advances and lack of any serious regulation are enabling humans to fish deeper, farther, and for longer periods of time. The global fishing fleet is operating at two and a half times the sustainable level—there are simply too many boats chasing an increasingly dwindling number of fish. The bottom line is that we are simply catching and eating fish faster than most species can reproduce.

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As a chef, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I write about it as often as I can in print, online, and through my blog. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I do this because I am on the Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a member of Chefs Collaborative. “I walk what I talk.” According to many scientists and scientific organizations like Seafood Watch, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Blue Ocean Institute, we are seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of the oceans.

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So, I am sharing a recipe for farm-raised trout. According to the New England Aquarium, rainbow trout is very closely related to salmon, with the main difference being they are most commonly raised in freshwater on land based farms. These fish are well suited to farming, with fast growth and good environmental tolerances. Farm-raised rainbow trout is consistently high-quality, which makes buying decisions very easy. The flesh may be white, pink or orange and will turn paler when cooked. Buy U.S. farm-raised rainbow trout when possible. U.S. farm-raised rainbow trout are most commonly raised in raceways, which are essentially artificial streams. U.S. farmed rainbow trout is considered an ocean-friendly seafood choice because it is farmed in a manner that does not harm the environment.

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Trout is inexpensive and an extremely user-friendly fish to grill. Not only does its durable, leathery skin help keep the fish from falling apart, but it also insulates the flesh from the direct heat of the grill, cooking into crispy deliciousness.

Be safe and have a happy 4th of July!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

grilled trout recipe on www.virginiawillis.com

Grilled Trout with Olive Oil
Serves 4

This is the time to break out your best extra-virgin olive oil. The smoky, herb-infused fish just needs a little kiss of liquid gold.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) whole trout, butterflied
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, very thinly sliced
8 sprigs of thyme, more for serving
8 sprigs of basil, more for serving
4 dill sprigs, more for serving
Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). Or for a gas grill, turn on all burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the trout on a clean work surface and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Equally divide the lemon slices and herbs among the trout cavities.

Place the stuffed trout on the grill, heads facing in one direction. Grill, covered, until cooked on one side, about 5 minutes.

Uncover the grill, and flip the trout over (simply roll them over with a metal spatula). Cover, and continue cooking until the trout is done on the second side, an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, remove the trout to a warm platter and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with the fresh herbs and serve immediately.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own words and link back to this recipe on virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

photography by Virginia Willis

Want to keep up with my culinary wanderings and wonderings?

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Copyright © 2015 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

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Blueberries: Berry, Berry Good

Blueberry Delight

Blueberries are Berry, Berry Good

Blueberries are the Doris Day of summer fruit – happy-go-lucky, bright bouncing balls of flavor. Blackberries are moody, musky, and more complex. Watermelon is refreshing, juicy, and crisp. Cantaloupe is just a bit exotic. Peaches are downright racy — seductive, sexy, and sensual. We don’t get much in the way of cherries in the Deep South, but they, too, seem to be a very grown-up fruit. Blueberries however, are rated G. Blueberries are all-American. Blueberries are summer. Blueberries are healthy. Blueberries will put a smile on your face.

Well, mostly…but more about that on down the line.

When blueberries are in season, we enjoy them on a daily basis. When shopping, I always buy an extra pint just for the ride home from the farmer’s market. Many of you that follow my traveling exploits on airport apparel commentary on Facebook know that I fly a lot. (I also have “professional page” that sticks to more traditional commentary.) I’ll often buy a pint to throw in my carry-on bag for healthy snacking or a good-and-good-for-you breakfast.  Sometimes I can get a little carried away. A few weeks ago I was really nervous about something and mindlessly ate an entire quart. I laughed at myself binge-eating on blueberries, but hey, that’s heck of a lot better than a bag of potato chips!

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There are two basic kinds of blueberries: high bush and low bush. High bush blueberries belong to the same family of plants as cranberries, rhododendrons, and azaleas and will grow up to eight feet! My home state of Georgia is in the top 5 high bush blueberry producing states in the nation. Low bush blueberries will only grow up to 24 inches. These wild bushes are native to eastern and central Canada and the northeastern United States, growing as far south as West Virginia and west to the Great Lakes region, Minnesota and Manitoba. Generally low bush blueberries are smaller. I Both high and low bush blueberries are low in fat and sodium, have just 80 calories per cup and contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols.  This group includes anthocyanins, which are compounds that give blueberries their blue color. Anthocyanins have demonstrated ability to protect against a myriad of human diseases.

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A few years ago, a friend and I drove a few hours south of Atlanta to pick some of those delicious Georgia blueberries so that we could put up some jam. Let me tell you, it was hot as absolute blue blazes in that blueberry patch. The sun mercilessly beat down on our efforts for a farm-fresh harvest. Sweat dripped, no, ran in rivulets into our stinging eyes. Sunscreen washed off of us in waves. Gnats buzzed about our faces, pestering our eyes, ears, nose, and mouths. Birds dive-bombed our heads in competition for the fruit. Mosquitoes freely fed at our ankles like they were at a Las Vegas buffet. The combination of the smothering humidity and brutal sun caused our clothes to adhere to our flushed skin in awkward, uncomfortable configurations much like misdirected plastic wrap. It was 100% pure misery.

My second attempt at harvesting blueberries happened last summer. We have blueberry bushes in Massachusetts. I’d carefully covered them in tight-grid plastic mesh to keep the birds away. I diligently weeded and watered the soil, rich and teeming with earthworms. I braved terrified birds that had become trapped in the mesh. Slowly and surely, the unripe green orbs began to blush pink, then turned purple red. As they fully ripened the fruit turned deep blue in color, seemingly magically dusted in silver powder. The branches were bent heavy with fruit and it looked to be a great harvest. I was beyond excited, eagerly anticipating the two of us harvesting the fruit from the land. I had visions of jewel-toned quilted jelly jars lined up on the shelves in our pantry, premonitions of thirst-quenching blueberry lemonade, and lofty dreams of healthy blueberry smoothies to start our upcoming mornings.

Finally, the time came to harvest. The evening wasn’t nearly as hot as my experience in Georgia. There were no gnats or mosquitoes, no sunscreen was required, and the birds stayed a respectful distance away. It was looking pretty good. As we descended to the field, I was channeling equal parts Laura Ingalls Wilder and P. Allen Smith, two folks I immensely admire. We started our harvest. Birds chirped in the adjacent willow tree. Butterflies flitted in the air. There may have been a bunny at the edge of the meadow nibbling on grass.

Then, the horrific nightmare began. As we removed the protective mesh, we found not one, not two, but two-and-a-half dead snakes entangled in the mesh. Why dead? They’d slipped under the mesh and had become trapped. They were harmless garter snakes, but I come from a long line of snake-fearing women. And, as I have to repeatedly explain to my Yankee loved ones, all 5 deadly snakes that inhabit the North American continent live, nay, flourish and thrive in Georgia. I am positively terrified of snakes – harmless, deadly, live, dead, fake, and yes, halved. I basically lost my, well, stuff. I ceased to be helpful or cooperative. I moved to a safe distance of 25 feet from the flaccid, lifeless serpents.

Oh, hell no.

I have now officially decided buying blueberries nicely packaged in containers will be the way to go.

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

Please make sure to check out the July/August issue of Country Living. It’s on the stands now and I’ve got an article with lots of recipes in our Farm Fresh Feast. Also, I’m going to be teaching and speaking in Nashville, Lexington, and New England over the next few months. Check out my events page for more information. Come see me!

Now, for the recipes!

You can keep it keep it wholesome like Doris Day or jazz it up with chilled vodka. As for me, on this incredibly momentous day, I think Blueberry Lemonade might go really well with champagne!

Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

blueberries on www.virginiawillis.com

Blueberry Mint Lemonade
Serves 8

It’s great on it’s own, but also makes a great adult version, too. Instead of adding alcohol, I prefer having a pitcher of non-alcohol lemonade with a bottle of chilled vodka adjacent and a jigger for measure. It’s kid-friendly and allows everyone to make their cocktail as mild – or as stiff – as they like. Make sure the vodka is on ice and very well chilled.

½ cup sugar
3 ½ cups water
½ pint blueberries
4 sprigs mint, more for garnish
Juice 4 lemons
Lemon slices, for garnish
Chilled Vodka, optional

Combine the sugar and ½ cup of the water in a small saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, just until the sugar melts. Set aside.

In the bottom of a pitcher combine the blueberries and the mint. Using the end of a spoon or a muddler, crush the berries and the mint until pulpy and smashed. Add the juice of 4 lemons, the remaining 3 cups of water, and the reserved simple syrup. Stir to combine. Add ice to fill the pitcher and chill the lemonade.

To serve, fill a glass with ice. Pour over lemonade and additional mint and lemon slices to garnish. For an adult version, fill glass with ice and add 1 ½ ounces vodka, or to taste, and top off with lemonade, mint sprigs, and lemon slices.

***

Order Lighten Up, Y’all and I’ll send you a signed bookplate!

Lighten Up, Y'all on www.virginiawillis.com

If you are interested in hosting me for a cooking class or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to info@virginiawillis.com and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

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photography by Virginia Willis

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