Home-Cooked Favorites at School


Photo by Kate Andersen

To try fried chicken and potato salad, click here for the recipes.

In the interest of being efficient, my housemates and I have attempted to buy staples in bulk, or get stuff that lasts quasi-indefinitely until we decide what to do with it. Sometimes, the might-use-it-in-the-future becomes an immediate oh-man-the-potatoes-are-growing-roots-gotta-make-something-tonight call to action. Which is why when it came time to decide what to make that week for our dinners, I settled on using those potatoes for one of my favorite comfort meals: potato salad and fried chicken. The potato salad recipe we make at home is one from my grandmother on my mother's side--as it happens, one of only two recipes I have from that side of my family.

I was a little apprehensive about being able to reproduce something at school that I've loved so much when my mom has made it. My day for cooking that week was Wednesday, so I decided to get a head start on the meal by boiling the potatoes before my class at 1:00 p.m.

At 11:30 a.m., about 15 minutes after my whole, unpeeled potatoes had been boiling, I called my mom. "Do I peel them before I boil them, or do I slip the skins off after? Also, how long do I boil them?" The word was peel beforehand and boil for about 5 minutes--that is, 5 minutes if you've cut the potatoes up into smallish cubes, which I hadn't done. It was a step so second-nature to my mom that she forgot to mention it when she'd e-mailed me the recipe the day before.

My first piece of "test chicken" had some striking similarities to charcoal.

I took the boiled potatoes out of the Dutch oven (the only pot we had that's big enough), and cut them into cubes--a process rendered difficult by their heat and now gluey texture. Then I put them back in the pot and boiled them again, until they were just about right. The miscommunication had slowed me down so much that by now I had about 10 minutes to grab some lunch and make it to class. This particular Wednesday was also my first yoga class, and I had a particularly heavy amount of reading, so I didn't get back to my butchered potato cubes until nearly seven that night.

Luckily, the rest of the salad came together easily: washing and cubing the vegetables (scallions, green peppers, and celery) and adding in a mixture of non-fat Greek yogurt and mayonnaise until it seemed the right consistency ("right" being a subjective thing; I like to add just enough to hold it together) took maybe 15 minutes. I think I spent longer adding dashes of salt, pepper, paprika, and celery seed in a steady rotation until it tasted more or less like my mom's version.

Of course, the fried chicken was another little challenge. I knew some process of dipping them in egg, flour, and a breadcrumb mixture was involved, but I didn't exactly remember the precise order. Definitely not a disaster, but I'm betting flour-egg-breadcrumbs holds together better than my egg-flour-breadcrumbs sequence. The frying was also an issue--we didn't have quite enough vegetable oil, so I supplemented with olive oil, and at first the whole pan was frighteningly overheated (I've since discovered our stove runs hot, and that all of the burners are incredibly finicky). My first piece of "test chicken" had some striking similarities to charcoal. Luckily, after that the whole process went more or less smoothly, although the fear of poisoning my roommates with salmonella led to some more slightly burnt (or, more charitably, "extra crispy") pieces.

Despite all the cooking snafus and my busy schedule for the day, the whole meal still managed to come together. Something was not exactly just-like-mom's about the potato salad, but it still had the nice crisp, slightly astringent bite of the vegetables against the creamier potato and mayo-yogurt mixture, a contrast I love, along with the spicy herbal flavor the paprika and celery seed. The addition of a lettuce and cucumber salad on the side at least gave the pretense of a slightly lighter meal.

The chicken was also pretty satisfying, moist on the inside (despite my paranoia) and with a nice crunch to the coating, which tasted great with a little bit of spicy mustard as a condiment. Thanks to the surplus of potatoes-about-to-grow-new-potatoes that I'd had to use, there was more than enough for leftovers (of which I think I ate of the majority over the next few days; I'm pretty much in love with potato salad), and the chicken made a good lunch cold--one thing we're all learning is that whenever a recipe says "4 servings", it really means about 3.5, which just isn't enough if you want to get another meal or two out of the dish. Or possibly we're just all A) pigs, and/or B) really hungry at the end of a long day.