Celebrate the Fourth with fried chicken

This Fourth of July, celebrate our country's birthday county-style with a down-home, lip-smacking, yet sophisticated menu. Starring a buttermilk-soaked, pan-fried chicken with an irresistible, crunchy crust. Plus fixings: Old-fashioned cole slaw; dilled potato-and-green bean salad; roasted mini-peppers with cucumber and tomatoes. We finish up sweet and simple with a berry-full cobbler.

Perhaps it‘‍s time to break out of that burger and dogs routine and cook up a more memorable meal. To make it easy on the cook, these recipes were designed with do-ahead in mind. The slaw has to be made a day ahead, and it's still good three days later. The potato salad is better the next day, too, and the day after that. The roasted mini-peppers can be made a day prior, or earlier that day. It's sounding more doable now, isn't it? And the chicken needs an overnight to tenderize and luxuriate in its seasoned buttermilk bath before you coat it with flour and fry.

You can fry the chicken earlier in the day to serve cold, which is the way many of us prefer it. Or start flouring and frying one or two hours before ringing the dinner bell. Serve it warm or even room temp, or cover loosely and chill in the fridge.

For safety, don't have guests around when you're deep-frying This needs your full attention -- the oil is hot! Please also follow these words of wisdom from the great James Beard: "Frying is like baptism in certain religious sects; there must be total immersion." Or at least you have to turn the pieces over in the oil.

The pastry crust for the berry cobbler needs to be prepared at least 30 minutes in advance so it can chill and firm. While it's best freshly baked, you can make it one day ahead as I did. Everyone loved it.

Sharing the workload often is the key to a more enjoyable party. So if one of your guests offers to help, invite him or her to prepare one of the salads or the dessert or to make something of their choosing for an appetizer.

What to drink? Craft beer for sure and a crisp, cold white wine, plus a pitcher of lemonade or iced tea. The kids will run around and the adults can sit and talk.

Don't forget plenty of napkins. Want to keep celebrating?

National Fried Chicken Day is on July 6. Save a juicy drumstick to enjoy then.

Red and Blue-Berry Fourth of July Cobbler

PG tested

A lovely, flaky pastry crust sits atop a luscious, not-too sweet, berry-packed filling. You can serve it with real whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. However, my tasters thought it was perfect unadorned. It's best served the day it's baked but you can bake it the evening before. Cover loosely with foil once it's completely cooled. Rinse strawberries before removing the green hulls; otherwise they'll soak up water.

For the crust:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine table salt

1/4 cup shortening

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut up

4 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 pounds small to medium strawberries, rinsed and dried on paper towels, hulled and cut into thick slices

3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the topping:

1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 teaspoons milk or cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the crust: In medium bowl, mix flour and salt. Add shortening and butter and rub in with fingers or cut in with pastry blender until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add enough ice water to thoroughly moisten mixture, stirring with a fork. Turn dough out onto sheet of waxed paper and form into disk. Overwrap with plastic and freeze for about 30 minutes or refrigerate for 2 hours until firm and cold.

For the filling: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, stir together sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon until well mixed. Add strawberries, blueberries and lemon juice. Toss with 2 rubber spatulas to combine fruit with all the sugar mixture so it is moistened. Scrape into an 11 1/2-by-8-inch (or a 10-inch-square, 2-quart) glass baking dish.

Roll dough on floured board with floured pin to a 12-by-9-inch rectangle (or about 1 inch all around larger than your pan). Using ruler as a guide, trim edges of pastry evenly, reserving scraps. Place pastry over filling and cut 4 slashes in top. Brush lightly with egg yolk topping.

Roll dough scraps to a ¼-inch thickness and using floured small and medium star cutters, cut out stars. With small metal spatula, transfer to top of pastry in decorative fashion. Brush stars with egg wash and sprinkle all with topping sugar.

Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to bake cobbler, loosely covering it with sheet of foil if it's browning too fast, until filling is bubbly and crust is firm, crisp and golden, 25 to 35 more minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Serve at room temperature.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Roasted Mini Peppers with Cucumbers and Tomatoes

PG tested

A light and sassy side dish salad. If you have vegetarians in your group, add a few chickpeas and/or some crumbled feta for protein. Prepare this a day in advance, if you like.

For peppers:

2-pound bag assorted mini peppers, halved, seeded and stemmed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For salad:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (plus additional lemon juice)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 large, seedless, hot-house cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1-pound container small, sweet tomatoes (such as Campari), cut into quarters or sixths

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

For the peppers: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a large, heavy baking sheet.

Place peppers on prepared baking sheet. In cup, mix oil, balsamic, garlic, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Scrape over peppers and toss to mix. Bake, stirring several times, until tender and starting to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on pan.

Meanwhile make the salad: In large bowl with fork, mix oil, lemon juice and balsamic. Add cucumber and red onion; season with salt and pepper and toss to mix. Let stand until peppers have cooled.

Add peppers with any pan juices and tomatoes to cucumbers. Toss then taste, adding more salt and pepper and lemon juice, if desired. Put in serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley. Serve right away or cover and chill.

Makes about 8 servings

-- Miriam Rubin

Overnight Cole Slaw

PG tested

A lovely old-fashioned recipe that's terrific with the chicken and other sides. Make it a day ahead. You may wish to pour off some of the juice that collects at the bottom of the bowl. As always, taste for seasoning before serving.

1 medium green cabbage, quartered, cores cut out and finely shredded

2 large carrots, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater

1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips, pieces cut in half

1 cup chopped sweet white onion

1/3 cup granulated sugar

For the dressing:

2/3 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In very large bowl, place cabbage, carrots, bell pepper and onion, but don't mix. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.

For dressing: In small nonaluminum saucepan, stir together vinegar, oil, honey, salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat and pour over slaw. Do not mix. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Toss to serve.

Makes 8 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Slightly Spicy Buttermilk-Fried Chicken

PG tested

Don't hurry the process when frying chicken. The oil takes time to heat and the chicken needs time to cook through. Shoo children and pets from the kitchen. If the oil gets too hot, don't try and move it (it can splash); simply turn off the burner and let it cool some. I use a large cast-iron skillet but an electric fryer is great, too. I prefer just thighs and drumsticks because they're juicier. You can use bone-in breasts if you like; cut them in half with poultry shears first. Boneless breasts will be done much sooner. Soak and rub the chicken the day before frying. If you like, fry the chicken earlier and serve it cold.

For the rub-and-soak:

3 cups buttermilk, well shaken

1/2 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce (such as Frank's or Trappey's)

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper

5 to 6 pounds chicken parts (I used thighs and drumsticks; look for small pieces which will cook more evenly)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1½ tablespoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper

For the dredge:

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons coarse-ground black pepper

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Vegetable oil for pan frying

For rub-and-soak: In large plastic container or glass bowl, mix buttermilk, hot sauce, garlic and cayenne. Trim excess fat from chicken. Cut thighs lengthwise in half along the bone. Smaller pieces are easier to fry.

In small bowl, mix sugar, salt and black pepper. Rub all over each chicken piece, then add pieces to buttermilk mixture, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For dredge: In shallow baking dish, mix flour, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Put 2 racks over 2 large baking sheets or sheets of foil. One at a time, lift a piece of chicken from buttermilk, letting excess drip off and coat completely with flour, shaking off excess. Put on rack. Repeat with remaining chicken. Then dredge each piece again in the flour (don’t worry about the clumps in the flour).

Let chicken rest at room temperature while heating oil. Put a clean rack over a large baking sheet to drain cooked chicken or line baking sheet with double layers of paper towels.

In large, heavy 12-inch, 2 1/2-inch-deep cast-iron skillet (often called a chicken fryer) or in heavy (not nonstick) Dutch oven, heat ½ to ¾ inch oil over medium-high heat to 325 degrees. (Use deep-fry or candy thermometer to check the temperature.) Or heat oil in electric deep-fryer.

Carefully add 4 pieces of chicken to oil. Regulate temperature so oil doesn't cool below about 300 degrees. Fry chicken 5 to 7 minutes on first side. Bone-in, thicker pieces take longer. Turn with long-handled tongs and fry 4 to 6 minutes more, until completely cooked though. Check by removing chicken from oil and cutting into thickest part. If still pink inside, return to oil, but remember it may sputter because it will release juices into oil. Drain cooked pieces on the clean rack or paper towels.

Repeat frying remaining chicken, adding more oil to pan as needed. Serve right away or at room temperature. Or put on a large plate and cover loosely with foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Dilled Potato and Green Bean Salad

PG tested

My friend and cookbook author Debbie Moose, who wrote a whole book on potato salad, said that when you're serving it with fried chicken, it needs to be a little tart to cut through the richness of the chicken. I kept that in my head while making this version.

2½ pounds thin-skinned red or white potatoes, cut into ½-inch chunks, not peeled (about 8 cups)

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3/4 pound trimmed fresh green beans, each cut into thirds (3 cups)

1 cup thinly sliced tender inner stalks celery, including some leaves

1 cup chopped scallions or sweet white onion

1 cup chopped dill pickles plus 1/4 cup pickle juice

3/4 to 1 cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

Put potatoes and water to cover in large saucepan. Add big pinch of salt, cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, about 12 minutes, until very tender. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Drizzle with vinegar and let stand a few minutes.

Meanwhile, fill medium saucepan with 1 inch water. Bring to boil over high heat. Add salt and green beans and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, until tender (not crisp). Drain and cool under cold running water. Drain well; add to potatoes.

Add celery, scallions or onion, pickles and juice, mayonnaise, dill and mustard. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix with 2 rubber spatulas so you don't break potatoes up too much. Add hard-cooked eggs and mix again.

Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Makes about 8 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Miriam Rubin @mmmrubin@gmail.com and on Twitter @mmmrubin.


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