Disclosure: We have a secret crush on Norman King, author of The Way to Fry. The Southern Living editor has that old school, nerd next door charm. Meaning he looks like he has decades of plaid shirt and button down collar experience (a compliment), not merely a fleeting hipster vintage obsession. And did we mention that the man fries everything? Yes, including pecan pie and sweet tea.
Sure, there is a glossy Southern Living veneer about the recipes, each perfectly scripted with overtly enhanced food stylist shots (a photo of pecan-crusted chicken tenders looks so "done up" it would fit right in at a Southern hair salon). A few recipes call for ingredients long ago banished from our pantry, like self-rising flour (flour, baking powder and salt work just fine), quick-cooking grits (How can one not use fantastic stone-ground grits today?), and banana liqueur, quite possibly the worst flavored liqueur idea ever.
We're going to go out on a limb and suggest that the definition of what constitutes Fresh, Fabulous Recipes for the Modern Southern Cook, as per the book's subtitle, is still a few decades behind the California definition. But we're still going to try that fried Jack (Daniels, of course) and Coke recipe. You know, out of deep fried everything state fair solidarity. Get more, and that fried cocktail recipe, after the jump.
Other recipes we will be trying? Bacon-grits-cheese fritters, fried green tomato sliders (a thick fried green tomato "patty" with red Napa slaw, and Sriracha-lime spiked mayo), fried okra tacos (!), "okra rellenos" (cheese-stuffed okra breaded and fried), and fried chicken thighs and biscuits (boneless thighs on honey-drizzled biscuits with pickled green tomatoes).
We agree with King that going for the homemade version of fried fare versus fast food is a healthier (and tastier) option. As he says in the book's Introduction, fry at the proper temperature to reduce oil absorption and eat fried foods in moderation with fresh sides - recipes like squash casserole (canned cream of chicken soup, sour cream and cornflakes) notwithstanding. Hey, it's the South.
Thus, not all the recipes in the book are for deep-fried fare. Pan-fried mains like chicken piccata and Cajun-spiced, pan-fried pork chops are here; a "Lightened Favorites" chapter includes oven-baked fries and a lightened version of chicken-fried steak with a Saltine cracker crust ("fried" in a non-stick skillet -- too sacrilegious for some of us to even imagine trying).
The "Satisfying Sides" chapter includes a classic potato salad and "Church-style lemon roasted potatoes" (basically everyday roasted potatoes), and a chapter on "Palate-cleansing Salads" helps balance the grease with fresh produce: green beans with goat cheese, roasted beet salad, citrus and walnut salad with a cumin vinaigrette. No surprise, the dessert section leans towards bundt cakes and cobblers, fried and otherwise.
But let's be perfectly honest. This is a Southern Living cookbook. We came for that double shot of deep-fried Jack and Coke.
Deep-Fried Jack and Coke
From Southern Living's The Way to Fry by Norman King
Makes: About 40 balls
1 (8-oz.) bottle cola
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 (12-oz.) package vanilla wafers, finely crushed, divided
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 1/2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 cup Tennessee whiskey (Jack Daniel's)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Bring first 2 ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 minute, reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring often until mixture is a syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat.
2. Combine 1 package finely crushed vanilla wafers, chopped pecans, and next 2 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well.
3. Combine corn syrup and whiskey, stirring well. Pour bourbon mixture over wafer mixture; stir until blended. Shape into 1-inch balls.
4. Roll balls in flour until lightly coated. Dip in egg and gently press into remaining package of finely crushed vanilla wafers.
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5. Pour oil to depth of 2 inches into a Dutch oven; heat to 350°. Fry balls, in batches, 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side or until golden brown. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels. Drizzle with cola syrup.
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