Talk of the Dixie with Food Culturist Nicole Taylor

Growing up in Athens, Ga., author and food culturist Nicole Taylor did everything she could to distance herself from country living when she moved to Atlanta for college. Being in the big city meant new food and cultural experiences; something she very much looked forward to. “When I turned 18 years old, I was like get me out of this country place. I wanted to be in the big city. And from Athens going to Atlanta it was like arriving and coming into your own.”  Then years later, a move “up” to New York changed everything and also inspired her first cookbook just released by Countryman Press, “The Up South Cookbook: Chasie Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen.”

“I would often make the comment to myself when I went home, ‘No thank you on the slave food,'” says Taylor thinking back to the days when she was a college student at Clark University. Truly looking to create her own food experiences, she stopped eating meat and other Southern classics that she grew up on. It was a new day and she was now in control.

But when her husband’s job transferred them to New York, the old comforts of Athens soon followed, only to re-introduce themselves and are now a part of her story as she honors tradition while putting her own spin on them. “When I moved to New York City, all of this food just came back to me and I started back eating meat, I started making black-eyed peas and putting ham hocks in it. Everything I grew up with, the memories, the taste, the cravings, all just came back.”

Always seeing herself living in New York or D.C., Taylor says she remembers when the artisan revolution started and making your own jellies, jams, sauces, etc. was the thing to do. While exciting to some, it was nothing new to her and only tapped into memories growing up as “the family child,” and watching aunts and uncles make and preserve their own foods. Her grandfather fished and also had two big gardens that would often feed the community. There was no escaping it as food is simply a part of Taylor’s DNA.

In her new book, “The Up South Cookbook,” Taylor takes readers back to her childhood with some good old-fashion Southern foods such as green fried tomatoes, fried chicken and blueberry cobbler. Half of the book’s recipes, she says, are foods she ate growing up and the other half she started making when she moved to New York that are influenced by her Brooklyn neighborhood as well as the state’s melting pot. Taylor says she started working on the book concept more than 5 years ago but in fact it has been in the making as a child.

Describing her cooking as simple, no fuss and a lot of flavor, she says, “I take a lot of care and I plan what I am going to cook and I make it simple.” She is a fan of letting the ingredients shine whether it is a great cut of meat or artisan salts. She also keeps a weekly log of what she prepares that goes as far back as eight years.

Coming from a family of home cooks, cookbooks were rarely used, let alone measuring out ingredients.  Following this style of improv cooking that Taylor has adapted since establishing her own kitchen is also known as vibration cooking by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.

Her podcast, “Hot Grease,” intersects the American South with local food scenes and also highlights influencers and trendsetters in “the good food world.” Giving a nod to Victor Green, she released two issues of The Modern Travelers’ Green Zine, a food and travel publication with one focused on Philadelphia and the other on discovering the best fried chicken in New York City.

Taylor is on the road promoting her new book with stops in New York, Georgia, and California. For more details, visit her website’s event page.

“The Up South Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen” is available on Amazon.com. Be sure to tune into “Hot Grease,” on Heritage Radio Network as well as follow Taylor on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and visit her website at www.foodculturist.com.

Enjoy Taylor’s recipe below for fried chicken.

 FRIED CHICKEN

My favorite saying to rattle off to my longtime friend Reginald Dye is, “You ain’t no spring chicken.” Reggie loves my fried chicken wings, and any hole-in-the-wall or white tablecloth with flavorful fowl. I live and die by seasoning the bird and batter. Fry up the entire chicken or just your favorite pieces.

Feeds 8–10

INGREDIENTS

1 (3–4 pounds) fryer chicken, cut up
½ lemon
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ cups coconut milk, unsweetened, or 1 (13½-ounce) container
½ cup buttermilk
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
4 cups peanut oil or lard
fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

PREPARATION

1. Rinse the chicken and rub it with half a lemon (I do this to sanitize chicken). Pat dry, season with 2 tablespoons of the salt, 1 teaspoon of the pepper, and cinnamon. Place the chicken in a large bowl, cover it, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a separate large bowl, combine the coconut milk, buttermilk, and chicken. Cover the chicken and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.

3. In a shallow dish combine flour, cornstarch, red pepper flakes, thyme, garlic powder, and onion powder. Dredge the chicken in the dry mix.

4. Add oil to a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on high heat. Let the oil reach 350°F, using an instant-read thermometer.

5. Work in batches. Temperature should hover around 350°F. Cook wings for about 15 minutes (turn at each 5-minute mark).

6. Breast, thighs, and legs cook in about 25 minutes (turn at each 5-minute mark). Chicken should look like it is almost floating.

7. Transfer to jelly roll pan with cooling rack on top. This keeps the skin crispy. For easy cleaning, line with pieces of brown paper bags or paper towels. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.