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Buttermilk Ranch Fried Chicken

21 Jul

Every good piece of homemade chicken I've ever had is significantly darker colored than the stuff you buy at a restaurant, but I don't know why.

As time marches on and the posts start to pile up here at Redneck Fresh, you will quickly learn that I really, really love chicken. To be a little more specific, I love chicken that is still on-the-bone and, when I can get them, whole chickens. If cooked right, there are very few proteins that are juicier or more flavorful than bone-in chicken. Especially bone-in fried chicken.

Crunchy and juicy, flavorful and somehow not even greasy? Yes, you’ve just bitten into well-made fried chicken. I’ve been on a quest to perfect my fried chicken recipe for a couple of years now, and I’m getting pretty close. This recipe, while delicious, is definitely on the more redneck end of the “redneck fresh” spectrum: there are no vegetables of any kind. However, I made some awesome fried mushrooms and green beans with the chicken that were definitely fresh. I’ll include those recipes, too, but I’ll try to keep them shorter.

I fried in a deep, straight-sided skillet because that’s what I had available; if I had my kitchen stuff, I would use either my cast iron skillet or cast iron dutch oven. If you have cast iron, it is the best possible vessel in which to fry because of how evenly it distributes heat and how long it takes it to cool off. Make sure you have a lid, though, because this recipe calls for covering your chicken while it fries. Alright, let’s get to it.

Buttermilk Ranch Fried Chicken


So I'm missing some things in this picture. Also I didn't use garlic. Oops.

2 whole chickens

3 c. buttermilk

2-3 c. four

2-3 c. cornmeal

2 packets ranch dressing seasoning

1 T. Sriracha sauce




a lot of oil (I used peanut and vegetable)


This is the least appetizing picture you ever see at RNF.

The day before you’re going to actually fry chicken, you’ll have to get it soaking in buttermilk. First, go ahead and make the buttermilk marinate in a pyrex dish or a bowl of some kind. Don’t marinate in a zipper bag, you’ll end up  getting buttermilk everywhere and it will be gross. Combine the buttermilk, about half a packet of ranch dressing seasoning, about a teaspoon of black pepper and the Sriracha sauce. Mix well. If you want spicier chicken, put in a lot more Sriracha. Like four times more. While your marinate will have an unappetizing pinkish glow to it, your chicken will be spicy and delicious.

Get your chickens out and see if they feel a little bit slimy or not. If they’re slimy, rinse them off (gently though,  you don’t want to separate the skin from the flesh). If you want to, you can buy your chicken pre-cut into pieces, usually for free. I, however, have an odd affinity for cutting up chicken, so I did it myself and made a video, in case you also like to butcher your own poultry:

As you cut the chicken, lay it into the buttermilk and turn it over to ensure that you have a good thorough coating. Cover the dish with plastic and put it in your fridge until tomorrow, when it’s chicken frying time.

The ideal temperature for frying chicken is between 350-375. Make sure you leave a couple of inches of space so that your pan doesn't overflow.

Before I start talking about frying chicken, let’s discuss frying in general for a little while. The key to frying things that come out crispy and delicious is to fry hot enough. There are two parts to frying things at the right temperature: First, be sure you wait long enough for it to reach the proper temperature before you start cooking. Second, make sure you don’t put too many things in the pan at the same time. Everything you add to a pan of oil drops the temperature; oil that’s too cold makes for greasy, soggy food.

You want to fry chicken between 350-375, which means that when you put chicken in the pan you should be closer to 375 because of the temperature drop that occurs when cold things, like chicken, go into hot things, like oil. Once you have fried a lot of things, you will start to get a feel for what oil temperatures are based on how much sizzle you get when you drop things in the pan; until you get there, use a meat thermometer, a candy thermometer or one of those really cool surface temp instant read infared contraptions. On the electric stove I was using, I was bouncing the temperature between 6-10 the whole time I was cooking. Alright, back to frying chicken.

I fried my chicken in about two-thirds peanut oil and one-third vegetable oil, mostly because I was too cheap to buy more than one 12 ounce container of peanut oil. Peanut oil is awesome for frying because of the flavor it imparts onto food. Also, although I have no scientific backing for this, I feel like food fried in peanut oil comes out crispier and less likely to be soggy. Pull your chicken out of the fridge and start heating up the oil, because it takes awhile.

Use one hand for dry things and the other for wet.

To bread the chicken, you’ll need a dish in which to apply breading and a rack to set pieces on while you wait to fry them. Only batter a few pieces at a time; it doesn’t do the chicken any good to sit with breading on it before it’s fried.

Mix up the breading for your chicken about two cups at a time. Take a cup of flour and a cup of cornmeal, and add about half a packet of ranch dressing, a tablespoon of salt, a little bit of pepper, and half a teaspoon of cinnamon to it.

Bready and waiting.

You’ll end up needing a couple of batches at least if you fry two whole chickens. Pull a piece of chicken out of the marinade, but make sure it still has a good coating of buttermilk on it. Set it down in the flour and push it down. Using the same hand you used to pull the chicken out of the buttermilk pan, carefully turn it over and repeat the process on the back side. Pile some of the breading up on top of the chicken using your other hand. The idea is to get a good coating of flour on the piece of

chicken while keeping one hand wet and the other hand dry. If you succeed, washing your hands will not be particularly difficult. If you fail, you’ll be washing dough off your hands every few minutes. Once a piece has a good layer of breading on it, put it on the waiting rack. Flour about 3-4 pieces at a time, you’ll have time while the pieces cook to batter the other pieces.

The oil will make lots of noise and splash a little bit. This is normal.

Make sure your oil is hot enough, and turn your oven on to as low a temperature as you can. A “warm” setting is ideal, but anything under 180° is fine. Put a cookie tray and a baking rack in the oven, it’s where you’ll store pieces while you fry other ones. When you’re frying chicken, try to fry similarly sized pieces at the same time. Start with drumsticks, they’re the easiest piece to do right. My pan could hold 3 drumsticks easily without over-crowding. Lay the chicken in the pan carefully, if you hover too long you’ll burn your hand, if you drop too quickly you’ll splash oil everywhere and burn whatever it hits. Now, put a lid on the pan and ignore it for 3-4 minutes. I fry with a lid on because the lid catches steam and helps the chicken to cook a little bit more evenly, but be careful — when you take the lid off the pan, don’t tilt it, or the condensed steam will fall in the oil and splatter a lot. My legs and thighs took about four minutes on the first side, then I flipped them, cooked them four minutes on the second side, then I flipped them one more time and cooked them an additional two minutes, for 10 minutes total. Breasts took about 12 minutes total: 5-5-2. For all the different kinds of chicken, I kept a lid on the pan for about 80% of the cook time.

Here's the first couple pieces, on a rack, in the oven, waiting on their friends.

If it’s your first time frying chicken, you may have to cut into a piece or two to see if they are done. This is not indicative of you being a failure or not good at cooking, it’s because you can’t really tell from how chicken looks on the outside if it’s cooked through. You could also use a meat thermometer and cook your chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160° at the bone. Anyways, once your first few pieces are done, use a pair of tongs to pick them up, let them drain back into the grease, and put them in the oven on the racks. The reason you’re using a rack instead of paper towels is that your breading will get soggy if it sits on a paper towel. Racks keep fried things away from moisture, and moisture=soggy chicken.

I mentioned in an early caption that homemade fried chicken is always a little bit darker than store-bought. I still don’t know why that is, but it’s definitely true.

Who needs a bucket-o-chicken when you can have a tower-o-chicken you made yourself?

Once you’ve pulled your first couple of pieces out of the oil, wait for a couple of minutes to let the grease come back to temperature before you start the next batch. Also, do not forget that your stove has an adjustment knob on it — when the chicken isn’t sizzling enough, turn it up, when it’s splattering too much, turn it down. Remember to bread pieces while other pieces fry, and try to bread similar-sized pieces, so that they can go in together. Frying chicken is time-consuming, so plan accordingly. We had some hungry children running around, so I ended up not cooking the wing pieces because they would have taken an extra few minutes. However, I wasn’t about to let all that high-dollar hot grease go to waste, so I fried up some green beans and mushrooms, too. I did not take any pictures of that process, but I will tell you how I did it.

Beer Battered Green Beans and ‘Shrooms


1/2 c. flour

1/2 c. corn meal

1 beer (cheap is fine, but make sure it’s something you would drink)

1/2 packet ranch dressing seasoning (again)

1/2 t. cayenne

1 T. salt

1 t. pepper

1/2 lb. fresh green beans, broken in half (if they’re long; you can leave the short ones whole)

1 carton of fresh mushrooms, whole (wipe them clean with a damp paper towel, never wash mushrooms)


Combine all your ingredients that aren’t vegetables in a medium sized mixing bowl, and whisk them together thoroughly. You want this to be smooth. You’re looking for a consistency just a little bit thinner than cake batter, if it’s too thin, add a little bit more flour and corn meal. Once you’ve got your batter lump-free and the right consistency, dump your mushrooms into the bowl and gently stir them around. Walk over to your grease (still between 350-375°) and use either a fork or a toothpick to pull them out of the batter and gently drop them into the pan. Fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring them around and turning them a couple of times. Once your batter gets to golden brown, pull them out and set them next to the chicken on the drying rack. Again, fried food belongs on racks, not paper towels. Sprinkle the mushrooms with some salt and pepper (or some cajun seasoning if you’re feeling cocky) while they’re still hot.

Do the same thing you did with the mushrooms with the green beans, only use your hands instead of a fork to pull the beans out of the batter, because it’s much easier due to their shape. Stir the beans around the pan, making sure they don’t stick to each other. After 2-3 minutes, the green beans should be done. Just like with the mushrooms, pull ’em, rack ’em, and salt ’em. If you don’t overcook the green beans, they’ll have just a little bit of fresh snap to go with the battery crunch, and people will think you are a culinary genius. Now it’s time to plate all this food you just made (we also had some southern-style kale and some delicious mashed potatoes) and sit down to a delicious, although not exactly healthy, dinner.

If you want to know how to make kale delicious, repost this entry and leave me a comment and I'll email you two different kale recipes.

Let’s Eat!


Fish Tacos

15 Jul

Red cabbage makes everything look gourmet.

Hello friends! So as I’ve mentioned in the past, I live with vegetarians — this has shaped the early entries here at RNF. Here’s the good news, though: the vegetarians eat fish! Enter fish tacos.

Big props to my friend Laura for recommending fish tacos when I asked my Google+ friends what I should cook this go around. In Phoenix something light and refreshing like a nice fish taco with cool cabbage slaw and cilantro-cream sauce is the perfect dinner on a hot summer evening. We had some friends over, and the tacos were definitely a hit!

Before we get started, a note/rant about fish: I used farm-raised bass for these things because the price was great at the grocery store and bass is a light and flaky white fish that doesn’t have an overpowering flavor. Doesn’t have an overpowering flavor is NOT the same thing as doesn’t have any flavor. Please don’t use tilapia for these tacos, or if you do have the decency not to tell me about it. Yes, tilapia is cheap and a lot of people “like” it, but this is because a lot of people do not like fish. If the only fish you like is tilapia, I don’t know how to break it to you, but you don’t like fish. Make these tacos with tofu. They’d be just as good, if not better.

Sorry about the rant. Really, the only point of it was to say that you should pick a fish that’s relatively light. Mahi mahi or snapper would be great, so would trout or a lot of other things. I’d stay away from salmon, cod or catfish — they’re a little too strong for this recipe. Alright, enough about fish, let’s get cooking. I made this recipe for 5 grown ups and a 4 year old, and we had enough to feed 6 or 7 hungry adults.


for the cabbage slaw:

1/2 a head of red cabbage

1 yellow onion

1 jalapeño

2 limes

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c. white vinegar

The tub on the bottom left is Mexican crema. If you can't get crema, substitute 2 c. sour cream and 1/2 c. milk. Really try to find the real deal, though, it's magically delicious.

2 T. whole cumin seeds

1 T. sugar

1 T. salt


for the fish:

2.5 lbs fish filets (make sure the fish monger gives you boneless filets, or at least make sure you know how to debone filets yourself)

1/2 a bunch of cilantro

4 cloves garlic

2 limes

1 jalapeño

1 t. cumin

3 T. chipotle adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)

1/2 c. olive oil

1/4 c. water

1 T. salt

1 T. black pepper

for the sauce:

2 1/2 c. “crema” (Mexican table cream, it’s a thinner, less sour version of sour cream. It’s delicious.)

1 1/2 bunches of cilantro

1 jalapeño

1 t. salt

the other things you need:

Corn tortillas, the fresher the better. 2 per taco.

lime wedges

That looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s really not, I just repeated a bunch of stuff in multiple sections.



The slaw needs to marinate for longer than the fish does, so start with that. First, cut up some cabbage. If you’ve never cut red cabbage before, my handy diagram will help you learn how to do it in a few easy steps. Oh, I forgot to take a picture of me pulling the outside 3-4 leaves off, so make sure you do that part first.

Make sure to pull the core, or stem out of the cabbage, unless you like eating sticks.

I’m not sure how clear the picture makes it, but once you’ve cored and sliced the cabbage, cut perpendicularly to your slicing pattern to chop the cabbage into pieces that will be about a quarter inch square. There is no test here, so if your pieces are a little bigger or smaller, it’s fine. Most people who put cabbage in fish tacos use shredded cabbage, but I like the texture of a chopped slaw better, and the chopped stuff doesn’t do that annoying thing where it gets strung together like a dream run in barrel o’ monkeys. While it’s great when fifteen monkeys link together in a steady chain, when all the slaw in your fish taco links together, it falls out onto your plate, and you are sad.

Once your cabbage is chopped, throw it in a mixing bowl. Chop an onion (medium)  and de-seed and chop a jalapeño (fine), and add them to the bowl too. (Don’t remember how to chop onions or jalapeños?)  Now it’s time to make your dressing.

Your slaw should look just like this. Maybe minus the baby.

Put a skillet over medium and add the oil and cumin seeds. Once you start to smell cumin and hear a few seeds starting to make popping sounds, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and stir till dissolved. WARNING: If the oil is pretty hot when the vinegar goes in, it will hiss and pop at you, and you could burn yourself. If this happens, turn the stove off and wait to add the sugar etc. till it stops making loud noises. It’s not worth a nasty burn. Anyways, once you’ve stirred the pot enough to dissolve the sugar, dump the contents over your vegetables. Juice your two limes into the slaw, give it a stir, and set it aside to start marinating. If you wanted to, you could do this as early as the day before.


First, make sure your filets are fully thawed and clean. If there’s any sliminess on the fish, wash it off. Yes, in the sink. No, it won’t do anything to mess up the fish, it’s fish and water, they don’t exactly hurt one another.

The marinade is particularly chunky. This actually ends up enhancing the flavor, as steam from the 'peño and cilantro flavor the fish on the grill.

Now that your fish is clean and thawed, it’s time to make some marinade. Start by deseeding and chopping a jalapeño (if you like it hot, you don’t have to deseed). Follow this up with some rough chopped cilantro, and combine these in a bowl with the rest of the marinade ingredients. To get the adobo sauce out of the can of chipotles, use a spoon to smoosh the peppers up a little bit and spoon out the resulting liquid. Yes, smoosh is a technical term. Mix your marinade up thoroughly and then coat the fish completely with it. Set it aside for 30 minutes or an hour so the flavor can soak in. Do not let it marinade for more than an hour or so, though, because the lime juice will start to cook the fish and it will come out with a kind of rubbery texture that will make you say “I can’t cook fish, I’ve never been able to cook fish.”

If you don't have a grill brush, you can cut an onion in half and use it to clean gunk off of grill grates.

So set your fish aside and then make the cilantro cream sauce (directions follow). First, let’s discuss grilling fish.

I like to grill fish at temperature just a little higher than medium on a gas grill, or what is more or less a 6 second fire on a charcoal grill. So fire your grill up to between 375-400 degrees, and then gently lay your fish on the grates. Remember, fish is significantly more delicate than most other proteins, so gently is the imperative word here. If you don’t have a high heat tolerance in your hands, invest in some grill gloves or something, because you’ll use your hands to help turn and position fish during the cooking process.

Bonus points if you can pour with this kind of mad flourish.

Once you have your fish on the grill, pour the rest of your marinade, chunks and all, over the top of it. I pretty much always do that when I’m grilling stuff, but it’s actually important in this case, because the amount of flavor you get out of the green stuff as it cooks is huge. Now, you have to do the thing that I’m the worst at as a cook: wait. If you get really impatient with fish and flip it more than a couple of times, you’ll rip it to shreds and then you’ll say, “I can’t cook fish, I’ve never been able to cook fish.”

I'm not going to put a picture in of how I used the spatula to cut the fish up as I pulled it off, but I did. Also, see how there are still bits of cilantro and jalapeño on the fish? Delicious.

When I made this stuff last night, I ended up cooking the filets for 6 minutes on the first side, 6 minutes on the second side, and then an additional 3 minutes on the first side in order to achieve pesca-perfection. Over-cooked fish makes everybody sad, because it takes something delicious and turns it into something sawdusty. The easiest way to tell if fish is done is to flake off a piece of it, taste it, and see if it’s cooked through; if you still don’t know, pull a whole filet off to the side and cut it in half. If it’s opaque all the way through, it’s done. If it’s still translucent in the middle, throw it back on the grill for a couple more minutes.

Once the fish is cooked, start pulling it off the grill. The picture shows how I used my hand along with the spatula to make sure that I didn’t lose any valuable bass. I cut up the filets into 2-4″ pieces with the spatula as I pulled them off, which also allowed me to give the bigger pieces/pieces from the cooler parts of the grill an extra minute or two of cook time. After I pulled the fish I took it inside and started assembling tacos. However, you have to learn how to make the cilantro-cream sauce first. So on to that.


gratuitious in-process section photo.

This sauce is very simple, this post is already pretty long, this section will be very short.

Step one, cut the stems off of the cilantro you have left over from the fish marinate and throw it in your blender. Step two, get another whole bunch of cilantro, cut the stems and throw it in your blender. By “cut the stems off,” I mean literally the bottom 3-5 inches of just stems, not all the stemmy stuff. You don’t need to have exclusively leaves for this, because you’ll be liquifying in the blender anyways.

Next, remove the seeds and stem from a jalapeño, cut it into a few big pieces, and throw it in the blender. Add your salt and Mexican crema (or your substituted sour cream and milk), and blend until fully liquified and a cool looking green color. Remember to pulse a few times so your blender mixes things up completely. Pour your sauce into a squeeze bottle of some kind (we had to use a mustard bottle, it worked just fine), or, if you’re not into making your food pretty, just set it aside.

Now, let’s assemble some tacos!


You use two tortillas because one has a tendency to break when you're eating them. Also, look how cool the sauce looks coming out of a mustard bottle.

Take your corn tortillas and microwave them, four at a time on high for 15-20 seconds; you’ll need two tortillas a taco. Put the tortillas on a plate in an upside-down T shape so that you can make both tacos easily.

Give the bowl of slaw a good stir and taste it to make sure it doesn’t need any more salt. Put about half a cup of slaw on each taco, and follow that up with 3-4 pieces of fish. Run a zigzag drizzle of cilantro-cream sauce down each taco (about 1/2 a tablespoon’s worth, more if you really like deliciousness). Garnish by sticking a lime wedge between the two tacos, and you’re ready to serve.

I served my fish tacos with some chipotle-soy sauteed broccoli, and they complimented each other nicely. I got lucky and the cabbage was really vibrantly colored and fresh, which made the whole dish really pop. I hope yours turn out great, too, and I’m sure they will.


Wardrobe provided by Hanes.

Let’s Eat!


Pico de Gallo

6 Jul

Not only is pico de gallo delicious, it's also beautiful.

First of all, this post will be shorter than the last one, I promise. I got really excited to actually write my first entry about food, and pizza has a lot of moving parts, and before I knew it I was up to like 2500 words. Woops. Anyways, some of you may be wondering why right around the 4th of July I decided to make pico de gallo, which is Mexican. First and foremost, pico is particularly delicious, especially in the summer time. Secondly, when you’re from Texas, Mexican food is every bit as American as any other kind of cuisine.

If you’re feeling really cocky, you can make some homemade tortilla chips to have with this pico. Also, if you have a lot left over, it is freaking magical mixed with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Alright, let’s go ahead and get started. Because the ingredients themselves are really simple, I’m going to use pico to teach you how I cut different things. I’ve developed/stolen some pretty cool knife tricks, and I like sharing them with people. Does that mean that my way of cutting onions is the only way to do it? Of course not. But it’s probably faster than yours.


I forgot to put one ingredient in this picture. Do you know which one?

8 medium roma tomatoes (romas are still crazy cheap here, so I’m using them. Again, use whatever tomatoes make you happy)

2 yellow onions

3 medium jalapeños

4 cloves of garlic

3 limes

1 bunch of cilantro

1 t. cumin

1 T. salt

1 t. pepper


Wash everything that isn’t salt pepper or cumin. I don’t wash garlic, but apparently some people do, so to each his or her own. Really, making pico isn’t cooking at all, but an adventure in chopping stuff, so I’m going to break down my post vegetable by vegetable.


It's way easier to core a tomato that's quartered than one that's halved.

Cutting tomatoes requires either a very sharp knife or, if you’re lazy and don’t keep your knifes sharp, a serrated knife. I really recommend knives that work, though: people who have decent knives like cooking way more than people that don’t, and that’s not a coincidence.

For pico, I pull the seeds and cores out of tomatoes, but leave the skins on. (If you read my grilled pizza blog, you know I do the opposite for spaghetti sauce.) If you don’t take the seeds out of the tomatoes, your pico will be slimy and gross.

To get the core and the seeds out of a tomato, first, cut it into quarters; once you’ve done that, run the knife from the butt end of the tomato up to the stem. Cut under the stem to make sure that you get all of the core out. Remove the core section and use your fingers to clean whatever seed goo is left off of the good tomato flesh. Set the quarter aside and move on to the next one — you’ll save yourself a bunch of time if you core first and dice them all together.

Slicin' and dicin'.

Now that you have a nice set of cored and deseeded tomatoes, it’s time to dice. Take each section and cut it into thin strips. After you have stacked up a bunch of tomato strips, turn them and dice them. Put your diced tomatoes into the big bowl. Oh yeah, you’ll need a big bowl. It’s where you’ll mix everything.

Cutting tomatoes can be surprisingly frustrating, and sometimes you end up smushing more than cutting. If that’s happening, drag the point of the knife across your board, or switch to a serrated knife. If you switch to a serrated knife, buy a knife sharpening kit or put a decent chef’s knife on your birthday list.


So, there are apparently a couple ways that people who cook for a living cut onions. My friend Lucas is partial to one, and I’m partial to the other, and it’s the source of several of our arguments. I’m going to teach you the better one.

Seriously, leave the skin on

Start with a whole onion, skin on and everything. Cut it in half, just like I did in that picture there. I just realized that continuing to try to type through how to cut up this onion would take a lot of time and just annoy you, so instead I’m going to limit  my typing to captions and just put some pictures in here.


Peel the skin back from the top of the onion to the root end. Always peel 1 layer deeper than you think you need to.

Once you have the skin off (but with the root still on), cut the top off of the onion, then turn it 90 degrees and cut down through all the layers, making straight and evenly spaced cuts. The root holds it all together.

So this step is optional because it's dangerous and not that important, but i like to put a few slices this direction into my onions too. It makes for a more uniform sized dice.

Now, cut your onions the most logical direction, and the pieces that fall off should be relatively uniform diced onion. Amazing, right?

So that’s how I chop onions. If you want your onions a little bit finer, run the knife over the diced onion a few times and you’ll have minced onions. Throw them in the bowl with the tomatoes, and now it’s pepper time.


I love spicy food, and I sneak some kind of peppers into almost everything I cook. As such, if you’re going to cook things I do, it’s important you learn how to cut peppers. If you don’t like spicy food, use milder peppers in small amounts (don’t go totally without, they’re usually an important part of the flavor balance). Also, please, please, please do not touch your eyes or go to the bathroom while cutting jalapeños without washing your hands THOROUGHLY, or you will  be woefully sad. I have had a few really great meals ruined by the fact that I was crying or…crying because I had touched my eyes or my… with pepper oils still on my hands. Some sensitive skinned people or people dealing with large quantities of peppers even wear surgical gloves while cutting them to help prevent irritation.

I made a chart for cutting up jalapeños, because it’s way easier to show you how I cut them than to tell you. As you look at the pictures, you’ll notice I left the stems on until I deseeded the peppers. This is because having the stem to hold onto makes it easier to pull out the white middle section, which you only want to save if you want to make food that’s really spicy. Also, it doesn’t taste good raw, so just leave it out of your pico de gallo.

Throw the ‘peños in the bowl with the onions and tomato. The last thing I’m going to show you how to cut up in any detail is garlic, and then we’ll move on to assembly.


NATHAN SMASH! But in all seriousness, tilt the sharp part of your knife blade down, so you don't cut your hand when you smack the knife blade.

So I use the smash, remove peel, then chop method for garlic. I hate garlic presses, they’re just something else to clean, and I feel like the garlic out of them tastes more like metal than it should. Also, there are a million little gizmos designed to remove peels and stuff from garlic. Lame. Do this instead.

So over there in the picture you see me smashing a clove of garlic. When you smash garlic, don’t be afraid to really use some force. After you’ve done that, pick up the knife, and you’ll find that the peel has already started to separate from the part of the garlic you actually want to eat. Remove the peel, (check to make sure little flakes of it aren’t stuck to pieces of the clove of garlic that came off in the blast) and then you’ll notice the greatest thing about this method of garlic prep: Your garlic is already halfway chopped, and you haven’t really had to do anything yet! Now, go ahead and chop it up as fine as you’d like. I like to chop my garlic pretty dang small when I’m making pico de gallo, because I want the flavor to spread evenly around the bowl. Throw the garlic in with the tomatoes onion and peppers, and now we’re on to final assembly.

Putting it all together

Take your cilantro and pluck the leaves off of the stems. I ordinarily use the stems of cilantro, but since you don’t actually cook this stuff, they’d taste a little bit too much like, well, stems. Pile up all of the leaves, and chop them up until they’re about the size of really big pieces of glitter. Cilantro kind of is the glitter of pico de gallo, because it makes everything in the bowl look pretty. Throw the cilantro into the bowl and give everything a stir.

Rollin' a lime here boss.

While there’s nothing particularly special about how to juice a lime, I do have one trick to offer that I think I learned on TV, or from my mom, or that my mom learned on TV, or something like that. Before you cut a lime, roll it around on your cutting board pushing down on it pretty  hard. this makes getting the juices out of it way easier. If you’re using a juicer, cut your limes in half, if you’re juicing by hand, cut them into quarters, and then squeeze them into the bowl. If you have limes that have a lot of seeds in them, you may want to juice them into a smaller bowl first, pick the seeds out, and then pour the juice into your pico. Nobody likes biting down on a lime seed with their chips and salsa.

Add your salt, pepper and cumin, give everything a good stir, and set it in the fridge for an hour or two so that your flavors get a chance to intermingle. Because you put salt on it, it will be much more liquidy when it comes out of the fridge than when it went in. This is not a bad thing. It’s a delicious thing.

I served this pico with some homemade fajitas with a chipotle lime marinade.

So some of this pico did get served with fajitas, like the caption says, but most of it didn’t make it that long, as buzzards ate it while I was out by the grill. Maybe you have buzzards hanging around your house when you cook, too? Anyways, I would appreciate comment feedback as to what you liked or didn’t like about the post, or even suggestions for future posts. Hope you like the pico de gallo.

Let’s Eat!


Grilled Pizza

1 Jul

Here's the finished product, cooked and ready to be cut.

I decided that for my first post, I needed to make something that I’ve never made before. Then, I decided I needed to make something that would impress all of you, and as such I thought that maybe I should make something I have experience making. This left me in a headache-inducing loop of back-and-forth, and then I came to a brilliant compromise: I could take something I’ve sort of made before, and do it in a way that’s new.

Enter grilled pizza. I’ve made pizza several times, I’ve grilled almost everything there is to grill, but in spite of that I had never put the two together. Then I decided that if I was going to make grilled pizza, I was going to do it RIGHT — no pre-packaged nothin’. When you’re making pizza from scratch, you’ve got to make your dough from scratch, too. After reading a few recipes, I decided that I generally liked this one the best, so I used it as a starting point and off I went.


The Dough

If you decide to follow this blog, you will quickly learn that, even if I credit a recipe like the one I started with for this dough, I will never, ever actually follow it. Let that be a lesson to you if you try to cook the things you see here: cooking is not science, it’s art. There’s plenty of food chemistry and science you should get a grasp of if you’re going to participate in the art, but never let somebody else’s recipe keep you from making stuff the way you want to make it. Okay, words of wisdom imparted. On to how I actually made my pizza dough.


1 packet of dry yeast

2 T. honey

2 c. warm water

6 T. olive oil, plus extra

2 t. salt

5 c. flour (2/3 bleached, 1/3 whole wheat), plus extra


Stir up the yeast water and honey so they all get to know each other. I used a fork because they're easier to clean than whisks, and I hate doing dishes.

Take the yeast, water and honey and mix them together in a big mixing bowl and walk away and do something else for a couple minutes so that the yeast can wake up from its nap and start eating the delicious sugars in the honey. Why honey instead of sugar, like the original recipe called for? Because honey is way more delicious and exciting than plain old white sugar, that’s why.

Once a couple of minutes have passed, put the oil and salt into the yeast and water mixture, and then it’s time to start actually making dough. If you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, throw the dough hook attachment onto the end, put about half of your flour into the bowl, and let it mix on low until stuff is combined. If you don’t have a Kitchen Aid, do this by hand. It’s more fun anyways. I started with a mixer, but about 1/3 of the way through the process smoke started coming out the back of it and the kitchen started to smell like an electrical fire, so I switched to the mix-by-hand method. Cooking is all about going with the flow. Keep adding flour and mixing until the dough reaches a consistency that is definitely more solid than cake batter but still moister than cookie dough or most other bread doughs. I actually ended up using the 2 cups of water and 5 cups of flour ratio exactly.

Once you’ve mixed the dough pretty thoroughly, turn it out onto a floured board and knock it around for a few minutes. Something about the process of kneading dough, aside from being a good way to release pent-up aggression and frustration, makes gluten do crazy stuff that makes bread turn into bread, or something. Anyways, rinse out the gunk from your mixing bowl, rub some olive oil in it, and put the dough back into it. Cover it and let it rise for a couple hours. I went to a baseball game and came back. Check out the picture montage to see how much my dough actually rose in about 4 hours.

Some folks have fancy dough knives for separating into sections. I don't, so I just used a chef's knife.

Once you’ve been amazed by the dough, pull it out onto a floured board again and knead it around for a couple minutes and then make it into an oval shape. I made it into an oval because I’m going to be making 3 pizzas, and the oval was the easiest to cut into three equal sections. Take each section, make it into a round, and wrap it up in plastic wrap covered in oil. The oil will keep the dough from getting nasty crusts on the edge, like Play Dough gets when you don’t close the lid all the way. Put these bundles of gluteny joy into your refrigerator overnight for tomorrow’s pizza making extravaganza.

I made my dough ahead of time because I read somewhere that giving dough time to sit for a day or two makes it sour a little bit and therefore more delicious. I like things that are more delicious, so I followed this advice. When I actually ate the final product, I could definitely tell the crust had aged, and it made for a way more delicious end product.

The Sauce

If you have to pick between making your own dough or sauce, go ahead and make the dough. While I think that homemade sauce is 1000 times better than the stuff in a jar, it is pretty time-consuming and can be expensive. This sauce, however, was crazy cheap, because there’s a grocery store here in Phoenix (I live in Phoenix for the summer, by the way) that has insanely cheap produce prices. Like 50¢/pound tomato prices. It is my favorite place ever. 

While there’s a little bit of flexibility to the dough recipe above, there is a ton of flexibility to this sauce recipe. I like to sneak some extra heat into pizza sauce (I used at least a full teaspoon of cayenne in this one), some people like to sneak some extra sweet into theirs with sugar, carrots or even fruit juice. In terms of why I used some fresh herbs and some dried ones, it was purely based on what I had available/what was at the grocery store for reasonable prices.

Also, I made way more sauce than I needed for the 3 pizzas. We froze the extra to use next time. If you don’t like freezing stuff, cut this recipe by like 75%.


My attempt at an artsy photo of the sauce ingredients

4 lbs. fresh roma tomatoes (or any other tomatoes that are in-season)

1 large yellow onion, rough chopped

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 c. olive oil

2-4 oz. tomato paste

1 T. dried oregano

1 T. dried thyme

2 T. fresh rosemary, rough chopped

2 T. fresh basil, chopped fine

2 bay leaves

cayenne pepper, to taste




Take a big stock pot and fill it with enough water to easily cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to a boil, and then put the tomatoes in there, ideally without burning the crap out of yourself. After the water comes back to a boil, let the tomatoes boil for 5 minutes or so. The skins will start to split and come off — don’t panic, they’re supposed to do that. Using a slotted spoon or some similar utensil, move the tomatoes into a bowl of ice water. If you use tongs, tomatoes will explode and you will burn yourself. Anyways, the ice bath will stop the cooking and make the removal of the peels extremely easy. Dump the boiling water out of the big pot, put the pot back on the stove, and add the oil and onion. Cook on medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, and then throw in the dried herbs. Let the dried herbs cook for a couple minutes, and right when your kitchen starts to smell magical, add the garlic and at least a teaspoon of salt.

Before you squish the tomato, poke a hole in it. Otherwise, it will explode and you will be messy.

While the onions are cooking, pull the tomatoes out of the ice bath one by one and remove their skins. For pizza sauce, I leave the seeds and ends on them, because I feel wasteful throwing that much tomato away. You’re going to end up cooking this stuff long enough that it all breaks down anyways.

Once the onion and garlic start to turn brown it’s time to add the peeled tomatoes. Wait until the onions really start to brown, as this caramelization is where a lot of the natural sweetness in the pizza sauce comes from. Adding the tomatoes is a lot of fun. Take each of the peeled tomatoes and squish it into the pot with the onions. Once all your tomatoes are in the pot, turn the temperature down to low, give it a good stir and throw a lid on it and walk away for 20 minutes or so. This will give everything time to start breaking down and let flavors start to marry.

Pull the lid off of the sauce and give it a good hard stir. While you’re stirring, try to break up the big pieces of tomato and onion with the spoon. At this point, add any fresh herbs, black pepper and cayenne. Put the lid back on and leave the pot alone for a few minutes again. After the sauce has been cooking for 30-45 minutes, add some tomato paste. The purpose of the paste is to thicken and smooth out the sauce, so use however much you need to do to achieve that goal. Cook the sauce for about an hour total, then turn it off: it’s time to make pizza.


 The Pizza

Once you’ve made your sauce and your dough, it’s time to make pizza. When I did this, I made the dough the day before and the sauce the day I was going to make pizza. I pulled the dough out of the fridge when I started making sauce so that it would be room temperature by the time I started cooking. I also pulled out my cheese and other toppings (roasted red peppers and artichokes). When you’re deciding how to top your pizza, remember that, for grilled pizza especially, less is more when it comes to toppings. If you over-top the pizza it will either be soggy or cold in the middle, and you will be sad. Right. Let’s get to it.


pizza dough

pizza sauce

olive oil

mozzarella cheese (ideally fresh in water, but if that’s not an option, just go for the one at your local grocery store that’s the softest/has the most moisture)


fresh basil,  chiffonaded


pizza toppings (again, less is more. Maybe some fancy pepperoni or italian sausage, or some good olives, mushrooms or a second kind of cheese)


Yes, I am wearing a chef's hat. My sister just bought it for me. It is awesome.

Grab one of your sections of pizza dough and put it on a floured board in front of you. Flour your hands, then shape the section of dough into a disc. Once your disc is nice and round and about as thin as you can get it without a rolling pin, it’s time to take it to the air! Set the disc on the back of your hands and throw it into the air with some rotation. This takes practice, and I am by no means an expert. If you can’t make it work, there’s only a little shame in resorting to a rolling pin instead. Also remember that grilled pizza is a rustic looking food anyways, so you certainly don’t have to get all the way to cracker thin.

I’m more than glad to admit that I had to start over more than once on the first pizza crust. If you punch a hole in the dough or it’s just too lumpy or misshapen to salvage, go ahead and ball it back up and start again. If you do this more than once or twice, though, you’ll have to let the dough sit for 10 or 15 minutes because the gluten will need time to relax.

Once you’ve got your pizza looking round and thin enough for your tastes, repeat with the other 2 (or however many you decided to make) sections of dough. Drizzle all your rounds with olive oil, and head out to the grill for a pre-grill. My friend Tom worked in a restaurant where they made really good grilled pizza, and he

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that you'll probably screw up even really round crusts flipping them on a grill. It's part of the rustic appeal.

said that the secret was pre-grilling the pizza dough for just a little while to firm it up and make sure that it cooks through. I decided that I would heed this advice, and I’m glad I did. Get your grill to medium or medium-low heat and grill each round for about 1 minute a side. Flipping the amorphous mass of pizza dough on a grill can be challenging, 2 big spatulas make it way easier. If you mess up and the dough get’s folded over a little bit or off to the side, don’t panic, just use your utensils and fingers to fix the problem. Once you’ve pre-grilled all your crusts, decide which side is more done: this side will be the topping side of the pizza. Now it’s time to assemble your pizzas and grill for real.

Take each crust and drizzle the top with just a little bit of olive oil, then put a very light layer of sauce down, getting as close to the edges as you want. Make sure you do not put so much sauce on that it pools up anywhere, or your pizza will be soggy and you will be sad. For my  12-inch or so pizzas, I probably used half a cup of sauce apiece. Once you’ve got your crusts sauced, put your cheese on. I like hand-sliced pieces of mozzarella better than grated or pre-sliced because they look way prettier, but you could use shredded if you preferred.

Basil makes everything look gourmet.

Once you’ve got your sauce and cheese down, it’s time to add whatever else is going on to your pizza. My pictures should give you a pretty good idea of how lightly I topped mine, and I was really pleased with the final result. Yes, I realize I topped my pizza with red peppers and artichokes, and not pepperoni or sausage. I’m living with vegetarians for the summer, and I’m generally trying to cook food I don’t have to eat by myself. Also, roasted red peppers, which I will teach you how to make in a later post, are freaking delicious.

Once I had my peppers and artichokes on the pizza, I cracked some fresh pepper on top of everything, drizzled it with olive oil, and then threw on the fresh basil. Then, we were headed back out to the grill. The grill here is a gas grill with no lid, which made cooking the pizza a little bit more of an adventure. If I were in a perfect world, I would have been using a charcoal grill like a Weber or one of those Big Green Egg contraptions and would have been able to maintain something right in the ballpark of 400 degrees. Cook the pizza for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is just starting to bubble and the edges of the crust are turning golden brown. At this point, hit the top with one more drizzle of olive oil, let it cook another 2-3 minutes, and then pull it off the grill.

See how thin the sauce is spread? Am I reinforcing the "don't over-top the pizza" motif enough?

Once your pizza is off the grill, cut it into whatever kind of pieces you deem fit (I used a chef’s knife to cut rectangles, because that fit the shape of my finished product best) and serve. We had a delicious green salad, some cold homebrew watermelon wheat beer (thanks Jay!) and a delightful Thursday night dinner. If you decide to try your hand at grilling pizza, I’d love to hear how it turned out, who you ate it with, and what you had on the side.

I really like the unique shapes and the rustic look of grilled pizza, don't you?

Let’s Eat!


About me

27 Jun

This was at a BBQ I threw a couple years ago. No, I don't usually wear a cowboy hat. Yes, the chicken, brisket and ribs were delicious.

My name is Nathan, and this is Redneck Fresh, my food blog. What is redneck fresh, you ask? It’s my own crazy brand of cooking: Join me as I try to make fresh, (usually) healthy food in New York City, where I’m currently a graduate student.

My cooking influences are varied to say the least, and I think they combine to create a unique style and flavor that is, well, Redneck Fresh. Pioneer techniques from 200 years ago like cast iron cooking, old-fashined BBQ, and Southern-style comfort food are favorites of mine; so are thoroughly modern techniques. In terms of food styles, I like to dabble in a broad range of cultural cuisines: Cajun, Mexican, Chinese and Indian are probably my favorites. I’m half-Indian, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to get care packages from Grandma of Indian spices and recipes.

I love entertaining people, and my cooking is definitely an extension of that element of my identity. While I like cooking for myself or a few people, I’m really in my element when I’m cooking for a big party and lots of my friends. Hopefully, sharing my cooking exploits will help me to share my passion for food and entertainment with even more people!

In addition to recipes for normal or party-sized meals, I’ll be posting food-related “projects” and adventures: Canning things, making tortillas (because God knows nobody makes them fresh in NYC), or any particularly cool restaurant or market experiences I may have. Recently, I’ve done some research on the locavore movement and, while I’m not quite ready to become a full-fledged locavore, I’m definitely going to try to make local part of my commitment to the “fresh” in Redneck Fresh.

Hopefully, you can steal ideas from me and use them to eat with your friends: Eating together is the oldest form of respect and shared celebration, and it’s a lost part of our cultural fabric.

Let’s Eat!