Erin French’s book Finding Freedom in the Lost Kitchen was published about a year ago and I loved it. First, I love a good memoir – especially one that sees a woman triumph over adversity and find her true calling. Second I love food. So Erin’s story of growing up in the tiny town of Freedom, Maine and working in her father’s diner while dreaming she’d ‘escape’ to bigger and better things appealed to me. The next decade or so of the story reveal her struggles, an early unplanned pregnancy leads her back to Freedom, and an abusive marriage and cruel custody battle puts paid to her early attempts at creating a unique restaurant.
I won’t spoil it – it’s really too good. But suffice it to say that Erin’s triumph is that having lost everything she found the resilience to start over. And what she created is The Lost Kitchen – a restaurant unlike any other, in the very place she once thought she couldn’t wait to escape from. It’s only open from May to October each year and serves dinner for just 40 diners at a time . A self taught cook Erin’s menu is different each day, it’s inspired by what is in season and what’s local. She counts many local farmers and fishermen as her friends and they mutually support each other. As a consequence, the restaurant has become one of the most wanted places to dine and the hardest to get into. No bookings are taken by phone because Erin didn’t deem it fair - so once a year they open their calendar and wannabe diners send in a postcard hoping to be selected at random for the chance to enjoy one of her, now famous, many-course meals.
If the book isn’t charming enough, there’s now a TV show that follows Erin and her wonderful team of women. If you’ve got Amazon Prime here in the UK– you’ll find it. One of the reasons I love it so much is that Erin’s spirit and ethos is very close to that of Swallowtail Hill. There’s an authenticity about everything she does which resonates. While we don’t have a restaurant here, if we did – we’d be taking a leaf out of Erin’s book for sure. But if you’ve dined at our Hill Top Tent, or enjoyed one of our special afternoon teas, or picnics you’ll know that the values of seasonal, local, served with love are very important to us too. With that in mind I tackled one of Erin’s recipes this month (found in her own July newsletter) and I can assure you it was delicious – here it is if you want to give it a go yourself - do take a look at her website too you can visit it here.
Fennel Fried Chicken
with strawberry rhubarb sweet & sour
Serve it hot or serve it cold, this recipe is a timeless summer crowd pleaser.
1 chicken (3-4 pounds) parted
1⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1⁄3 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
4 cups all purpose four
4 cups cornflakes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
2 cups buttermilk
Vegetable oil for frying
2 teaspoons fennel pollen
1 tablespoon Maldon salt
Make a brine:
Combine 4 cups water, the kosher salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves and fennel seed in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve, then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before using it. It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Once brine is completely cool, add the chicken pieces and refrigerate overnight.
Bring the chicken in the brine to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the brine and allow to cool. Discard the brine.
Make the batter by combining 2 cups of the flour, cornstarch and the cornflakes in a gallon sized plastic bag. Seal the bag and use your hands to crush the mixture and combine.
Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees.
Put the remaining 2 cups of flour and the ground fennel in a shallow baking dish. Pour the buttermilk into a second shallow baking dish. Pour the cornflake mixture into a third baking dish. Dredge each piece of the chicken in the flour, then the buttermilk, and finally the cornflake mixture to coat well. Working in batches, drop into the oil and fry until golden brown, turning as needed, 5-6 minutes. Take care not to overcrowd the fryer.
Remove the chicken from the oil, and place on a paper towel lined sheet pan, sprinkle with maldon salt and fennel pollen. Serve with strawberry rhubarb sweet & sour. I like to garnish this with bright nasturtium flowers from my garden when they are in bloom.
Strawberry Rhubarb Sweet & Sour
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1⁄2 inch pieces
1 cup strawberries, stems removed, chopped into 1⁄2 inch pieces 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
A few cracks of fresh ground pepper
In a medium heavy bottom saucepan, combine the rhubarb and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until the rhumbar becomes tender and sauce-like, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add strawberries and vinegar and pepper, stir to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.