Last weekend I had the privilege to “take a step back in time” with my friend Connie. Connie grew up in the restaurant business with her parents, two brothers and a sister. Her parents were married right before WWII and upon her father’s return from war opened a donut shop. When the lot and home across the street came up for sale, they bought it. Connie’s maternal grandfather built the restaurant. In 1949, they were out of the donut business and into the breakfast, lunch, and dinner business 6 a.m.-10 p.m., 7 days a week! The rest you can say is history-family history. They ran the restaurant, Vince’s Café for over 60 years in a little town in Louisiana called White Castle. Her parents passed and the restaurant has been sold. The visit back was for a few last memories.
Let’s step into the kitchen. This is where all the cooking was done-for the whole restaurant and for the family. Imagine how many meals were cooked in this oven; which, by the way, Connie said didn’t have a working thermostat-well as long as she can remember!
The family lived above the restaurant. Connie and her sister began their day in their P.J.’s downstairs in the kitchen. They would sit on their bench and watch their dad make biscuits. Drop biscuits for the restaurant and rolled biscuits for them. (Isn’t that a wonderful way to start the day?) Connie joked that just about every customer in town had seen her and her sister in their P.J.’s!
As the tour and the stories continued, one thing was absolutely clear. The restaurant was not only their livelihood but their life. They had to not only sell the food they made, but couldn’t waste any of it: For wasted food meant wasted money for the family. I am sure this concept was ingrained in her parents as they endured WWII ration times. At Vince’s Café, no recipes were written down and the menu changed daily. But Connie said you could always count on biscuits, fried chicken, and a conversation with her father-that was always complimentary with a cup of coffee! Sounds like the good old days to me.
As I left Connie and her memories, I kept thinking of the comment, “My mother never threw anything away” that Connie boldly stated. So I started to wonder, if there was only 1 piece of fried chicken left, could you feed a family? Yes!
Fried Chicken Chowder: Start with 1 piece (breast or thigh) of fried chicken. Peel chicken and put skin aside. Separate the meat from the bones. To a stock pot over medium high heat, add 6 cups of water, the chicken bones, and seasoning-1/2 cup total diced celery, onion, garlic, green pepper are good choices-two or all and 1-2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Let simmer 1-1/2 hours. (If the level gets too low, just add in more water, 1/4 cup at a time.) Remove bones and strain the stock.
Put the stock back into the pot. Add 4-5 cubed new potatoes and 1 roasted and seeded poblano pepper (Need a recap of roasting peppers? htttp://wp.me/p57UhS-3U ) or can use 1 can of chopped green chilies. Over medium high heat, simmer until the potatoes are tender. Put mixture in a blender (be careful, let mixture cool slightly) and put back into stock pot or use immersion blender. Reduce heat to medium. Add chicken and 1 package of frozen corn. Heat for 10-15 minutes. Note: If you would like a thinner chowder, just stir in some milk or cream the last 2 minutes.
In a skillet over medium heat, add the chicken skin. Cook until all the fat is rendered out, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Add crisped skin to a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. (will look like bacon bits) Set aside.
That’s it. Top chowder with grated cheddar cheese and fried chicken bits. Enjoy.
Put your TO COOK IS TO CREATE thinking cap on: Have a link of cooked sausage or chopped ham in the freezer? Add it in with the chicken. What other vegetables do you have in the freezer? Mixed vegetables, peas, lima beans? Add them in instead of corn. Want to spice it up more? Use adobe peppers or jalapeno peppers. Want to turn the chowder into a Mexican fiesta? Season with chili powder and top with dollop of salsa. Want to lighten the chowder? Use sweet potatoes. Like a loaded potato? Finish chowder with dollop of sour cream and chives.
FOOD FUN: Is there an old restaurant from your childhood still in operation? When is the last time you visited it? Plan a road trip and go down memory lane while you still can. Share the experience with those you love. For my hubby, it is the Palace Café in Opelousas, Louisiana. I love to go with him to “take a step back in time” hearing all his stories and to eat their fried chicken made from the same recipe since 1927! What restaurant do you think is the oldest in your state? https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/oldest-restaurant-in-every-state-and-dc