| Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry
by James Villas
James Villas stumbled into his forty
year long career while escaping from the rain. Interested in
food, but not as a career, he ducked into the Hôtel de
la Côte d’Or during the reign of celebrated chef
Alexandre Dumaine. Dumaine took Villas under his wing, for a
moment. In Between Bites, Villas recounts his lifelong
journey through the culinary world. He examines the importance
of meeting and befriending culinary greats such as Alexandre
Dumaine, Craig Claiborne, Paul Bocuse, Paula Wolfert, and many
more. Villas exposes little known aspects of people in the food
industry that everyone thought they knew. His telling of MFK
Fisher’s personal instruction on the correct way to vomit
is particularly juicy, as are his questionable activities with
James Beard in bars in Midtown Manhattan. Villas’ odyssey
would be incomplete without the recipes from critical moments
of his life. From Coq au Vin with chicken’s blood to his
mother’s strawberry preserves, each recipe is simple and
produces stellar results. Read this book and experience the
culinary revolution witnessed over the past forty years through
James Villas’ eyes.
The Quintessential Southern Fried Chicken
From Between Bites by James Villas (John Wiley
& Sons, Inc. 2002)
Adapted by StarChefs
Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 (3 ½ pound) chicken
- 3 teaspoons salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 cups buttermilk
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 3 cups (1 ½ pounds) shortening
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ¼ cup lard
Divide chicken into 8 pieces. Rinse under
cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with 1 teaspoon
of salt plus pepper. Combine buttermilk with lemon juice in
large bowl. Add chicken to bowl, cover, and refrigerate at
least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
Remove chicken from refrigerator and bring
to room temperature. Melt shortening in large heavy skillet.
Make sure shortening is ½ inch deep, if necessary,
add more shortening to pan. Combine flour, remaining salt,
and more pepper in heavy brown shopping bag. Remove dark meat
pieces of chicken from buttermilk. Let excess buttermilk drain
from each piece, before placing it in bag. Shake bag vigorously
to coat. Add lard to skillet and when small bubbles appear
on surface, reduce heat slightly. Remove chicken pieces from
bag one by one, shaking off excess flour, and using tongs,
lower gently into hot fat.
Arrange pieces in skillet for even cooking.
Reduce heat to medium, and cook 11-17 minutes. Reduce heat
slightly, turn with tongs, and fry 11-17 minutes longer. Quickly
repeat all steps with white pieces, adjusting heat as needed,
frying 2 minutes less than needed for dark pieces.
Drain chicken at least 5 minutes, then transfer
to serving platter without reheating. Serve hot, or at room
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES VILLAS
by Cyd Klein
How did you choose which recipes
to put in the book?
JV: There was only one reason and that is, if
the recipe related to the text. For example if I wrote about
how Craig Claiborne screwed up my barbeque, then I give the
correct barbeque recipe. If I wrote about Frank’s Lemon
Meringue Pie, which is a very funny story how he ate the whole
thing, then I give the recipe. In the first chapter for example
I did the Coq au Vin with the chicken blood, because that’s
probably the dish that I most remember from Alexandre Dumaine,
so, I happened to have that recipe and I put it in. They had
to relate I mean I think I put my mother’s one of her
preserves in there, they had to be very closely related to
the prose text, to the story I was telling.
What did you learn about cooking while
writing this book?
JV: Probably the main thing
I learned about cooking itself, when I finished writing the
book and reread the manuscript, is how fascinating, the evolution
of cooking in America has been, since the late fifties, and
early sixties, what slapped me in the face, is much progress
we’ve made, how different things, were, for better and
for worse, a lot of the things I hate, that happened, and
a lot of things I love. In other words, once I finish the
entire book, then I’ll sit down with the manuscript
and I’ll reread the whole book, just to see how the
whole tenor is, and, it really dawned on me that I had been
through a lot. I lived a very full life, and above all that
I had participated in a fascinating evolution.
What do you think it takes to be a
great food writer?
JV: That’s the
big question, and I’m getting this award on Thursday
night from Bon Appetit, and I’ve gotta give a speech
and I was thinking about that, very question cause I know
that’s what they wanna hear. I would say first of all,
you know I am not a conventional food writer. I stay in trouble.
I don’t have lots of friends in the food world cause
they get angry with me. You’ve got to establish a platform
and you’ve got to stick by that platform, A. B, you
have got to be willing to take a tremendous number of risks.
In what sort of way?
JV: Every way. You have
got to have the gall and the nerve to write what no one else
will write. Now I’ll give you the example, in the book
that you’ve just read, I reveal things about James Beard,
and Craig Claiborne, and MFK Fisher, that no one has the gall,
the nerve, to reveal.
Well, I have to say that I made
your fried chicken, and it was the only fried chicken I’ve
ever made that came out well.
JV: Well thank you, and
I seem to change it every time. What people really want that
I refuse to do except once or twice a year because it’s
so difficult, is my Carolina chopped pork barbeque, which
has to be done outside. I used to have a pit; now I’ve
learned to do it in the kettle drum, and, it takes 9-12 hours,
and it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever put in
your mouth and people also like my Brunswick Stew.
tool can you not live without?
JV: Knives. I’ve got have Henckels,
I’ve got a collection of knives you wouldn’t believe
and it’s in my will as a matter of fact. I still think
the greatest knives are made by Henckel, and Wusthof, and
I’ve got about fifteen, yeah I’d say about fifteen,
priceless knives. I have to have, certainly great skillets,
I could not live without a skillet, and I could cook the rest
of my life with nothing but a knife and a skillet.