Southern cooking at its finest with chef Jasper Alexander

Some say you can judge a restaurant by its fried chicken. Do you agree? If the story rings true, then Hattie’s Restaurant is already a winner! Jasper Alexander, Cookbook Author, “The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook: Classic Southern and Louisiana Recipes,” and owner of Hattie’s Restaurant, stops by for a quick story of how his relationship with Hattie’s came to be and a kitchen lesson on some of Hattie’s most popular dishes.

About Hattie’s Restaurant:

The only thing more surprising than finding a critically-acclaimed Southern restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York, is the story of how Hattie’s Restaurant got there.

In 1938, Hattie, a home cook and Louisiana native, used $33—her life savings—to buy an icebox, a table, and chairs and opened Hattie’s Chicken Shack, serving her famous fried chicken to everyone who walked through her door—rich and poor, young and old. She never dreamed that 80 years later, her restaurant would be an unlikely icon of authentic Southern and Cajun cuisine and as integral a part of the Saratoga scene as the races themselves. Today, Jasper Alexander, Hattie’s chef and owner, honors her legacy by compiling the restaurant’s best recipes in The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook.

Fried chicken remains the biggest draw on the menu. Hattie’s crunchy, juicy chicken has been featured on multiple “Best in America” lists, from Food & Wine to The Daily Meal. It even won a head-to-head battle on the Food Network’s Throwdown with Bobby Flay. In The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook, Chef Jasper reveals the restaurant’s secret techniques, handed down from Hattie herself, for the first time.

Over 100 recipes, from Crawfish Boil to Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Dressing to Cajun Coleslaw to Andouille and Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms, fill out the rest of the cookbook. Desserts, drinks, appetizers and more, all making it easy for any Hattie’s fan to recreate favorite dishes at home. Plus, The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook chronicles the establishment’s rich history through anecdotes and photographs. This cookbook is so much more than just a kitchen staple: It’s a testament to one incredibly determined Southern cook and her timeless legacy.

Savory Corn Bread Pudding

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Bread Puddings, whether sweet or savory, are a great way to use up leftover bread. This Southern version uses cornbread and pork sausage, but you could omit the sausage if you want to make it vegetarian. We make cornbread every day at Hattie’s so we always have some around, but this is good enough that it’s worth making cornbread just for the pudding. All bread puddings are better made with stale bread, so it’s nice to use cornbread that’s a couple of days old and a little dried out. If you use fresh cornbread, it may crumble a bit more, making the texture more homogeneous, but it will still be delicious.

Yield: 6 servings

1 teaspoon butter, room temperature
5 cups cornbread, 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound bulk pork sausage
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)
6 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped sage

1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Prepare your baking dish by coating the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square with the butter. Place the cornbread cubes and the cheese in a large bowl.
2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, brown the sausage, breaking up the larger chunks until the sausage is fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon to the bowl containing the cornbread and give the mixture a quick stir to combine. Pour out most of the sausage drippings, leaving only 2-3 tablespoons.
3. Return the pan to the stove and sauté the chopped onion in the sausage dripping over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the corn, scallions and salt and pepper and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add to the cornbread and sausage.
4. Combine the eggs, cream, milk, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until well incorporated.
5. Pour the custard over the cornbread mixture, add the herbs and gently blend all the ingredients together. Allow the mixture to sit for 5-10 minutes so the cornbread has a chance to absorb the custard.
6. Transfer the pudding to the baking dish and bake for about 40 minutes or until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.

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Blackened Skirt Steak

Making grit cakes is very similar in process to the Basic Grits recipe, the major differences being the ratio of liquid to grits and the cooking time. You will need to dial back the heat a little and watch that the grits don’t scorch. They are going to be a lot stiffer and gummier than the creamy grits, but you only need to cook them for about 10 minutes. Resist the urge to add liquid. They need to be on the dry side so that when they are cold they can be cut and fried without falling apart. The other key is to make the grits at least a day before you want to use them. They need time to set up so you can cut and cook them.

1. Choose an appropriate dish for cooling and molding the grit cakes. An 8-inch cast-iron pan or an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish works well. Unless the mold you choose has a nonstick coating, you will want to lightly coat it with pan spray or rub it with a little butter.

2. In a 4-quart saucepot, bring the milk and the bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat.

3. Add the grits and reduce the heat to low. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to simmer. Very quickly the grits will go from creamy to stiff, but that is what we’re looking for. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Remove the bay leaves, add the salt and pepper, fold in the blue cheese, and scoop the grits into your prepared dish.

5. With the back of a spoon or rubber spatula, spread the grits evenly, pressing into the corners to make sure there are no air pockets. Cover loosely with a piece of wax paper and allow them to cool on the counter for about 30 minutes before chilling in the refrigerator overnight.

6. Unmold the grits onto the counter or cutting board and cut into your desired shapes. There are no rules on size or shape, so experiment. You can use a knife or cookie cutters.

7. Preheat a large, nonstick or cast-iron pan over medium heat and heat the oil. Dust the grit cakes with flour and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until they are crispy and golden.

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Hattie’s Hot Rub

Yield: ½ cup hot rub

2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container. The rub will keep for months.

About the Author: Jasper Alexander is the head chef and owner of Hattie’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, NY, a local institution for over 78 years. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and a fried chicken connoisseur. He is frequently featured on television, including on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. He has appeared on many radio shows, and has been featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers, including Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Esquire, National Geographic Taveler, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. For more information, please visit www.hattiesrestaurant.com.