"Follow the smell of the fried chicken," the text message said as I made my way toward South Anchorage.
The sender was food writer (and regular Alaska Dispatch/Anchorage Daily News columnist) Kim Sunée, who woke up that morning and decided it was a spicy fried chicken kind of Sunday.
Her neighbors were excited, but not surprised. Living next door to Sunée, they're used to grand meals, big enough to feed the whole neighborhood. Four friends came over to help make appetizers and dessert, and the house soon overflowed with the sounds of chopping, whisking and laughter.
Making fried chicken for 75 would be enough to bring some people to tears, but Sunée made it look easy. I stepped inside her home to see her handling multiple sizzling frying pans, sipping champagne and managing to look totally put together.
Sunée is the author of the national best-seller "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home." Her cookbook "A Mouthful of Stars" was just released on May 4. It's an irresistible combination of memoir, travelogue and recipes. Born in South Korea and raised in New Orleans before living in France and Sweden and traveling throughout North Africa, India and Mexico, Kim has dubbed the cookbook "a constellation of favorite recipes from my world travels."
The spicy Korean-style fried chicken is a recipe in the new cookbook. "Koreans and Southerners know how to fry up a chicken," Sunée said. The sauce is an homage to her heritage.
Sunée moved to Alaska in 2011. Although it may not have the glamour of Provence or the attitude of the Big Easy, Alaska feels right. "I've lived in all of these amazing places, but in the end it's the people that make a place home," Sunée said.
It hasn't taken long for Sunée to build community through food -- and her Southern hospitality has brought people from all walks of life to her dinner table. For Sunée, making and giving food is a gift, and one she deeply cherishes.
As I headed home, I was reminded of one of my favorite bumper stickers:
"Love People. Cook them Tasty Food."
Shannon Kuhn: What are your favorite Alaskan ingredients to cook with?
Kim Sunée: I love all this wild Alaskan seafood we have here -- crab and spot prawns and black cod, etc. And the wild berries and amazing root vegetables here -- sweet carrots and potatoes. I wish I knew how to forage for wild greens and mushrooms, like our local foraging expert, Laurie Constantino.
What are your favorite local specialty food stores?
Fromagio's for cheese and salumi; The guys at the Anchorage Wine House at Huffman are always enthusiastic and have great finds; Central Market on Northern Lights Boulevard; Fire Island Bakery has the best bread -- perfect crusts on their baguettes; the olive oil shop at the 5th Avenue Mall.
Name three things that are always in your fridge.
Crème fraîche, salted butter and eggs. Plus sriracha, and cucumbers and celery for juicing!
Comfort food you can't live without?
Fried chicken or a bowl of fresh pasta with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a few chili flakes, garlic and tomatoes
What's the most unusual food you've eaten in your travels?
Boiled silkworms in Seoul -- they tasted like a haystack fading in the sun -- and whole soy sauce-marinated raw crab, which is delicious. In Chile, I had sea squirts that were cooked in the ground, steamed under talca leaves; they were...interesting.
Spicy fried chicken From "A Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from My World Travels" by Kim Sunée (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Serves 4 to 6
Korean fried chicken sauce
3 to 4 green onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chili, seeded
2 tablespoons peeled and chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon tamari
1 tablespoon sriracha or gochugaru (coarse Korean red chili powder)
Spicy fried chicken
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
2 to 3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco, Crystal or Frank's RedHot
1½ tablespoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 (3- to 3½-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed and wings separated at the joints
Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To make the fried chicken sauce, place all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until well combined. Cover and set aside; no need to refrigerate if using right away.
Place the buttermilk, hot sauce, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and the brown sugar in a bowl; stir to combine. Arrange the chicken in a shallow glass dish or a re-sealable heavy-duty plastic bag and cover with the buttermilk mixture. Cover or seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Fill a large cast-iron skillet about a half-inch deep with oil and heat to 345 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a candy/deep-fry thermometer, here are some tips: The oil should start to shimmer but not smoke. Add a small crust of bread to test the oil; it should sizzle and float and start to fry. Place a rack over a sheet pan.
Drain the chicken in a colander; discard the buttermilk marinade. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour and cornstarch with the remaining ½ tablespoon salt, the cayenne, and the black pepper; stir well to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces thoroughly in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess flour.
When the oil is hot, place the chicken pieces skin-side down into the hot oil, being careful not to crowd the skillet. Cook until golden-brown on one side, 8 to 10 minutes. If the chicken is browning too quickly, turn the pieces or decrease the heat slightly. Turn the chicken and fry the other side until golden-brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. The chicken is done when the thigh juices run clear and a thermometer inserted in the center without touching bone reaches 175 Fahrenheit; it will continue to cook out of the fryer. Place the cooked chicken on the rack set over the sheet pan to drain. Sprinkle lightly with more salt, if you like, hot out of the fryer. Toss the chicken in the sauce while it's hot. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
Kim Sunée will be signing books at Barnes and Noble in Anchorage on Thursday, June 19, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. For details, please visit kimsunee.com.
Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture.
Food & Culture