Eric Akis: Grandpa’s chicken brings back delicious childhood memories

Eric Akis

When my wife, Cheryl, and I first moved in together, we cooked dishes we enjoyed when we were kids and teens. We still do. On Cheryl’s side of the ledger was one called Dad’s chicken.

Dad’s chicken is named after her late father, Bob Warwick. In the late 1960s, while living in Thunder Bay, Ont., he was often out of town doing hydraulic sales and other work during the week. On weekends, though, he wore a different hat.

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“Our dad was a weekend chef, a man ahead of his time,” Cheryl said. “He relished reading the weekend paper that had recipes in the Star Weekly and the Weekend Magazine.”

Cheryl thinks the chicken recipe likely came from those magazines, which often had recipes from food personalities such as Madame Benoit and Margo Oliver, as well as food companies, but she’s not exactly sure.

“All the family — six kids and his wife, Barbara — know for sure is that he brushed chicken with mayonnaise, rolled it in gently crushed Corn Flakes with Parmesan cheese, baked it and a family favourite that became known as Dad’s chicken was born,” Cheryl said.

Crunchily coated, slightly sweet tasting because of the corn, very juicy in the middle, enriched with mayonnaise and tangy cheese — it’s no wonder the chicken’s taste and texture appealed.

“For half a century, the Warwicks have had a deep and abiding love affair with this chicken, a lasting culinary legacy from our Dad,” Cheryl said.

As the years went by and Cheryl and I had our son, and her sisters and brothers had kids, too, Dad’s chicken became known as Grandpa’s chicken. Our children enjoyed it as much as we did, and they, of course, linked the recipe back to their Grandpa.

When I started preparing it myself, the professional chef side of me took over at one point and I made Grandpa’s chicken fancier than it ever should be. On that memorable occasion, we were renting a cottage on Lake Superior and members of Cheryl’s side of the family came out for lunch. It was a hot summer day, so I decided to make Grandpa’s chicken in the morning, chill it and serve it cold.

For some reason, I decided to flavour the chicken with a bunch of different spices and herbs, thinking this enhanced version of Grandpa’s chicken would impress everyone.

Nope!

In fact, when my lovely niece Quinn saw it, she was visibly shocked and couldn’t figure out why I was calling this Grandpa’s chicken: What were we all these odd tastes and why was I serving it cold?

Other family members must have felt the same way, because to this day, I still hear jokes about that fateful day I messed with Grandpa’s chicken recipe. I certainly did not do that in today’s recipe, which is followed by side dishes you can serve with the chicken.

Grandpa’s Chicken

Simple, tasty, crunchily coated baked chicken made with just a handful of ingredients.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 to 50 minutes
Makes: four servings

3 1/2 cups Corn Flakes

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

4 large chicken drumsticks (about 500 grams), skin on or off

4 large chicken thighs (about 650 grams), skin on or off

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (optional)

Place Corn Flakes in a thick bag and, with your hands, a rolling pin or a kitchen hammer, crush them until broken into small, jagged pieces. Place crushed Corn Flakes and Parmesan cheese in a wide, shallow bowl. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the mayonnaise in another bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add chicken and toss to evenly coat each piece. Now coat each piece of chicken in the Corn Flake mixture, pressing it on to help it adhere.

Set chicken on the baking sheet and top with any Corn Flake mixture left in the bowl. Lightly sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, if desired, then bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until cooked through.

Country-style Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I called this “country-style” because I made the potatoes more rustic by not peeling them before cooking and mashing them. Mound the potatoes beside Grandpa’s chicken and top with the gravy recipe that follows.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Makes: four to six servings

2 1/4 lbs unpeeled yellow-flesh potatoes, washed well and quartered

4 large garlic cloves, sliced

2 Tbsp soft butter

1/4 cup warm milk

1/4 cup sour cream

• salt and white pepper, to taste

Place potatoes and garlic in a medium to large pot and cover with a generous amount of cold water. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat until water is just simmering. Simmer potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes well, ensuring the garlic stays in the pot. Now use a potato masher to thoroughly mash them. Vigorously beat in the butter, milk and sour cream. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and they are ready.

Chicken Gravy

Here’s a simply way to make a pot of gravy to serve with mashed potatoes.

Preparation time: a few minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Makes: about 1 3/4 cups

2 1/2 Tbsp soft butter

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cup chicken stock or broth

• splashes Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce (optional)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place butter in a small pot set over medium heat. When butter is melted, whisk in the flour. Cook and stir this roux until it turns a light, nutty brown colour.

Carefully and slowly, whisk in 1/2 cup of the stock (or broth). When mixture is very thick, slowly whisk in remaining stock (or broth). Bring gravy to a simmer, and simmer 5 minutes, until lightly thickened. If a richer colour and taste is desired, mix in some splashes of Worcestershire and soy sauce. Taste gravy and season with salt and pepper, as needed, and it’s ready.

Broccoli with Honey Mustard Drizzle

A simple way to sweeten and spice up boiled broccoli. Serve it as a side dish for the chicken.

Preparation time: a few minutes
Cooking time: about three minutes
Makes: four servings

1 large (about 10 oz./340 grams) broccoli crown, cut into 12 to 16 florets (see Note)

1 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard

• salt to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While it comes to temperature, combine honey and mustard in a small bowl.

When water is boiling, add broccoli and cook until tender, about three minutes. Drain broccoli well, arrange in a serving dish, drizzle with honey/mustard mixture, sprinkle with salt, and serve.

Note: A broccoli crown is the top portion of the plant without the stem. It’s sold that way at most supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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