For the last two weeks, Sabasalads has been traveling the highways, byways and airways in order to savor some quintessential America before our departure to Europe for extended dissertation research. This means that we haven’t had much of a chance to cook, but we have seen some exciting new markets and tried some excellent regional delights. You’ll notice that posting has also been scarce over the last 3 weeks. Last minute preparations for relocating to London have made regular posting hard, but this week I am posting two lengthier backlog accounts of our trips to Wisconsin and Alabama.
Part I: Wisconsin
A weekend trip to central Wisconsin was a perfect antidote from the hectic scanning of library books and packing of boxes in Chicago. Our ultimate destination was a wedding in Sauk City, just north of Madison, but we went early to do some exploring in the area.
Having just spent three plus hours on crowded I-90, we speedily threw our luggage down, returned to the car and drove for another 45 minutes north to the town of Poynette, Wisconsin in search of dinner. That night we were after one thing and one thing only: a Wisconsin summer Friday-Night Fish Fry.
It seems that every small town in Wisconsin worth its salt has a local place that serves fried fish on Fridays. According to our native sources, the fish should be cod or perch and is usually covered in a light breading or sometimes beer batter. You can expect it to be served with fries, tartar sauce and lemon wedges, and usually some staple sides such as cole slaw, baked beans and rye bread. Apparently, we missed out by not ordering the salad bar for $2 extra, since this might have included liverwurst, corn salad and bean salad. (Although one should always check the salad bar first as quality can be highly variable. Either way, don’t expect much green to appear there.)
We had heard good things about a fish-fry place in Poynette, Wisconsin called the Owl’s Nest. It’s located right in the middle of town and has a huge neon sign that makes it nearly impossible to miss.
From this picture, you can’t see the huge line of hungry fish-fry fanatics queuing outside the front door. On a summer’s night in Wisconsin, you’re going to have to wait about an hour for dinner, but as we found out, it’s worth the wait.
The wait at the bar led to our discovery of some cocktail traditions previously unknown to us. We realized that things were done differently at the Owl’s Nest when we ordered a Manhattan and were asked if we wanted olives in it.
Olives? Now, we’ve always thought that Manhattans were a touch too sweet, but we never thought to do anything about it, and are used to getting a candied cherry. Olives, though they sound like an unappealing parter to whisky at first, turned out to be a perfect solution. But Manhattans aren’t the drink of choice at Wisconsin fish frys. That position belongs to the Brandy Old Fashioned, and at the Owl’s nest, everyone was ordering them “sweet, with olives.”
Not wanting to leave without trying this strange drink, we ordered ourselves “Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives.” This is a regional twist on the Old Fashioned, which would usually consist of Bourbon or Rye with a dash of bitters and perhaps an orange slice. In Wisconsin, Brandy (preferably Korbel) is substituted for the Bourbon and a splash of seven-up is added to the mix. It proved to be a wonderful beginning to the fried fish dinner that we thoroughly enjoyed.
We found the Owl’s Nest at this site, which has extensive descriptions of many fish frys in the Madison area. Next time you’re in Wisconsin, check it out.
Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives
2 shots Brandy
7-up (you can also use club soda for a less sweet version)
1 sugar cube
5 dashes Angostura bitters
Place the sugar cube in a lowball glass. Add bitters and a touch of 7-up, just to dissolve the sugar and mix in the bitters. Once mixed, add ice and brandy and give the drink a good stir. Then top off with 7-up and add a 3-4 olives on a toothpick. Enjoy!
Epilogue: the Madison Farmers’ Market (June 25, 2011)
The next morning, we got up early to make a trip into Madison for the weekly farmers’ market. It turned out to live up to its reputation of being the region’s largest farmer’s market and that means you should get there early (before 9 AM) unless you want to be overrun with crowds.
Among the produce, we saw lots of good looking kale and some great root vegetables.
Seeing all of these nice things had us wishing that we could make a sunday roast with potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beets, but since we were on the road there was neither time nor space. Instead, we’re going to give you links to two of our favorite recipes for roast chicken and a tip: prepare your root vegetables by par-boiling them in salty water (the length of time will vary according to the vegetable, but they should be just soft). Then, add them to the hot roasting pan and finish them off in the oven with the chicken. This way, they’ll be crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and will have absorbed some of the wonderful juices from your roast chicken.
Invite some friends over for this roast and serve a round of brandy old fashioneds while the bird is finishing and you’ve got the makings of a memorable sunday afternoon.
Two articles on roasting chicken:
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s notes on chicken roasting and stock
Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken