By Lisa Ahier, as told to Pam Danter

As chef-owner of the hugely successful SoBo restaurant in Tofino, B.C., Lisa Ahier is constantly creating new and unique recipes. Many are inventive takes on old recipes, and her Hippie Fried Chicken is no exception. It also makes a perfect finger food for potluck feasts, especially after Ahier enjoys a morning of paddleboarding on the ocean with friends.

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When I was growing up in Texas, southern fried chicken was a mainstay at church picnics and county fairs. If you brought fried chicken to an event, you were the star of the day. However, unlike many people with fond memories of their grandmother’s cooking, my experience with this succulent dish was the opposite. Unfortunately, my grandmother was a horrible cook! She would throw a whole chicken in a pressure cooker for half an hour, then plunk it on a plate. It was not very appetizing. My own mother was a good cook, but she didn’t fry chicken, either; she rolled chicken pieces in butter and potato chips, then baked them.

My mother worked in restaurants through my whole childhood, and I would often accompany her. Even though, as manager, she was at the front of the restaurant, from a very early age, I would stand on milk crates in the kitchen and watch the cooks prepare the food. It was always fascinating to me, watching them mix and cook the ingredients so effortlessly and magically. My love of cooking was born! Being a child of the ’60s, eating prepared and packaged food was the norm: cooking with canned soups and packaged sauce mixes. This is what my mother used, certainly a far cry from the farm-to-table food of the past.

I moved to Florida when I was 18, where I was introduced to Caribbean cooking. My southern fried chicken started becoming more sweet-and-savoury; I started using chipotle sauce instead of the traditional buttermilk, and seeds and nuts instead of bread crumbs.

When my husband and I arrived in Tofino, I was introduced to foraging. For me, the essence of Canadian food is the “wildness” of it. You could pick onions, mushrooms, seaweed, crabs, berries, right from your own backyard. I wasn’t in Texas anymore! Hemp is used in just about everything in Tofino, so I started using hemp seeds in my fried chicken recipe. Friends giggled about it, making jokes about the “hippie” and “free-spirited” culture in British Columbia. And that’s how “Hippie Fried Chicken” was born.

In contrast to my upbringing, I’m proud to say my children are lucky enough to know a lot of the people who provide our ingredients. They understand the connection between nature and food, unlike so many children who only experience their food coming from a grocery store. As a family, we are connected and committed to our local food. It’s important to me to support our local food harvesters.

Hippie Fried Chicken, courtesy of Lisa Ahier

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Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 3 ¾ hours (includes marinating)
Yield: 8 to 10 pieces

Ingredients
Marinade
½ cup (125 mL) cider vinegar
½ cup (125 mL) lemon juice
½ cup (125 mL) tamari or soy sauce
½ cup (125 mL) light brown sugar
¼ cup (60 mL) mashed chipotle chilies
1 tsp (5 mL) dry mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced

Fried Chicken
1 whole chicken (breasts cut in 2 to 3 strips; drumstick, thigh and wing separated)
¼ cup (60 mL) unbleached organic flour
¼ cup (60 mL) almonds, finely ground
¼ cup (60 mL) pumpkin seeds, finely ground
¼ cup (60 mL) sunflower seeds, finely ground
¼ cup (60 mL) hemp seeds
2 tbsp (30 mL) white sesame seeds
2 tsp (10 mL) salt
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
4 eggs, well beaten
1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
half stick butter

Directions
Marinade
1. In large bowl, mix together vinegar, lemon juice, tamari, brown sugar, chipotle chilies, mustard and garlic until well combined.
2. Add chicken, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.

Fried Chicken
1. In bowl, mix together flour, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, half of the salt and the cayenne pepper.
2. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs and remaining salt.
3. In cast-iron skillet, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. (If deep-frying, increase oil to appropriate amount for size of fryer. Set fryer at 325°F/160°C.)
4. Dredge chicken in egg mixture, then in seed mixture, pressing to coat. Coat each piece right before frying to keep crust intact. (If you coat too far in advance, breading will fall off when you turn the chicken.)
5. Add chicken to skillet. (You should hear slight sizzle; if you don’t, temperature is too low and chicken will absorb too much oil.) Cook, turning after 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted in chicken reads 165°F (74°C). Avoid cooking large portions in skillet at once, as it will take chicken too long to cook and run risk of burning. (If deep-frying, submerge chicken in oil, make sure not to overcrowd fryer. Move it around a bit to ensure even cooking.)
6. If chicken is browning too quickly and inside is underdone, finish it in 400°F (200°C) oven for about 4 to 5 minutes.
7. When chicken is cooked, remove and drain on rack or paper towels. Add more salt to taste, if desired, while chicken is hot.
8. Serve with vegetable slaw or with mashed potatoes, biscuits and collard greens.

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