The holiday season is great time to try new recipes and meet new friends.
I met Steve McKenna this month while hosting the tree lighting event at the Piazza in downtown Renton and we had the chance to talk about Steve’s two favorite subjects: food and spirits.
With New Year’s Eve on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to invite over a pro to learn how to cook a tasty New Year’s Eve finger food and an inspired cocktail with flare.
And there’s probably no one better qualified to teach cooking with alcohol than Steve McKenna, a New York transplant and now Renton resident who made his television debut on “Three Sheets,” a show about going around the country and world getting to know the locals and the best sights to see by having a drink with people.
Actually many drinks, which earned him thousands of Facebook followers at Iamstevemckennad and the dubious honor of having his name, “Mckenna’d,” recorded in the urban dictionary and loosely translated means “to get drunk and do stupid stuff.”
Steve is best known as co-host of the “Drinking Made Easy” television show.
But don’t let the signature dark shades and “professional drinking jacket” fool you (apparently it’s a custom piece with a lip in the front to hold your glasses, a front pocket with the circumference to hold a can of beer and sleeve holders with traction for a batter grip on said beer), Steve’s also an accomplished Shakespearean actor and chef.
His new web series, currently in production and called “Boozy Kitchen” will feature recipes like the Honey Bourbon Chicken Tenders we were making in my kitchen.
“Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon,” McKenna commented as I leaned into my kitchen counter to watch him dredge raw chicken tenders through an egg wash and then flour. I watched him do it again, with the egg wash and then flour before he moved into the panko flake finish.
I sipped the bourbon cocktail Steve had served, a medley with a honeyed, thyme infused simple syrup he calls “Perfection takes Thyme.”
I don’t know much about bourbon, but I do know enough about life to enjoy it while watching someone else getting their hands dirty in my kitchen.
“You can wear gloves if you don’t want to get your hands all dirty ’cause by the end of it they’re gonna be like big balls,” Steve said, holding up his hands to emphasize that after only two rounds of dredging, his fingers themselves were breaded think enough that I was worried for them being so close to the fryer.
“But I like getting my hands dirty. The best trick with breading anything is to get that egg wash and flour dredging into every single nook and cranny and build up that breading! Repeat in the egg wash and flour at least two times!” he said.
Steve’s dredging technique was developed as a line cook in his home town of Essex, New York, at the Old Dock House (a waterfront restaurant his Dad bought in 2006) where he perfected the art of deep frying.
According to Steve, the restaurant’s best seller was The Shore Platter, featuring three deep fried shrimp, three cod and three oysters. After a summer frying up a gazillion Shore Platters he earned the nom de plume “Stevie Shore.”
Here’s a couple of cooking tips I learned from watching the deep fry maestro: Let your pan get hot before you put the oil in. Pound the chicken tender out a bit so it’s not so thick with the breading and doesn’t become “sushi chicken” and no one gets salmonella.
And of course, Steve’s chicken tenders were super crispy and a perfect golden brown color!
But what was really fun was watching him infuse the honey barbecue dipping sauce with bourbon.
I think most home cooks, including this one, have a fascination with flambé, a cooking procedure in which alcohol is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames. From flambéing to deglazing to braising cooking with alcohol doesn’t take a chemistry degree, but it is a real skill to understand the connection between pairing the right flavors to add depth and dimension and, you know, not burn your house down in the process.
For my part, I was a believer, the Honey Bourbon Barbecue Sauce was sweet, rich and the bourbon added an unctuous quality to it that paired wonderfully with the cool and refreshingly sweet and herbaceous Perfection takes Thyme cocktail.
Steve’s new show, “Boozy Kitchen” is a perfect venue to teach home cooks his passion for food as a trained chef and the fact that he’s become an accidental expert on all things alcohol. There’s twists on Beef Bourgeon (his recipe features both wine and bourbon), a French toast in a peach brandy sauce, a killer beer batter and a shrimp scampi to die for with wine and butter in it all day long.
Everyone is always looking for a great holiday recipe and Steve’s Honey Bourbon breaded chicken tenders are a smart alternative to barbecue wings at a party.
Served with the sauce on the side and a vibrant honey and thyme-infused cocktail at your New Year’s Eve gathering, they are sure to be a hit!