“The King of Fried Chicken” is what they called Austin Leslie, owner of Chez Helene’s in New Orleans during the 70s and inspiration of the short-run TV show “Frank’s Place.” One of his early cookbooks had just several dozen recipes, but is now considered a collectors’ item, as the Amazon price attests. They’re simple recipes—though he didn’t always give the same ingredients. But each came with some unique twists from the now deceased, but highly-acclaimed chef.
On line, I found his take on cornbread, potato salad, fried chicken, stuffed peppers, crab meat salad, and jambalaya. The cornbread was not too unlike what’s printed on the yellow cornmeal package, which is actually, pretty good.
But the chicken recipe gets quirky. While still in the skillet, chicken pieces are poked several times with a two-pronged fork to allow more juiciness to reach the bone. Then he’d take the chicken from the skillet and squeeze it with tongs to remove the excess fat.
His treatment of stuffed peppers was unorthodox, too. He’d bake a bread-shrimp stuffing, let it cool in the fridge, then put it inside cooked green peppers with a dab of butter, and baked the dish some more.
Chez Helene’s Cornbread
- ¾ cup flour
- 1 Tbs. baking powder
- ¾ tsp salt
- 3 Tbs. sugar
- ½ cup corn meal
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup plus 2 Tbs. milk
- 1 ½ Tbs. vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400. Grease muffin tins. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cornmeal. Combine egg, milk, and oil in a separate bowl. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients, stir just to blend, don’t over-stir. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full; bake muffins for 18 to 20 minutes. Adapted from Chez Helene Cookbook.
“And he was good, damn good.
You couldn’t fry a chicken better than Austin.
You couldn’t stuff a pepper better than Austin Leslie.”
~Leah Chase, a longtime friend and colleague