After years spent running her catering business from tiny basement kitchens in New York City restaurants, Sara Foster decided to bring her culinary talents back to the South. Originally from rural Tennessee, Sara meandered back down South to Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, Peter. Together, with numerous family members and friends, they cobbled together their restaurant, Foster’s Market. Now, 25 years later, Sara has gathered some of her very best recipes in her latest cookbook, Foster’s Market Favorites. The Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken with Sriracha Honey was adapted from her book.
Did you cook much while growing up?
I come from a long line of family cooks. Everyone in my family—men, women, and children—knew how to cook. Our family gatherings revolved around food, and my grandparents had a farm, so I spent time gardening and cooking with what we grew.
Tell us about Granny Foster’s recipes.
Her recipes, like those of many Southern cooks, were written on whatever piece of scratch paper was handy—things like an edge torn from a grocery bag or a receipt from a check. Some of her instructions were somewhat vague—she would write things like “a teacup of sugar,” and “five-cents worth of cinnamon.” She really used these recipes as more of a place to start, though, and would add ingredients that she had on hand, or as she felt called.
This is how I cook, as well.
Tell us about keeping your pantry well stocked.
I think this habit comes from having owned Foster’s Market for 25 years—I get to taste all these great pantry items that we sell on our shelves. Stocking your pantry with staples like beans, rice, pasta, sauces, and olive oils will help you be better prepared to throw together a last-minute dinner when you don’t feel like going to the store. It makes entertaining so much easier.
How can pantry items add to your everyday meals?
Don’t feel like you have to make every aspect of the dinner every time you cook. There are so many great things out there now that can complete your meal. For instance, we all rely on simple things like chicken breasts for a fast and easy dinner, but you can really make something different by just adding jarred salsa. Having that on hand makes you better able to think on your feet in order to make something interesting.
What do you love about Durham?
One of the reasons I moved here is because we have such good produce and farmers’ markets. I believe that we have so many great restaurants in this area because we have farmers who grow great products for us. I feel like Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill have become a food community, and we owe a lot of that to the growers.
How did you find yourselves back in the South?
My husband and I were living in Connecticut, and we wanted something different. I wanted to be a part of something that was more permanent than catering, which can be sporadic. We visited and fell in love with the Durham, North Carolina, area, and quickly started looking for a place to start a restaurant. And then we opened Foster’s Market!
Do you have any cast-iron cookware?
I have a number of passed-down cast-iron skillets. I like to say that in our family, we don’t fight over the jewels—we fight over the cast-iron skillets. I have them in all shapes and sizes, and I love them. I love that they can go from stovetop to oven to grill—you can put them anywhere. You can cook almost anything in them and over any heat source.
Tell us about why these recipes are your favorites.
The recipes in the book are a collection of our favorites and customer favorites—and so many of them come from people who have worked here. Every recipe has a story behind it. For example, our New York Crumb Cake was made by one of our early bakers, Gretchen Sedaris, who is David Sedaris’ sister. She brought the recipe down from her time working in a New York bakery, and we’ve made it every day for 20 years.
You say that food brings folks together
I feel like food is our common language—it always brings people together at the table. It takes me back to my family gatherings when I was growing up. The gesture of making a meal for someone, no matter how grand or small it may be, means a lot. And if you get to share the meal together, that means even more.
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup kosher salt
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon dill seeds
- 1 bunch fresh dill leaves, chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried dill weed)
- 2 cups cold water
- 6 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into halves or thirds, depending on the size
- 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional, to taste
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus additional, to taste
- Pinch of ground red pepper
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1⁄4 cup chile-garlic hot sauce (Sriracha)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- For brine: In a large skillet, toast mustard seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and cloves over medium heat, stirring constantly, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and dill seeds. Bring to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat; stir in fresh dill and 2 cups cold water. Let cool completely.
- For chicken: Transfer brine to a large bowl, and add chicken and enough water to completely cover. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
- When ready to cook, remove chicken from brine, scraping off any seeds or dill leaves. Discard brine. In a large bowl, combine buttermilk and chicken.
- In a separate large bowl or plastic bag, combine flour, sea salt, and peppers. (I like to use a bag because the chicken gets coated all over and it makes for easier cleanup.)
- In a large cast-iron skillet, add oil to 1⁄4 inch deep. Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers between 360° and 375°. (The oil should be deep enough to cover the chicken about halfway; the level of the oil will rise slightly when you add the chicken.)
- Working in batches, remove chicken from buttermilk. Dredge in flour mixture, one piece at a time, to coat evenly on all sides, beginning with large pieces. Shake off any excess flour.
- Place chicken, 6 to 8 pieces at a time, in hot oil. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, turning once, 6 to 7 minutes per side. (Do not overcrowd skillet.) Adjust heat as necessary to maintain temperature.
- Transfer chicken to a wire rack over a baking sheet to drain. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Keep in a warm oven while the next batch is frying.
- In a small bowl, stir together Sriracha and honey. Serve chicken hot or at room temperature with honey mixture drizzled on top or served alongside for dipping.