Sunday, May 26, 2013

Southern Food & Drink: The Week in Review

Biscuitology: The 4th Annual International Biscuit Festival, which included its own Southern Food Writing Conference, wrapped up on Sunday. Rebecca Orchant provided a good recap for the Huffington Post.

Cool Season: A cold, wet spring has led to one of the best strawberry crops in years. But, those same cool temperatures have limited the supply soft shell crabs, making them hard to come by in places like New Orleans.

More Husk, More Brock: Husk Nashville, the new Tennessee outpost of the Sean Brock's Charleston restaurant, opened its doors  Wednesday, bringing its much-anticipated all-Southern-ingredients cuisine to the Music City. If that wasn't enough, PBS announced that Brock would be featured alongside New York City's April Bloomfield in the second season of "The Mind of a Chef."

Debt & Infighting: The pink building on Royal Street that has housed legendary New Orleans restaurant Brennan's for over fifty years was sold at auction this week, following years of debt and family infighting. The restaurant remains open while the Brennan family tries to negotiate a lease with the building's new owners.

Roast Beef in Texas: Oh, and some guys down in Texas made a lot of fuss about barbecue. Nobody paid them much attention.

Pic of the Week: Afraid of vampires? Hugh Acheson tracked down just what you need at the Athens farmers market. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'm Sorry, You're Putting WHAT In Your Pimento Cheese?

A Base for Pimento Cheese?
Around the South, you hear lots of debate over what kind of mayo should be used to make pimento cheese. Some people are loyal to Hellman's, while others insist on homemade mayonnaise. And then there are those who are right and use Duke's.

Apparently there are people in Boston, though, who  don't have much respect for mayo and instead are making pimento cheese out of . . . wait for it . . . plain yogurt.

That, at least, is what the folks at the Boston Globe are recommending in their "Recipe for Southern pimento cheese."

Sounds like a recipe for an argument to me.

Of course, if you look back at the long history of pimento cheese, perhaps using a little yogurt isn't so much of departure. The original version consisted of just plain cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese with minced pimentos mixed in it--no mayo, no cheddar, no lemon juice or cayenne pepper or other secret ingredients. (You can find the full, somewhat scandalous history of pimento cheese in my collection Going Lardcore: Adventures in New Southern Dining.)

The yogurt, the Globe's recipe writer suggests, is "lighter" and "tangier". Turns out that they're not alone. A Google search reveals any number of "guilt-free pimento cheese" recipes that substitute plain yogurt (often Green yogurt) for good old mayo.

I don't know. Something tells me that if I served my guests pimento cheese made with yogurt, I would have plenty to feel guilty about.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again . . . Or Is It the Other Way Around?

So, over the weekend, Josh Ozersky pounded out a bit of a humdinger for the Wall Street Journal entitled "The New Barbecue", in which he profiled several upstart chefs who are taking on what he calls "the sacred cow of barbecue", a tradition he feels has "become so stagnant and so dogmatic that many pit masters haven't changed their recipes or routines in decades."

He praises Tim Rattray at San Antonio's Granary 'Cue & Brew for unmistakably modern dishes like Moroccan lamb shoulder on preserved lemon couscous. He gives an admiring nod to Tim Byers' coffee-cured brisket at Smoke in Dallas and Andy Husbands' smoked duck confit po boys at Tremont 647 in Boston.

As one might expect, there's was an immediate backlash. Daniel Vaughn, ardent champion of brisket and author of the just-released Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, traded Twitter barbs with Ozersky, including "You say stagnant and dogmatic, while I say traditional and reverent" and "100 year old techniques have lasted because they don't require improvement."

North Carolina blogger Porky LeSwine (a.k.a BBQJew) weighed in, too, labeling Ozersky's effort "a truly idiotic piece of writing" based upon "a startling lack of understanding of what barbecue is and what makes it great--tradition, family recipes refined over generations, simple techniques that render (literally) exquisite meat."

I suppose my view has a bit longer lens. The controversy brought to my mind a passage in an article that Rufus Jarman wrote for The Saturday Evening Post back in 1954, in which he described the reactions of barbecue purists to the rising tide of barbecue restaurants. These purists still held to the old 19th century tradition of barbecue as a gigantic outdoor event where hundreds if not thousands gathered to dine on whole animals cooked over a pit dug in the ground.

As Jarman reports, the new-fangled restaurant style of barbecue--the very "tradition" that Vaughn and LeSwine  so passionately defend today--struck the old timers in the 1950s as "an insult to the honorable name of barbecue", amounting to "an underdone pork roast served with a sauce so hot and bitter that the victim can't tell what he is eating."

Change has never come easy in the three-century history of American barbecue, but it has come all the same. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for a plate of beef shoulder garnished with coffee-laced quinoa and pickled celery, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a harbinger of even more radical innovations to come.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chicken and Waffles. It Tolls For You.

Chicken and Waffles from the Rarebit
And, speaking of the fading of pork fat's star, one can only wonder how much longer Charleston's recent crush on chicken-and-waffles will last.

Clearly an invention from far off (there's contention over whether Atlanta or Harlem is the true birthplace), fried chicken and waffles snuck their way into Charleston less than a decade ago, with A.C.'s Bar & Grill being perhaps the first local purveyor.

Suddenly, a year or so ago, they started popping up everywhere. Early Bird Diner, true to its name, got early attention for theirs, even getting the full-on food porn treatment from Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The first plate I had in Charleston was from the Rarebit, and I found them pretty good. Fuel, Lowcountry Bistro, Liberty Tap Room, and Poogan's Porch all serve them on their brunch menus. And there's more coming, like the soon-to-launch Kitchen 208, which will feature a chicken and waffle sandwich.

There's nothing wrong with a good plate of chicken and waffles, but I think it's just because fried chicken is good and waffles are good. I've not experienced any sort of magic synergy between the two, despite the combination's apparent ability to send so many diners into rapturous odes.

Will they prove to have legs? Time will tell, but I'm skeptical.

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