Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good Ol' Country Boy

Every now and then I like to get back to my roots. That is, working with and refining what is known as southern cuisine.

I grew up on southern food, but I didn't realize what heights it could reach until I worked my culinary externship in Charleston, South Carolina where I first learned the extent that this hodgepodge-influenced soul food could be refined. Giving the richness that this type of food inherently possesses I tend to limit my offerings to this time of year since most people prefer heavy dishes in the winter.
I've been wanting to serve a loaded cornbread for a while now, and I finally settled on the additions of finely grated smoked Gouda and ground Chinese sausage, but instead of cooking a whole skillet I used these little non-stick pans that make perfect individual portions, great for laying a foundation.

Over the holiday season during my short vacation in Florida my mother cooked Christmas breakfast for my wife and I, which included one of my favorites: country ham with red eye gravy. It's made by rendering pre-boiled country ham (to help remove some of the excess salt from the curing process), adding flour, water and coffee - hence the "red eye". I've made a thinner version in the past as a play on au jus, but this time I wanted something more substantial. This time I made a rich broth by simmering sliced country ham with vegetables and herbs that I then thickened and finished with freshly brewed chicory coffee (my preferred cup at home). The resulting sauce was bold and slightly bitter - a perfect pairing to the sweetness of the cornbread and the Chinese sausage.

Traditional southern dishes usually contain some form of cooked, bitter green. While kale, mustard or dandelion greens are the norm, I felt some wild, baby arugula would fit the bill. Simply sauteed with a little onion and garlic confit helps give flavor to a newer version of accompaniment.

While I could have gone many different ways with the "main" protein for this dish, chicken is a perfect medium; a blank slate. I've always preferred a pan roasted airline breast - with the first section of the wing attached to add flavor and a classier presentation. Think of it as a healthier version of fried chicken, except for an added boost of flavor I whipped up sweet cream butter with freshly chopped oregano, thyme, and chives that I molded into a loaf pan to chill so I can slice it thin to finish the breasts while still hot to infuse more flavor.

As if my dinner special isn't down-south enough, I've dreamed up a drink special that'll turn a yokel into a socialite!

There has been a lot of distilleries offering "moonshine", or unaged corn whiskey, probably so they can have something to sell while the rest ages in barrels for a few years. You can even buy some of them at our state run liquor stores. On a whim, I bought a bottle made by a company out of Virginia that was a lot sweeter than expected, so I realized that I could use this as a clear version of sweet vermouth along with another more traditional style, a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters and a maraschino cherry to make a completely transparent Manhattan!!

Hell Yeah!!

With Love,