Southern

Here come Vidalia onions, squat and sweet

Here come Vidalia onions, squat and sweet

Vidalia onions are among the fruits and vegetables that mark the seasons of the year. We always love the challenge of eating our fill of such seasonal produce for the few short weeks that it's fresh. We've been a little impatient with the official state vegetable of Georgia because the harvest came late this year at the end of April. The onions are just starting to flood into the market. It's not that hard to eat a lot of them in their short season. Their combination of high water content and low levels of the sulfur compounds that make other onions pungent means that you don't tear up when you slice Vidalias. Moreover, they impart a sweet onion flavor to dishes even before they are...Read More
Cocktails honor the Barnsley spirits

Cocktails honor the Barnsley spirits

Jon Mattson, dining manager at Barnsley Resort (597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville, Georgia, 877-773-2447, barnsleyresort.com), has good advice for mixing cocktails. “One ingredient is the star,” he says. “Others should make that ingredient shine.” From that starting point, Mattson experiments until he “finds the ratios that really work.” A student of American cocktail history, he also delights in showcasing high-quality Southern products whenever possible. “I like to keep things simple and balanced,” he explains. He generally limits his cocktails to three ingredients. Even within that limited framework, he creates libations that nod to cocktail history as well as to the drinking habits of the Barnsley estate's late 19th century heyday. Estate founder Godfrey Barnsley originally called his property Woodlands and the name survives in the...Read More
Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

Evan Williams stakes claim to bourbon history

When Heaven Hill Distillery opened the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (528 West Main St., Louisville, 502-272-2611, evanwilliams.com/visit.php) in 2013, it marked the first new bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville since the late 19th century. The brand is named for the man said to be Kentucky's first licensed commercial distiller, Evan Williams. Some folks dispute that, pointing to Elijah Craig. What is known is that Williams erected a still on a spot across Main Street in 1783 and began making corn whiskey that he shipped downriver in oak barrels. Other distillers soon followed suit and by 1800 the street was known as Whiskey Row. Everyone on the street was making, selling, or shipping bourbon. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a delightful blend of low-tech history...Read More

At Smithtown Seafood, ‘local’ is measured in feet

Chef Ouita Michel, who calls Holly Hill Inn (www.hollyhillinn.com) in Midway, Kentucky, her home base, is completely on board with the vision of FoodChain (see previous post). She's so on board that she opened the little takeout seafood restaurant inside the Bread Box called Smithtown Seafood (smithtownseafood.com) and installed the immensely talented Jonathan Sanning as her chef de cuisine. (That's Jonathan below holding the fried fish.) Ouita (as everyone in Lexington seems to call her because everyone in Lexington who cares about food knows her) studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and took as her primary lesson the observation that the best French and Italian chefs create meals out of what they find around them. She's inculcated that same respect for...Read More

Pimento Cheese for holiday South in your mouth

Chef Matthew Bell hails from Montana, but after about a decade in the South, he felt confident to head the kitchen at South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. It's a collaboration with the Oxford American, the magazine that chronicles the literary and cultural life of the South and is often called the ''New Yorker of the South.'' ''We are taking our cue from the magazine and keying in on the cuisine from all regions,'' Bell told a gathering of writers who previewed the restaurant and performance place while it was still under construction. ''Arkansas cuisine is a microcosm of the whole South with influence from the Ozarks and the Smokies,'' he said. ''We have a long growing season and close access to the...Read More

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else. The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north. The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be...Read More

Making crawfish étouffée

There are as many recipes for crawfish étouffée as there are cooks in Louisiana, but that's probably because the basic recipe is so simple that everyone wants to add something to give it a personal touch. As part of my instruction at Crawfish College in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, I had the good fortune of meeting chef Dustie Latiolais of the hugely popular restaurant Crawfish Town USA (2815 Grand Point Highway, Breaux Bridge, LA 70517, 337-667-6148, www.crawfishtownusa.com). He showed my class how to prepare a classic crawfish étouffée at home. The key elements are the so-called “Cajun Trinity” of chopped onion, celery, and green pepper, and (of course) the crawfish. Latiolais thickens his with a red roux, which includes paprika as well as flour kneaded into...Read More

Peeling Louisiana crawfish

Crawfish might look like little lobsters, but getting to the meat takes a whole different approach. For starters, a meal of lobster is one lobster. A meal of crawfish contains several dozen. Because they are smaller, the meat in the claws – let alone the legs – is of little consequence. The tail's the thing. But crawfish, unlike lobster, don't have a carapace anywhere near big enough to poke your finger through. When I attended Crawfish College and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the first thing I had to learn about crawfish was how to get at those tails so I didn't go hungry. Fortunately, there's a time-honored technique that also yields a nice clean tail without the animal's alimentary tract. Start by grasping the...Read More

What to eat at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival

When it comes to the food vendors at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, the food isn't all crawfish, but to quote a good friend's catch phrase, it's all good. Well, most of it. I'd been given a big buildup from a couple of locals about Cajun pistols or pistolettes, which are buns stuffed with seafood and cheese and then deep-fried. As someone said, “they musta changed the recipe.” Cindy Harris from Houston, Texas (above) opted for Giant Shrimp on a Stick from the same vendor selling Gator on a Stick (“tender and delicious”). In fairness, I tried the alligator on a stick and found it more tender than most alligator I've tried. And, no, it doesn't taste like chicken. It tastes like alligator. Food on...Read More

Commencement Day at Crawfish College

By the end of a short work week in and around Breaux Bridge, we the matriculated have been inculcated with the full flush of gracious community, the can't-help-but-smile chords of a pounding accordion and fiddles, and the feisty spirit of the crawfish (right), which seems to flourish no matter what the world might do to beat him down. (This might be the secret of keeping a French Acadian spirit alive and well in exile from its original homeland. Like the crawfish, they took to the rich swamps and became Cajuns.) So we at the College reached our graduation day as part of the opening ceremonies, where we were presented with cap, gown, and diploma (above). As the bands began to tune up for the one-of-a-kind...Read More