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Taking a spin through Chef Sean Brock's new cookbook, Heritage

The School of Brock

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The doors open and the glare of fluorescent lights greet you. You grab a buggy and begin the hum-drum task of collecting the week's groceries. Somewhere along the condiment aisle, a jar of chowchow catches your eye, and you think "that might be a little different." Later that night, a stocker will be there to replace that jar. He'll likely get it from the back room, where he unloaded it from a truck, that brought it from a distributor, that picked it up from a manufacturer, who made it in a factory.

Stop. Rewind. Play.

On the flipside, picture this: The sun is shining, it's a warm summer morning, and you stroll through the farmers market. You smell fresh herbs and summer vegetables. Vendors say hello and chat it up with the regulars. You seek out fresh butterbeans, cabbage, red peppers, and more because you picked up Heritage, the new cookbook from celebrated local Chef Sean Brock. And you are here because a recipe for chowchow caught your eye and you thought "that might be a little different."

Heritage is a different experience, and that is the point. The recipes within Heritage are as much about the process as they are about the result. A process where each element becomes important. Who grew it? What region did come from? Is it in season? These are not questions asked in the grocery when buying a can of soup or a jar of pickles.

Heritage may appeal most to foodie hobbyists looking to elevate their Southern cuisine game, but it has more than enough to satisfy a larger audience. Like a bountiful sideboard on Thanksgiving, Heritage offers many stories about the men and women who make up the backbone of local food. People like Celeste Albers who sells raw milk and grass-fed beef or Shawn Thackeray and his distinct Wadmalaw Island tomatoes. Further, it's full of lessons in Southern food history. The cookbook offers historical accounts of red beans, grits, wreckfish, and more. There are lessons about cooking methods like sous vide, canning, and smoking. All of these are served among the philosophies of Chef Brock.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of Heritage is that the recipes cover an entire meal. Brock guides us through the main dish and ends with a couple of sides. Follow along, and by suppertime you could have a few plates from Husk being turned out of your home kitchen. Keep in mind Brock has an affinity for "house-made" everything. So if you're planning on a little side condiment, say chowchow, then I suggest you start in the back of the cookbook and fill your larder with house-made pickles, ketchup, hot sauce, and everything in between.

The good news is that the recipes are not too difficult pull off. What is difficult, and no doubt what separates chefs from home cooks, is the collection of ingredients. I don't know about you, but I haven't had much luck finding lamb heart at a local grocery store.

In trying the recipes, I found myself unloading a bounty of fresh ingredients from the farmers market and attempting new methods of food preparation. I even invested in canning equipment. Which was all worth it because for an afternoon I was able to get my son to put down the tech and come help. Along the way I explained to him the difference between dicing and mincing peppers. I showed him how to easily clean a jalapeño and dice an onion. We boiled the jars together and then dropped in the pickling ingredients. Within two hours we had created a half dozen jars of pickled green tomatoes and another three jars of chowchow. We did all of this while slow roasting a pork loin using Brock's recipe for dinner. Late in the day we got back to work on preparing side dishes for the night. Squishing tomatoes by hand seemed to be the highlight. Eventually the whole family was participating in preparing the dinner. It became an event. We savored each delicious bite and were a bit saddened when the last of the buttermilk pie — another Heritage recipe — was consumed.

Sure, if you pick up a copy of Heritage, you'll learn how to make fried pork chops the way Brock does (by the way, you'll want some pickled green tomatoes for the relish, so get working on that), but if you embrace the process you'll learn a lot more. Look for pork from a heritage pig. Seek out local red bliss potatoes. Find local goat cheese and real buttermilk. Go with cornmeal fresh from a grist mill. In most cases these ingredients taste better than what you will find in a grocery. But more to the point, from reading the book you'll learn that there are people, a community, that exist to help you get great food to your table. Taking the extra time to seek them out is a way to say thanks. After all, it's our heritage.

Butter-Bean ChowChow

(Makes 3 quarts)

Excerpt from Heritage by Sean Brock. Copyright © 2014

People say that the name “chowchow” comes from the French word for cabbage, chou, and that it was brought south by Acadians when they were expelled from Nova Scotia and made their way to what became Cajun country. Of course, a chow chow is also a breed of dog, so maybe we should just call this dish a relish. This version can be made with any Southern bean or pea you find fresh at the market. If you leave out the butter beans altogether, you will still have a great recipe for a simple, classic chowchow that can be modified as you see fit.

If you make this recipe for canning, process the full 3 quarts. But if you want to make a quick pickle only, you can halve the recipe, as it won’t keep for very long in the refrigerator.

12 oz. butter beans, assorted varieties

6 cups apple cider vinegar

1½ cups packed light brown sugar

2 Tbs. salt

1 Tbs. yellow mustard seeds

1½ tsp. celery seeds

1 Tbs. turmeric

1½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 medium sweet onion (about 1 lb.), cut into small dice

2 red bell peppers (about ¾ lb.), cored, seeded, and cut into small dice

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1 small head green cabbage (about 1½ lbs.), cored and finely chopped

3 green tomatoes (about 1½ lbs.), cored and cut into small dice

½ cup yellow mustard

1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the butter beans and cook for 4 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them out on a baking sheet to cool.

2. Combine the vinegar, brown sugar, and salt in a medium stainless steel pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the mixture for about 20 minutes, until reduced by half.

3. Add the mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, and red pepper flakes and stir well. Add the onions, bell peppers, jalapeño pepper, cabbage, and tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes. Fold in the butter beans and yellow mustard and remove the pot from the heat.

4. Divide the chowchow among three clean quart canning jars. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 days before eating. Tightly covered, the chowchow will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

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