I feel as though I have been searching for this book my entire life. See, I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles. And in this book, I have discovered someone that shares my love of one of the greatest cuisines of the world.
James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock is an emissary of Southern food and culture. He is best known for his work in Charleston, SC, where he is the executive chef and partner of restaurants McCrady’s and Husk.
Heritage is his very first cookbook and offers a mix of traditional and contemporary recipes in chapters such as “The Garden” and “The Pasture.” The recipes (e.g., butter-bean chowchow; pork belly with herb faro, pickled elderberries, chanterelles, and sumac; buttermilk pie with cornmeal crust) range from simple to sophisticated. Pork rinds, for example, are cooked sous-vide and dehydrated before being deep fried.
There is a well-written intro to each chapter. Within the chapters, Brock profiles producers who supply his restaurant, explains various ingredient categories, and touches on topics from industrial agriculture to the origins of boron to 19th century books on food and drink. The recipes are organized into chapters categorized by where the food comes from.
What struck me about this book is its message. “Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.” Here is a very personal book that acts as a celebration of Southern ingredients.
What make this book great are the stories. He explains how grits tell the story of a region, a family, or a time period. Brock delves into the lore of bourbon and shows how to properly conduct an at home whiskey tasting. He celebrates the classic Lowcountry seafood boil (a meal made all the better for not needing utensils or plates).
But as Mr. Brock tells it, ultimately Heritage is a book about the South and all the things that helped shape a culture. It’s about cooking, storytelling, agriculture, music, landscapes, history, folk art, writing, and everything else that is right underneath his boots. Often, the truest form of inspiration is right where you are standing. This book is Chef Brock’s attempt to capture that spirit through cooking and sharing. A spirit that celebrates traditions past while moving forward with an earnest goodwill. It’s about fulfilling his mission to reinvent Southern cooking as one of the great cuisines of the world.
Makes one 9-inch round loaf
My favorite ball cap, made by Billy Reid, has a patch on the front that reads “Make Cornbread, Not War.” I’m drawn to it because cornbread is a sacred thing in the South, almost a way of life. But cornbread, like barbeque, can be the subject of great debate among Southerners. Flour or no flour? Sugar or no sugar? Is there an egg involved? All are legitimate questions.
When we opened Husk, I knew that we had to serve cornbread. I also knew that there is a lot of bad cornbread out there in the restaurant world, usually cooked before service and reheated, or held in a warming drawer. I won’t touch that stuff because, yes, I am a cornbread snob. My cornbread has no flour and no sugar. It has the tang of good buttermilk and a little smoke from Allan Benton’s smokehouse bacon. You’ve got to cook the cornbread just before you want to eat it, in a black skillet, with plenty of smoking-hot grease. That is the secret to a golden, crunchy exterior. Use very high heat, so hot that the batter screeches as it hits the pan. It’s a deceptively simple process, but practice makes perfect, which may be why many Southerners make cornbread every single day.
4 ounces bacon, preferably Benton’s
2 cups cornmeal, preferably Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups whole-milk buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put a 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes.
- Run the bacon through a meat grinder or very finely mince it. Put the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold it in one layer and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the bits of bacon to a paper towel to drain, reserving the fat. You need 5 tablespoons bacon fat for this recipe.
- Combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and bits of bacon in a medium bowl. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and combine the remaining 4 tablespoons fat, the buttermilk, and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix.
- Move the skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat and swirl to coat the skillet. Pour in the batter, distributing it evenly. It should sizzle.
- Bake the cornbread for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from the skillet.