A STEAK, A FISH AND A SOUR MASH
There is no secret to the fact that I love wine butter sauces and of course that I love all things seafood. Our South Gulf Coast has been under severe
environmental attack and ruin of late and it will be a while before we can fully enjoy the fruits of the Gulf of Mexico. Southern oysters will be available again someday, but just not yet so I will hold off on any oyster raw or cooked. We will be cooking clams in beer and sausage broth; tilapia with ginger-sake butter sauce and fresh melons; rib eye steak with sour mash sautéed pecans and avocado on butternut squash and tempura okra. Sauces can involve any properly used alcohol, juice or tea instead of classical creams, stocks and egg based sauces. Let’s have fun with what each season offers!
The culinary exploration and work involved in developing my new restaurant was herculean and with ease at the same time. When I realized that there is nothing so great as this love for my home land and nothing so professionally awkward for me as Southern cuisine I knew I had to take on the task. My 30 year career has opened many beautiful experiences in the foods of the world. The most difficult was the food of my family, of Georgia. The most inspiring has been the foods of Pacific Asia. The most technically important, valuable and necessary has been Classical Continental. Bringing it all together is an act of love. I feel as if every day in this life of food and literature has been a love letter to my beloved South and to the intriguing woks of Asia. If there is no love then how can there even be a cuisine? Each recipe is a paragraph in this love affair with cuisine. For those who live to eat you will understand, for those who live to cook and eat you will have already uncovered the reasons why this love is so great and never ending.
The weather this year has brought a lot of vegetables and fruits into an early ripe stage so things like butternut squash and small pumpkins, okra and various melons are perfect in September. Various beans have taken a hard hit this year but tomatoes have gone wild, especially the smaller, sweeter ones. To take advantage of this we are using butternut squash and okra, melons and basil as contenders for best bounty thus far this year.
Our first dish is a bowl of fresh, salty, gently chewy middle neck clams. Clams come in all shapes and sizes. The best is open to any number of argument. Discuss among yourselves but I am partial to razor clams, cherry stone and middle neck.
This one is so easy it is kinda funny. Hardest part is finding fresh, perfect clams. Check each clam by tapping the back end of it on the counter. If the clam slowly closes then it is alive. Never eat dead clams. Throw dead ones away. Cook from live.
A good clam will be a bit chewy but have a rich, brine flavor cherished by all lovers of bivalve sea creatures!
2 dozen very fresh middle neck clams
½ cup tomato, seeded and chopped
1 cup dark beer
1 cup dark chicken stock
2 sprigs oregano, fresh
4 slices jalapeno
2 wedges lime
½ teaspoon flaked pink sea salt
Bring liquids to a boil and reduce by half. Add clams, tomato, oregano and jalapeno. Squeeze lime over the clams and then sprinkle salt.
Serve with toasted french bread.
TILAPIA WITH MELONS AND SAKE BUTTER
I feel obligated to write about this wonderful super food of the perch family at least once a year. Sake is rice wine but what a complicated wine it is. Most of us understand sake as something reserved for sushi night out but there is a complicated array of interesting flavors going on as one goes up and down the list of sakes made today. They can taste like lighter fluid and moonshine on the one hand and as sublime as a fine Pinot on the other. Sake is in many flavors and the best will have a plum cured in the bottle the way that Poire William Liquor has the pear inside of it. Sake is not for everyone but when it is made via the classic style of a fine pan butter sauce then it fully expresses itself as a great cooking wine.
Melons define the South as much as anything else does and what better way than to use melons of the world that grow well here? Sweet, complex, refreshing and everything good about a late summer day.
Cook jasmine rice, sweet potatoes and pineapple together as a starch to go with your tilapia.
2, 6 ounce tilapia fillets
1/3 cup flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon black pepper, cracked
10 thin slices Crenshaw or honeydew melon
10 thin slices Korean watermelon
1 shallot, minced
4 ounces sake
½ teaspoon ginger, minced
2 ounces butter, very cold, cut in small squares
Dust tilapia in flour, salt and pepper and sauté on medium high heat for two minutes per side turning four times. Add melon and cook just enough to soften. Remove from pan and place in warm spot on the stove. Add shallot and ginger to pan, then add the sake. Cook the sake down until the shallots begin to bubble and almost dry. Stir in the butter piece by piece until fully incorporated and it is like a thick cream. Reserve in warm place.
Place tilapia and melons on the rice. Pour sake butter over the fish.
This is good with a well mixed and represented mesclun mix of lettuces with a tangy vinaigrette (citrus and coconut water with rice vinegar and corn oil style).
SOUR MASH, AVOCADO, OKRA AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH!
About avocado, a local newspaper, the Athens Banner Herald on 8/17/10, reprinted this research from a column by “You Docs”:
1. They’re full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which increases your healthy HDL cholesterol and lowers your triglycerides. Only olives have more.
2. Their good fats are full of omega-3s, which are world-class do-gooders when it comes to your arteries, brain, skin, sex life and more.
3. They have more potassium than bananas, which helps keep your blood pressure in check, and a ton of magnesium, too, which every cell in your body needs to work well.
4. They make good foods taste even better and, like a great teammate, make them better for you. Add, say, 1/2 cup sliced avocado to your spinach salad, and your body will absorb five times more lutein.
5. They contain compounds that may slow the growth (or even kill off) some precancerous and malignant cells.
6. They turn up your levels of leptin, the feel-full hormone, which turns down your appetite, so that bowl of guacamole may not disappear.
So have at it but not too much on the avocado. Avocado and rib eye is just too delicious to pass up these days.
Sour mash is one of those things whose flavor is so pronounced that the difference between a sour mash and bourbon whiskey is easy to sense. A Jack Daniels Black, Makers Mark or Wild Turkey next to Knob Creek bourbon (one of the best by the way) is as different as Dr. Pepper next to Coca Cola. Slight but enough to divide the ranks. Sour mash is made with bourbon, brewers yeast and a bit of water to the mix, it is then fermented and strained. You can have bourbon without sour mash but you cannot have without bourbon. Sour mash will always be Sour Mash Bourbon. It is not necessarily the best choice of sipping whiskies though so choose by asking your bar tender to give you samples of high end and low end Sour Mash, and then the same for high and low end Bourbons. You will notice a tremendous difference in flavor between each level of whiskey.
The flavor of a sour mash is more pronounced on the back of the tongue in the form of being almost like that of wheat and corn (like oatmeal and grits at the same time) whereas that of a fine bourbon rests on the edges and center of the tongue in a way more akin to fresh ground hominy. Think sour dough bread and regular white bread. Bourbon and Sour Mash Bourbon are often overlooked in matching food to beverage. Don’t be limited in how you approach a complete meal, all you have to do is look around in the region where you live and you will find that there is more to taste that first meets the eye.
We live in Georgia so use those just off the stalk okra and off the vine butternut squash. Tempura okra, whole okra is amazing. Pass over this fresh vegetable of the South and you really missed on something essential to our very cuisine. Butternut squash is not just for mashing, baking and roasting with butter and cinnamon sugar. Butternut squash likes to be fried as well. Yes, you can peel it, seed it, cut it into long french cuts and fry like a potato. It tastes great.
RIBEYE STEAK WITH AVOCADO, PECANS AND SOUR MASH
This is the part we all like the best, the big, thick, rich indulgence of red meat and even richer sides. Rib eye is the cut that is fatty and has a perfect tenderness of texture and fullness of flavor much prized by beef eaters everywhere. A good rib eye can make any day a grand day.
2, 12 ounce center cut ribeye steaks
1 tablespoon butter
10 halves pecans
10 slices avocado
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon worchestshire sauce
2 ounces favorite sour mash whiskey (it is your meal)
½ teaspoon garam masala spice blend
1 large iron skillet
Heat the skillet to medium heat and add the butter. When the butter melts and foams add the steaks. Cook to desired temperature. Add soy and worchestershire, reduce. Remove meat from pan. Add pecans and sour mash whiskey. Add garam masala spices. Pour over meat. Place avocado on meat.
OKRA AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH
½ cup tempura flour
3 tablespoons vodka
1 cup peanut oil
Dust okra in tempura flour, place in another plate and sprinkle with vodka until it mixes into the flour/okra. Fry in hot oil, 350 degrees, for three minutes. Lift out and drain.
10 slices butternut squash
1 teaspoon honey granules or coarse brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
2 cups peanut oil (use same oil as for okra)
Dust the butternut french fries with the spices and fry at 350 degrees for 4 minutes. Lift and shake off excess oil.
Keep okra and squash warm while you cook the rib eye or cook them while you cook the rib eye steaks.
Arrange okra and butternut squash in Lincoln log style on two plates and set rib eye next to them. Eat. Really eat.
Thank you and I hope your meals are a success. Please visit me at our new restaurant, Chef Lamar’s Iron Grill. We are new and the adventure is just now beginning.
I dream of her curves even when she is beside me,
I see her almond eyes shining as she looks at our feast,
She could sweeten the bitterest herbs and olives.
Given that there is a way of oranges and sweet shrimp,
Given that there is a path of glory and ceramic grills
And given that the summer days are better with her.
She does this,
She does this when we are together,
Simply by enjoying all things,
Her lips curve towards heaven,
And everything around becomes richer and more full,
Everything is born again in her smile.