Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen

Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen



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Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen by Damon Lee Fowler

It's the way Damon Lee Fowler, author of Classical Southern Cooking, coaxes the timeless flavors of yesterday from the markets and kitchens of today. Rather than simply reproduce traditional Southern food, Fowler presents more than 160 mouthwatering, perfect-every-time recipes that take into account how we come by ingredients, the equipment we use to prepare them, and our more health-conscious way of living. The result is food that honors the spirit, the history, and especially the taste of the classic Southern table. Southern cooking, as most people think of it, doesn't exist. After all, there are as many ways to make "real" corn bread, gumbo, or fried chicken as there are cooks. So instead of dwelling on hidebound notions of authenticity, Fowler focuses on the essence of great Southern food, combining traditional ingredients in fresh ways and finding nuances of flavor and texture that may have been overlooked before. This is an unapologetically opinionated and singular book, both colored by the tastes of the author's palate, upbringing, and experiences, and connected to every cook who has ever and will ever step into a kitchen with a Southern idea of flavor in mind. In these pages you won't find "nouveau" Southern dishes that simply add cilantro or jalapeno peppers. You will find Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese with Warm Peach Chutney, combining the best of old and new Southern elements. Pan-Broiled Pork Tenderloins with Caramelized Onions honors the Southern passion for pig but uses a lean cut of meat. Asparagus Shortcake and Shrimp and Green Tomato Gumbo put a savory twist on old favorites. Pound Cake Sandwiches, made with Bourbon Pound Cake; Orange-Praline Trifle; and Sweet Potato Ice Cream are all soul-satisfying endings to any meal. With suggested menus and resources for finding the best Southern ingredients, Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen is sure to become a contemporary classic and an essential volume in every cookbook library, whether north or sout

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684871691
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/28/2006
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 7.69(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.27(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Preface and Explanation — of Sorts

Marcella Hazan began her first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, with the startling pronouncement, "The first useful thing to know about Italian cooking is that, as such, it actually doesn't exist."

In my years of thinking and writing and teaching about cooking, I have learned that the truth of Signora Hazan's pronouncement is not limited to the cooking of her own country. It applies equally — perhaps even more peculiarly — to ours, for the one thing that can be said with any certainty of American cooking in general and Southern cooking in particular is that "as such, it actually doesn't exist." There is no single such thing as Southern fried chicken, corn bread, gumbo, pecan pie, greens, or Hoppin' John. All of those things are merely ideas that can exist only in the individual interpretation of each cook. Many of those interpretations resemble one another closely enough to be loosely codified into a kind of formula, but what that formula captures is only one aspect of a very complicated idea. The actual cuisine always has — and probably always will — defy codification.

This goes well beyond what the Chinese call "wok presence" — that individual, almost intangible something that each cook brings to the pot. One can trace many dishes back into history — sometimes even to a single source, but the thread that connects that single source to modern kitchens is seldom straight or solitary. To begin to explain this collection of cuisines that we so loosely call "Southern cooking" would be much more complicated than saying it is the cooking of the regions within the South. It is more complicated even than saying it is the melding of the cooking of the many other countries from which modern Southerners have come. A researcher of social patterns once pronounced that he had found four regional styles of barbecues in South Carolina, and could definitively put boundaries around something he called a "grits region." Brave man: I grew up in South Carolina, and would not have been able to stop at four types of barbecue. Never mind about the grits.

That is why this is, of necessity, a very personal book. I call it "my" Southern kitchen because what follows on these pages are the patterns of only one Southern cook: me. Every cook's patterns are informed by the kitchens of childhood, by the dozens of teachers who have shared their kitchen wisdom, by the hundreds of cooks past and present who have shaped the cuisine, even by the people who will be eating what that cook produces. Yet, when we step into our kitchens, we are mostly alone: only we are present to taste, to smell, to see the flame under the skillet or hear the sizzle of the butter that is inside it.

I call it a "new" Southern kitchen not because it reinterprets the cooking of my childhood or because there is anything in here that would seem foreign to my grandmother — or, for that matter, my great-great grandmother — but because it is a new way of looking at something that is very old. Most of us have known the revelation of looking at the photograph of a familiar place or face that has been printed backward. We recognize what we see, but often notice details that we have never seen before because we are looking at them in an entirely new way. That is what I have tried to do with this book.

Instead of dwelling on the history and traditions of a recipe, on the rights and wrongs of interpretation, on details and facts, and such elusive things as true points of origin or authenticity of execution, what I have tried to focus on here is the one thing we can all grasp and understand: flavor — in this case, Southern flavor — what it is, and how one achieves it. There is, for example, a recipe here for Southern fried chicken. Nothing in that recipe is new. The way it is fried in the recipe is colored by both my grandmothers, my own mother, and by the many cooks who have fried chicken for me. History, interesting though it may be, will not tell you what to expect from that chicken, nor why Southern cooks keep cooking it in this way even in the face of modern health concerns. None of those things are what I want you to think about as you cook. What I hope to evoke here is that perfection of flavor and texture that keeps Southern cooks frying chicken. But more than that, I want to inspire you to actually take a chicken and a skillet into your own hands, and achieve a flavor that is both as new and as old as time. After all, cooking truly is like grace — you cannot know it until you have taken it into your own hands and tasted it for yourself.

The recipes that follow, then, share what I know about Southern food and its flavors. They are how one cook approaches that complicated idea of "Southern cooking," what he thinks as he chooses a chicken for frying, prepares it for the pan, smells when it is done, and tastes his own history in the first crunching mouthful. It is not — and never can be — a comprehensive understanding of the whole picture, because the whole is a picture that cannot be painted. These are the patterns of my kitchen, the food from my table, the tastes and prejudices of my own palate, upbringing, and experience. It is, by its very nature, singular, but it is connected in a real way to a larger continuum of every cook who ever has and ever will step into a kitchen with a peculiarly Southern idea of flavor in mind. By sharing what follows with you, the singularity of my own experience becomes a part of yours, and in that way, I hope to make you a part of that tradition.

Damon Lee Fowler
Savannah, Georgia
December 2000

Text copyright © 2002 by Damon Lee Fowler

Table of Contents

A Preface and Explanation--of Sorts13
1To Begin With: Appetizers and Snacks for Before and Between57
2Eggs: For Breakfast and Everything Else83
3Grits and Rice: The Great Southern Grains97
4The Southern Soup Kettle: Soups, Stews, and Gumbos111
5Fish and Shellfish: From Sea and Stream141
6Meats: From Field and Farmyard171
7Chicken and Other Poultry: The South's Golden Icon213
8Vegetables: The Staple of the Southern Table251
9Salads: Of Leaves and Leftovers321
10New Southern Baking: Breads, Cakes, and Pastries343
11The Southern Dessert Table: Puddings, Ices, and Other Composed Sweets375
Gathering Around the New Southern Table411



Spiced pecans, slightly sweet and tingling with cayenne, are a traditional holiday favorite that is still very popular throughout the South. Sometimes they include curry powder, sometimes the cayenne shines alone. Here, a splash of bourbon adds a subtle depth to the flavor and counters the bitter edge that the curry spices can sometimes lend. The secret is to use a restrained hand with the seasonings.

1 pound shelled whole pecans
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
ground cayenne pepper

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 275° F. Put the pecans into a rimmed pan such as a 9 x 13-inch sheet cake pan and shake the pan to level them. Cut the butter into teaspoon-sized bits and scatter it over the pecans.
  2. Put the pecans into the center of the oven and toast until the butter is melted. Take them out and toss until the pecans are glossy and well coated with butter. Return them to the oven and toast for 20 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the pecans with the bourbon, sugar, curry powder, a small pinch or so of cayenne, to your taste, and a generous pinch of salt. Toss until the nuts are uniformly coated and toast 20 minutes more. The nuts should only be a little darker than they were when raw. Do not overcook them or the spices will be bitter. Taste and adjust the seasonings, stopping just shy of where you'd like it to be, as the flavors will develop as they cool. Toast the pecans for 2 to 3 minutes more, and allow them to cool before serving. Makes about 3-1/2 cups, serving 4 to 6 as an hors d'oeuvre.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as a first course.

Here are most of the traditional ingredients of a good seafood gumbo, but with a twist: green tomatoes replace the usual ripe ones. Also, unlike most gumbos, it does not need to simmer for hours on the back of the stove. It goes together quickly -- less than an hour from start to finish, including all the peeling, chopping, and simmering. The result is tart, clean-flavored, and refreshing. However, it does benefit greatly from being made a day ahead so that the flavors blend and develop.

3/4 pound young, firm okra
1-1/2 pounds green tomatoes (about 3 large or 4 medium)
1 medium leek
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, trimmed, split, peeled, and chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced
1 or 2 small green hot chile peppers (to taste), stemmed, seeds and membranes removed, and minced
6 cups Shellfish Stock [see book] or Chicken Broth [see book], or 6 cups doctored canned broth [see book] or 3 cups canned brother mixed with 3 cups water (even if the label says use full strength)
1 bouquet garni, made from a leafy celery top, 2 bay leaves, 2 large sprigs thyme, 2 large sprigs parsley
Salt and whole white pepper in a peppermill
1/2 pound (headless weight) shrimp, peeled
1/2 pound crabmeat, picked over to remove any bits of shell 2 lemons
1 large or 2 small scallions or other green onions, thinly sliced

  1. Wash the okra under cold running water, gently rubbing to remove the fuzz, drain it well, cut off and discard the caps. Slice the okra crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. Split the leek lengthwise and wash it under cold running water with the root pointed upward, rubbing well between the layers to remove all the dirt and grit. Thinly slice both the white and green parts.
  2. Put the leek, fat, and onion in a soup kettle that will comfortably hold all the ingredients and turn on the heat to medium-high. Sauté, tossing frequently until the vegetables are translucent and softened, but not colored, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and hot pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 1/2 minute. Add the tomatoes and toss until heated through, then add the okra. Mix well, then slowly add the broth. Add the bouquet garni, a small pinch of salt and several grindings of white pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add the shrimp and crabmeat and bring the soup back to a simmer. Simmer until the shrimp curl and turn pink, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Remove and discard the bouquet garni. Add the juice from ½ lemon, taste and adjust the seasonings. Cut the remaining lemon into thin slices, and serve the gumbo hot, garnishing each serving with a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of scallion. Note: the gumbo can be made several hours or days ahead up through step
  4. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring it back to a simmer over medium heat before proceeding.
Menu Suggestions: As a main course, no side dish is required, although you may want to ladle each serving over 1/2 cup of Carolina-Style Rice. Heretic that I am, I prefer to serve it with Southern Corn Sticks or Hoecakes. As a first course, it could precede almost any dish that does not contain tomatoes (even ripe red ones), shrimp, or a pronounced tart flavor such as lemon, vinegar, or mustard. Particularly good pairings would be Pan-Broiled Rainbow Trout with Sage, Onions, and Wine, Broiled Snapper with Bacon, Turkey Cutlets with Pecan Brown Butter or Pan-Broiled Pork Tenderloins.

Serves 6

Probably the nicest image that the name of this underappreciated and truly American classic conjures is that of a lisping cartoon cat. And given what cafeteria steam tables have done to succotash, it's no wonder that it has come to have a dubious reputation. But when well made, there is no vegetable combination that is more satisfying to eat. This is how one does it well.

The optimum way is to use only fresh vegetables in season -- not only because they taste best but also because simmering a fresh corncob with the vegetables lends a subtle but distinctive flavor that can't be imitated. However, you can still make a very respectable succotash using good-quality frozen beans and corn.

3/4 pound fresh ripe sauce-type tomatoes, such as Roma
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled and chopped
1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed, peeled and minced
1 cup [homemade] chicken broth or 1/2 cup canned broth mixed with 1/2 cup water, or 1 cup water and 2 ounces lean country ham
2 cups fresh shelled or frozen thawed butter beans or small limas, such as Fordhooks
2 cups sweet white corn kernels freshly cut from the cob (about 3 large or 4 to 5 small ears), reserving one of the cobs, or 1-1/2 cups whole frozen thawed white corn kernels such as shoepeg
1 whole red hot chile peppper pod, such as cayenne, serrano, or jalapeño
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
Whole black pepper in a peppermill

  1. Blanch the fresh tomatoes with boiling water, core them and slip off he peelings. Working over a wire sieve set in a bowl to catch the juices, cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out into the sieve. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the collected juices. Discard the seeds.
  2. Put the drippings and onion into a heavy-bottomed, lidded skillet or saucepan and turn on the heat to medium-high. Sauté, tossing frequently, until the onion is golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and toss until fragrant, about a minute longer. Add the tomatoes and broth and bring the liquids to a boil.
  3. If you are using fresh butter beans and corn, add the butter beans, one of the corn cobs, broken into 2 or 3 pieces, the pepper pod, sage, and a liberal grinding of black pepper. Bring the liquid back to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the butter beans are almost tender but still a little underdone. Add the fresh corn, bring the liquid back to a simmer, cover, and cook until the vegetables are just tender, about 20 minutes more. If you are using frozen vegetables, add both corn and beans at once, bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low cover, and simmer until they are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Taste and add salt if needed, then simmer for about 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat, remove and discard the hot pepper pod, and serve hot. The Succotash can be made as much as a day ahead and reheated over medium-low heat. Cover and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes after it begins bubbling.
Menu Suggestion: Succotash is a wonderful complement to most any main course that does not contain tomatoes or a starchy vegetable such as potatoes or another variety of beans. It is a classic pairing with Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Braised Pork Chops with Sage and Madeira, Pork Loin in Milk, Pecan-Crusted Catfish, or Pan-Broiled Rainbow Trout with Sage, Onions, and Wine.

Copyright © 2002 by Damon Lee Fowler.

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