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The Big Jones Cookbook
Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking
By Paul Fehribach
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
They say that smell is the sense with the most enduring memories, which is surely why I am so obsessed with home-baked breads.
My mom used to make a simple home-style white bread for Thanksgiving for which I have yearned every day of my life. While I remember the taste so vividly, that sense is inextricably linked to the aroma, and home-baked bread is one of the most indelible smells we encounter in our lives. After all my years of experience in baking, I still can't make a bread that nourishes me in the same way as that simple pan bread my mom used to make, because those sensory memories are intertwined with childhood, family, and the goodwill and innocence of the holidays.
I'm not sure exactly where I got the notion that bread tastes better in the house in which it was baked, but I have always felt strongly that Big Jones should produce every type of bread we can. That compulsion is based more upon the preservation of the aroma, texture, and taste of freshly baked breads than it is a philosophical question, but it's an interesting question nonetheless—if you could instantly transport freshly baked bread, Star Trek–style, anywhere else on the planet, would it still taste the same, even minutes out of the oven? Fundamentally it would, but great bread does lose something when transported—when you bake bread at home and serve it for a meal, the smell from the baking process lingers; and even as it fades to imperceptible levels, it adds a layer to the experience, echoing the aromas that waft about your palate as you chew, and breathe, and swallow, and breathe.
As a cook, the happiest moments in my life come when I arrive at the restaurant from a break or a trip, and I walk into a bustling dining room, filled with the aroma of freshly baked cornbread. It gets me every time, fills me with pride, and as the aroma takes over my consciousness, if only for a moment, lets me know I'm home.
One of my essential eccentricities that every Big Jones employee, front of house or back of house, learns during their first hours on the job is that cornbread goes straight from the oven to the table, period. How we do it involves a little choreography, but when that bread is put in front of you, I want you to know by the smell and taste that we baked it just for you. The cornbread we serve isn't your share of cornbread that we baked for hundreds of people—we baked yours just for you. When the stars align and service goes just right, there is always the smell of freshly baked cornbread in the air. Yes, the cornbread recipe I'm sharing with you is special, and we hear every day from guests that it's the best cornbread they've ever had, but I think just as often that perception is because we actually bake it to order. It's tricky, but worth it.
I've considered many ideas for other breads at Big Jones, and I'll make a little admission here. I spent a few years studying artisan baking while considering opening a bakery, so at least in theory we have a lot of options on the table. At the beginning and end of every day, though, I find myself wanting these traditional breads, baked at home.
We make hundreds of skillets of cornbread every week, using small 7-inch cast-iron skillets that are perfect for serving two to four people. Making your cornbread at home as good as ours is easy: one of the essential tricks is to preheat the skillet so the edges of the bread start to cook at once, giving them extra time to turn crispy before the center cooks to creamy perfection. You should feel free to make this recipe in muffin pans if you prefer—just get the heaviest muffin pans you can find. Some companies such as Cajun Cast Iron and Lodge make cast-iron muffin pans, which I highly recommend over the lightweight nonstick variety common in the kitchen section of department stores.
I got the idea for this particular style of cornbread—using a portion of hominy in place of some of the cornmeal—from the hominy bread recipes you can find in old colonial and early antebellum cookbooks. You might call it a lazy form of spoonbread, but the clever part is that it has just enough structure so you can hold it in your hands, which is a great sensation when the bread is piping hot. The masa flour provides an extra-fine texture and is also the secret behind our cornbread's down-pillow softness. Anson Mills makes an excellent true masa flour. Commercial dry masa flours make a weak substitute but do work.
Lard or bacon drippings make far and away the best cornbread, although we are known to use duck fat, goose fat, or chicken fat in a pinch, or clarified butter on request for vegetarians. If you go the vegetarian route, a warning: you must use clarified butter, because the butter solids will burn by the time the cornbread is done baking. For your convenience, instructions for making clarified butter are included in the pantry section in the back of this book.
PREP TIME: 50 minutes
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 12-inch cast-iron skillet, 4-quart mixing bowl, small bowl, wire whisk, pot holder, wooden spoon, ladle
SERVES: 6 to 8
1 cup fresh lard, bacon fat, or unsalted butter, divided
1-1/2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal
3/4 cup fine masa flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 large eggs
3 cups lowfat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place 1/2 cup of the lard, bacon fat, or butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, and then put in the oven to melt as the oven preheats while you make the batter.
Melt the remaining 1/2 cup of lard, bacon fat, or butter, then set aside in a warm spot. Combine cornmeal, masa flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and cayenne pepper in a 4-quart mixing bowl, and whisk to combine thoroughly. In a separate small bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy, then whisk in the buttermilk and combine thoroughly. While whisking, add the other 1/2 cup of the butter or lard, pouring in a thin, steady stream to incorporate thoroughly. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture all at once, and slowly stir them with a wooden spoon to combine until smooth and lump-free. The batter will resemble a slightly loose pancake batter.
Remove the pan with the hot butter or lard from the oven, and place on a pot holder. Carefully ladle the batter into the center of the pan, dropping each fresh ladleful onto the last, so that the butter pools around the edges.
Continue until all batter is in the pan.
Return the pan to the oven, and bake just until set in the center, about 30 minutes. It should feel springy when you tap it with your finger. Serve hot at once with lots of butter.
One of the South's storybook breads, Sally Lunn has been popular since the earliest cookbooks from the antebellum period. The delightful cake-like texture makes it perfect for slathering with butter while still hot from the pan, and it also makes spectacular French toast.
The recipe is believed to date to a thirteen-century bakery in England called Sally Lunn. Why it became so popular over many other breads is probably a story lost to the centuries, but I suspect it might have something to do with the fact that the baker is excused from the long, arduous process of kneading, which must have been a tough labor before the days of fans, air conditioners, or stand mixers.
Sally Lunn deteriorates fairly quickly after baking, becoming drier and more brittle, so if you're planning to serve it as your bread with a meal, time it to come out of the oven as close to mealtime as you can. It's best to start 3 to 4 hours before you plan to serve.
PREP TIME: 3 hours
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 1-quart saucepan, digital food thermometer, stand mixer with flat beater or a hand mixer, sifter, rubber spatula, wooden spoon, 2-pound loaf pan, wire cooling rack
MAKES: one 2-pound loaf
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon instant baker's yeast
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring, then resifted
In a 1-quart saucepan, warm the milk and 1 tablespoon of the sugar over low heat until it is lukewarm (about 110°F on a digital food thermometer). Then stir in the yeast and set aside in a warm place until the yeast is foaming and active, about 10 minutes. The yeast will form a foamy raft atop the milk.
In a stand mixer with the flat beater attachment, or in a 4-quart mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each until the mixture is smooth and foamy. It will become a little thinner with the addition of each egg. After the last egg, continue mixing for another few minutes until very light and fluffy, double the original bulk.
Add the salt, then sprinkle about one-third of the flour into the eggs and fold in with a rubber spatula. Fold in half the milk mixture, then another third of the flour, then the other half of the milk, followed by the last third of the flour. Do not knead. The dough should be soft and quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap, and set to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Use a wooden spoon to "punch down" the dough, then place in a buttered 2-pound loaf pan, cover gently with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise again to one and a half times its original size, about another hour. Once risen, remove plastic wrap and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake until the internal temperature reads 185°F on a digital food thermometer and the top is golden brown, about 45 to 55 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a breadboard to serve hot, or cool on a wire rack to use later.
Popovers are far and away my favorite quick bread—as close as it gets to kitchen magic. Just a few ingredients and no added leavening—the eggs do all the lifting—and with a little savvy technique, you get a hollow roll that is at once delightfully crispy at first bite, giving way to an irresistible creamy body with a rich yet clean egg flavor that pairs well with just about anything you want to serve alongside or slather over them.
Popovers are thought to be an Americanization of the famed pudding of Yorkshire, England, and it seems fairly certain that they are derivative. The primary difference is that popovers eliminate the drippings from the roast beef pan that define a Yorkshire pudding. They appear in Mrs. Dull's Southern Cooking from 1928 and Edna Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking among many other Southern cookbooks. I selected them for the menu at Big Jones because they are not only wonderful when properly prepared, but fairly scarce nowadays. I love finding and reviving old recipes, and this is one of the best because popovers are unique and versatile. You can easily bake them at home, and by following some simple instructions we've developed through much experience with this delicacy, you can make them as well as we do.
Our staff loves these hot out of the oven with cane or maple syrup. Personally, I'm likely to stuff them with goat cheese, a slice of bacon, and a slice of avocado, fold them over, and enjoy how the creaminess of the goat cheese and avocado dance with the chewiness and fine crispness of the bacon and popover. It's my favorite breakfast sandwich. Fortunately, it's an easy 30-minute breakfast for you at home with this recipe and some good bacon.
PREP TIME: 1 hour
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 12-cup muffin pan, 4-quart mixing bowl, wire whisk, sifter, small ladle
MAKES: 12 popovers 1/4 cup lard or clarified unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups skim milk
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring then resifted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Using a muffin pan with cups that hold 1/2 cup, place 1 teaspoon of the butter or lard in each muffin cup. Put the muffin pan in the oven to melt the butter or lard as the oven preheats while you make the batter.
In a 4-quart mixing bowl, crack the eggs and make sure to remove any bits of shell.
Whisk thoroughly until frothy. Whisk in one-third of the milk, then sift one-third of the flour over the wet mixture while whisking it in. Whisk vigorously to break up any lumps until you have a smooth, thick batter. Whisk in another third of the milk, followed by a third of the flour, and repeat once more until all is incorporated and the batter is smooth. Stir in the salt and cayenne.
Remove the muffin pan from the oven and place on a heat-proof surface. Carefully ladle 1/4 cup of batter into the center of each cup, so that the oil pools around the sides. The batter should sizzle a bit as it's poured into the hot pan. Return the filled pan to the lower rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 325°F and bake for another 20 minutes. The popovers are done when massively puffed and a deep rich golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serve at once with butter and jam, or use to make Eggs New Orleans (page 85).
When I started to mature as a cook and learn about American regional cooking, I was stunned to learn that biscuits were considered a Southern food (I had a similar revelation with fried chicken) because they were something I grew up with in southern Indiana, and we were some biscuit-eating folks even north of the Mason-Dixon. Of course after many years of studying culinary history and comparing its stories with what I knew about American history, I learned that the food I grew up with, while in the very far south of the old Union, was very much Southern in lineage and heritage, sharing a history and ethnic background with much of Appalachia and the Piedmont regions. Biscuits are one of those foods that helped me understand why I fell in love with Southern food so deeply—it's very much the same cooking on which I was raised.
Biscuits have an interesting history. Most folks don't realize that baking powder hasn't been around very long, only since the late nineteenth century, and baking soda not that much longer. Cooks used to have to go to all sorts of laborious lengths to get even a little rise out of their biscuits; beaten biscuits surely caused their share of carpal tunnel syndrome in the days before soda biscuits became the norm.
Today we can enjoy these as an easy quick bread. I call them farmstead biscuits because this is as close as it gets to the biscuits on my great-grandparents' old farmstead years ago—lard, flour, a little leavening, and buttermilk. Properly made, they are rich, tangy, and flaky: the perfect accompaniment to butter, jam, sorghum, eggs, or any salt pork or gravy you feel like cooking up.
PREP TIME: 1 hour
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 10-by-18-inch sheet pan or cookie sheet, sifter, 4-quart mixing bowl, rolling pin, 2-inch biscuit cutter
MAKES: 12 biscuits
2-1/4 cups pastry flour, sifted before measuring (if you can't find pastry flour, you may use
1-1/4 cups all-purpose and 1 cup cake flour)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons fresh lard, duck fat, or unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small bits
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lowfat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Butter a 10-by-18-inch sheet pan and have at the ready. Sift the flour before measuring, then add the baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt to the flour, and sift again into a 4quart mixing bowl. Add the lard to the flour mixture. Using your hands, begin flattening the lard between your fingers while working it into the dough, then begin rubbing the lard into the flour between your hands until it is evenly incorporated but the mixture still looks rough and mealy.
Add the buttermilk and mix quickly for a few seconds with your fingers. Allow to stand for 20 seconds for the flour to hydrate, then resume mixing, working to push the dough into a rough ball with as little effort as possible. Once the dough holds together, flour your hands well and knead the dough for only four turns, then turn out onto a floured work surface. Press out the dough with your hands to 1 inch thick, crimping and pressing in the edges to form a solid disk with smooth, squared edges. Use a rolling pin to roll out to 3/4 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter (2 inches is ideal) to cut out biscuits, using a straight down-and-up motion without twisting the biscuit cutter, and place on the buttered baking sheet. When all biscuits are cut, you can re-form scraps to make more biscuits—just be careful to work the dough as little as possible.
Place the biscuits on the top shelf of the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until deep golden brown and fluffy in the center. Serve hot with gravy or butter and preserves.
Excerpted from The Big Jones Cookbook by Paul Fehribach. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsPreface Acknowledgments Breads
Skillet Cornbread Sally Lunn Popovers Farmstead Biscuits Sweet Potato Biscuits Cheddar Biscuits Beignets Buckwheat Banana Pancakes Antebellum Rice Waffles Salt-Rising Bread Abruzzi Rye Bread Awendaw SpoonbreadInspirations from the Lowcountry
Benne Oyster Stew She-Crab Soup Carolina Gold Rice and Boiled Peanut Perlau Pickled Shrimp Creamy Grits Shrimp and Grits Reezy-Peezy, ca. 1780 Mustard Barbeque Sauce Sea Island Benne Cake Roux Icing Sea Island Benne Ice Cream Coconut Cream Cake Cream Cheese IcingSouth Louisiana
Crawfish Boudin Fritters Gumbo Ya-Ya Cajun Seasoning Creole Boiled Rice Gumbo z’Herbes Crawfish Étouffée Barbecued Shrimp Creole Seafood Seasoning Red Beans Voodoo Greens Brown Butter Roasted Palm Hearts Debris Gravy Rémoulade Eggs New Orleans Poached Eggs Crab Cakes Béarnaise Potatoes O’Brien Bread Pudding Cherry Bavarian Cream The Appalachian Highlands
Sautéed Ramp Greens with Benne Grilled Asparagus with Cottage Cheese and Lemon Pimiento Cheese Hominy Succotash Old Virginia Fried Steak, ca. 1824 Chicken-Fried Morel Mushrooms Sawmill Gravy Turnip Greens with Potato Dumplings Pan-Fried Ham with Redeye Gravy Buttermilk Pie Jelly Roll Cake Salty Sorghum TaffyKentuckiana
Chicken and Dumplings, ca. 1920 Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Loin Fried Chicken Duet of Duck with Bourbon Giblet Jus Potted Duck Rutabaga Confit Creamed Brewster Oat Groats with Parsnips and Hen of the Woods Braised Sausages with Sauerkraut and Parsnips Mashed Potatoes Charred Brussels Sprouts with Shallots and Pecans Black Walnut Sorghum Pie Short Crust for Sweet Pies Chocolate Pecan Tart Pawpaw Panna Cotta Persimmon Pudding Pie Salty Sorghum Ice Cream The Delta and Deep South
Cheese Straws Boiled Peanuts Fried Green Tomatoes Goat Cheese and Potato Croquettes Pecan Chicken Salad Crispy Catfish à la Big Jones Crowder Peas Sweet Potato Hash Mississippi Mud Pie Red Velvet Cake The Bar
Sazerac Cocktail, ca. 1940 Chatham Artillery Punch Oleo-Saccharum The Consummation Sweet Leaf Blue Yodel No. 1 Bloody Mary Jones Death in the Afternoon Cherry Bud Bitters Rhubarb Julep Brandy Fix The Pantry
Clarified Butter Basic Mayonnaise Green Goddess Standard Canning Instructions for Shelf-Stable Pickles and Preserves Chow-Chow Bread and Butter Pickles Piccalilli Five-Pepper Jelly Okra Pickles Raspberry Preserves Elderberry Jelly Apple Butter Pickled Peaches Preserved Quince Kumquat Marmalade Savory Benne Crackers Worcestershire Sauce Basic Vinaigrette Bourbon and Brown Sugar MustardThe Whole Hog
Andouille Boudin Boudin Rouge Chaurice Head Cheese Tasso Bacon Ham Pickled Pig’s Feet Lard Crackling, aka GratonsNotes on Sources Index