Sean Brock is a Southern man, born and raised. He is a James Beard Award–winning chef, as well as a partner in Husk and McCrady’s restaurants. And, he has just written his first cookbook.
Said by Time magazine to be “the most conspicuously gifted American chef of his generation,” Brock shares his favorite heritage ingredients with a mission to elevate the reputation of Southern food, called “down-home-cooking standbys,” and to raise appreciation for the care, respect and passion required to get food on the dinner table.
Brock grew up living with his grandparents, and their passion project of an enormous garden became Brock’s foundation for his love affair with food. His grandmother, his greatest influence, shared her wisdom, and she gave him a wok that changed his life.
In his cookbook, Brock features highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between. He reveres the ingredients and methods of cooking, and he reflects on his deep respect for people who grow foods. Tasting original, heirloom ingredients such as historic Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island red peas, changed Brock and inspired him to capture the flavor and texture of remembered and celebrated dishes.
The sophisticated and comfort food recipes are grouped by place in the chapters: “The Garden,” “The Mill,” “The Yard,” “The Pasture,” “The Creek & The Sea,” “The Larder,” “The Public House” and “The Sweet Kitchen.” Each chapter also includes a profile of a farmer or purveyor. The recipes progress from home cooking to restaurant fare. In his readable, conversational style, Brock suggests you listen to your tongue: “It’s smart,” he writes. He also says that every item varies from batch to batch and pan to pan, so individuals should look for ingredients that thrive in their area. With humor, he also suggests that Velveeta is an “heirloom” ingredient. His mom and grandmother’s recipes, such as chocolate gravy, pickled cabbage and creamed corn, are scattered among the pages, featuring new additions that “gussy them up” a bit.
Chapter and subject essays, headnotes, notes and profiles of locals inspire any reader to “stir a mean pot.” Instructions are detailed and many can require skill and patience. Recipes range from a doable five-minute brine to a two-day project with advanced preparation steps.
All this is like sitting down with this self-declared “lucky son of a gun” and sharing favorite foods.
The Shockeys began their fermenting journey on their 40-acre hillside homestead in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. The “fermentista” duo are not only authors but also teachers, farmstead food producers and parents.
The book begins with the mantra: “Submerge in brine and all will be fine.”
In total, the Shockeys have created 140 fermented-vegetable recipes with step-by-step instructions for making “krauts, kimchis, brined pickles, chutneys, relishes and pastes,” using techniques they developed.
The book is broken into four parts: “Dipping into the Brine,” “Mastering the Basics,” “In the Crock” and “On the Plate.” The 14 chapters are packed with information.
The authors present three basic concepts: the secrets of a great batch, the best vegetables to ferment and how to enjoy fermented foods at every meal. The history of the fermentation process, complete with pictures, is also woven into the guide.
The book also examines the perks of fermentation, and encourages “thinking outside the crock.” The guide presents a list of items you will need to succeed in the process, such as tampers, followers and Onggi pots.
One curious benefit from this book includes your new ability to impress your friends with pickly facts. Did you know that pickling began in India nearly 4,000 years ago? Or that the word “pickle” comes from the Dutch word “pekel,” which actually means brine. And did you know that George Washington was said to have a collection of 476 varieties of pickles? I didn’t either, until I read this book.
Also covered are the scientific nuts and bolts of fermentation, a tutorial on the ins and outs of the process and a troubleshooting guide. Instructions for using the crock are also included, as well as a detailed list of other recipes that include pickled items.
The recipes range from breakfast foods to dessert, from Almonnaise (mayonnaise) to Zuurkoolstamppot (a Dutch vegetable dish). Recipes are also categorized as gluten-free, raw, vegan and vegetarian.
As one flips through the pages of this book, release your fermentista and remember, “A pickle a day keeps the doctor away.”
Reviews by Lois Friedman, a food and cookbook expert who has hosted her own radio show, taught cooking classes and has had her Read It and Eat cookbook reviews featured in publications across the country. She lives in Omaha where she enjoys exploring new restaurants and unusual food shops.