25 January 2010

American Cooking -- Southern Style


Time-Life produced a series of cookbook collections to varying degrees of success. The individual volumes show up in kitchens and used bookstores around the country. Many times, the volumes were flipped through once or twice and set aside as more of a collector’s item than a practical volume. James Beard oversaw the American Cooking series.

The best of the best of this series is the volume Southern Style. (I know you think this is prejudicial but nothing could be farther from the truth, honest.) Southern Style was written by Eugene Walter. For more than 20 years, Walter had lived in Rome and Paris but whenever he was asked that familiar question, “Where are you from?”, Walter always answered, “I’m Southern.”
“In a sense I have never left home: in Rome I live as I lived in Mobile. On my terrace garden I have five kinds of mint, five kinds of onions and chives, as well as four-o-clocks and sweet olive. I take a nap after the midday meal; there is always time for gossip and for writing letters. I eat southern dishes: fried chicken, grits and spoon bread, having learned to cook almost all of them since I left home. I enjoy guests, I stay up the night of the full moon, my life is one long quest for a perfect cup of hot strong black coffee.”
It is the way of Southerners. I can remember my mother pleading with grocers to stock okra and when that failed, trying desperately to grow a small patch in the cold of Montana. I remember loading my car with bags and bags of White Lily flour and Martha White corn meal after a trip to Alabama. Even today, I am always on the phone to my BFF, Beverly asking her to send some Alabama product to me (most recently Alaga syrup).

My Father loved tongue and twice a year my mother cooked one for him. I like to eat the tongue, but I hated seeing it sitting on the counter. This recipe changed that.

Mobile Thyme Tongue

A 4-pound fresh beef tongue
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 –inch-thick slices
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dry thyme
1 tablespoon salt

With a small sharp skewer, pierce completely through the beef tongue in at least a dozen places. Then set the tongue aside in an enameled casserole just large enough to hold it comfortably.

Combine the vinegar, wine sugar, onions, garlic, mustard, thyme and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar and mustard dissolve. Immediately pour over the tongue and turn the meat about to moisten it evenly. Refrigerate uncovered and when the marinade is cool, cover the casserole with its lid. Let the tongue marinade in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning it over two or three times.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Bring the tongue to a boil over high heat, then cover the casserole with a double thickness of aluminum foil and set the lid in place. Bake the tongue in the middle of the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it shows no resistance when pierced deeply with a fork.

If you plan to serve the tongue hot, transfer it to a heated platter. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid, then strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Taste for seasoning, and present the sauce in a sauceboat with the tongue.

If you plan to serve the tongue cold, let it cool to room temperature in the cooking liquid; refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer the tongue to a platter or cutting board, trim it and carve it into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a chilled platter.

When in Rome do as the Southerners do.

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