08 July 2015

The Big Jones Cookbook


I feel like a 100-year-old Italian grandmother when I see another "Southern" restaurant opening in Brooklyn.  I hear a voice in my head saying, "Y'all know Yankees can't cook Southern food."  So when some guy from Chicago named Paul Fehribach sets out to write a Southern cookbook...let's just say we were skeptical.  But wait a minuet, this Southern girl can make a bolognese that would make your Nonna weep.  So all things are possible.

Paul Fehribach was a reader. And readers can accomplish anything!  When he opened Big Jones, his restaurant in Chicago and namesake of his cookbook, he was pretty proud of himself.  Then he tells a story of an couple who were having dinner at Big Jones.  They were very happy with the restaurant and the chef and then they asked a simple question, "Have you read Edna Lewis?"  For Southerners, Miss Lewis is just as important as Julia Child.  His answer was no, but he quickly got her books and totally revamped Big Jones. 

These days, there is a lot of talk about "ingredients" as being the driving force behind cooks, but here we believe that equally as important as the ingredients are the cooks and the recipes that went before us.  One doesn't become a great musician without playing a lot of scales and one doesn't become a great chef without following a lot of old recipes.

In The Big Jones Cookbook, one could eliminate all the recipes and still learn boatloads about Southern cooking just by reading the influences and cookbooks that Paul Fehribach writes about. The other really interesting element of this book is Fehribach's inclusiveness of Southern cuisine.  It is not just about the lowcountry or NOLA, or some southern mashup of cuisine.  He looks at individual areas from Kentucky, to the Appalachian Highlands, to the Deep South to the Lowcountry, giving an excellent overview of the diversity of foods that often simply get lumped as "Southern."

In the original planning stages of Big Jones, Fehribach was looking for a meat-free option to serve during Lent in the largely Catholic Chicago. He turned to Louisiana for their favorite Lenten food, gumbo z'herbes.  Most days other than ones during Lent, a ham hock or bit andouille will probably find its way into the pot but for Lent, it's all green.

Gumbo z'Herbes

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
2 ribs celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, mashed and minced
1 bottle (6 ounces) Louisiana-style hot sauce
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 quart mushroom stock, unsalted
1 cup shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
4 packed cups finely chopped greens, including mostly collards, turnip greens, and/or mustard greens, you can also use some parsley, radish, or carrot tops. More greens is better.
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 tablespoons kosher salt
A few dashes Worcestershire is optional, or you can use a good quality soy sauce

In an 6- to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. Immediately turn off heat and add flour to the hot fat, sprinkling it in gradually to avoid splatter, and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat back up to medium, and continue cooking and stirring. Once flour starts to brown in four to five minutes, gradually turn heat down to medium-low but continue browning the flour, stirring constantly, until dark brown, the color of milk chocolate, another 45 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid burning. If you burn the roux you'll know by the awful smell and you'll have to start over.
Once you have the color you want, it's time to add the vegetables. Turn off the heat, and using a long-handled wooden spoon, stand back to avoid splatter and carefully add the onions, celery, and bell peppers to the pot and stir well. Return heat to medium and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the vegetables sweat well and turn soft, six to eight minutes. Add the garlic, hot sauce, and spices, turn off the heat, and stir for a minute or two. Allow the roux to rest off the heat for ten minutes to infuse. Add half the stock and turn heat back to high. Stir to incorporate the roux to the stock, and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, at which point the mixture will be very thick. Add the rest of the stock and return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
Add the greens and mushrooms a cup at a time, adding the next cup after the previous is wilted and soft, stirring well before and after each addition. Once all greens are added and have wilted, add the bay, tomato paste, and one tablespoon of the salt, stir the pot well, reduce to a simmer, and simmer one hour uncovered, stirring regularly. Skim off and discard any fat that rises to the top, using a small ladle. After an hour, add the rest of the salt to your taste and Worcestershire or soy if desired. Serve over hot boiled rice.

Not only is The Big Jones Cookbook a great survey of Southern cuisine, but it's also a great bibliography of "must own" cookbooks.  So read it close to your iPad and keep your Amazon app open!

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