The American way
Those of you who thought American food was all about burgers, burgers and more burgers had better think very carefully again, says Rahul Verma
Double barbecued chicken
People think food writers spend all their time tasting Beluga caviar or eating Kobe beef from little calves that have been listening to Chopin. Let me tell you a secret. Every now and then, when I am yearning for some good comfort food (after all that caviar), I turn to a juicy burger. I bite into the meat lashed with mayo and mustard and think that this, indeed, is life.
Now a burger may or may not have come from Hamburg, but I see it as wholly American. But that's just one little part of America's cuisine. The country's food indeed is as varying as the land.
This is something to be recalled now that the American Independence Day — July 4 — is round the corner. To mark the occasion, the American consulate in Calcutta has shared with us recipes made famous by a few of America's best chefs and restaurant owners (see recipes).
There are some dishes that Americans can't do without. One, of course, is the double barbecued chicken, grilled till it's nicely brown. And you can't say America without mentioning chocolate chip cookies, which are eaten across the world, but clearly revered in the US.
But my most favourite American dish is the Jambalaya, which is a Louisiana mix of rice, vegetables, meats and seafood. It's a dish that chef Nishant Choubey, who was trained in the United States, is also fond of. "And I like the taste of the fil powder (dried, ground Sassafras leaves used as seasoning) that goes into many Creole dishes," says the sous chef of Dusit Devarana New Delhi.
Clam chowder is another signature dish — especially in the region of New England, where chef Ranveer Brar earlier ran a restaurant called BanQ (which was named the Best New restaurant in Boston a few years ago). The chef, who is now with Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach Hotel and quite a celebrity television chef, stresses that the clam chowder is a meal in itself.
Chocolate chip cookies
Ken Oringer, owner of six critically acclaimed restaurants in Boston, including Clio, is simple, has provided us with a recipe.
For this, you have to place 40 clams in a large pot with water to cover. Boil till they open. Take the clams out of the shell. Reserve the liquid. In a large pot, add butter (113g) and melt on medium heat. Add onion (1 large), garlic (2 cloves), celery (4 stalks), salt and pepper to taste, bacon (227g) and thyme (3 sprigs). Cook for 20 minutes stirring often unless it all softens. Add potatoes (5kg) and corn (1.5kg, frozen or canned) and the reserved clam broth (475ml). Add milk (950ml), cream (950ml) and cook gently for one hour until the potatoes are soft. Add reserved clam and serve with chopped chives on top.
Since America is a cauldron of cultures, what I like about the food is the very many influences that have gone into the cuisine. The Cajun and Creole food of Louisiana, for instance, is a beautiful blend of Caribbean and French influences. Southeastern states celebrate "down-home" Southern cooking. The south has its farm-style cuisine with an emphasis on fried foods and heavy sauces.
The southwest, on the other hand, is a mix of American Indian, Spanish and Mexican. New England, because of its long coastline, is known for its use of fresh seafood in summer, and soups and root vegetables in winter. "The cuisine here uses salt and pepper, and little else," says chef Brar. "In Louisiana, on the other hand, spice mixes go into the dishes."
So, as you can see, just as there is nothing called Indian food (even sub-regions and communities have their own cuisines), there is nothing really called American food. Just call it good food.
Southern fried chicken
75g salt 4lt cold water 1 two-kg chicken cut into 8 pieces 1lt butter milk 30ml Tabasco 250g all purpose flour 15ml baking powder 7.5g garlic powder 7.5g old bay seasoning (a mix of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger) 5g cayenne pepper 5g freshly ground black pepper vegetable oil for frying
In a pot dissolve 70g salt in water. Submerge the chicken and refrigerate overnight. Drain and rinse the chicken. Rinse the pot. Add buttermilk and Tabasco to the chicken and set aside for 8 hours. In a shallow bowl, mix flour, baking powder, garlic powder, old bay, cayenne pepper, black pepper and 5g salt. Shake the excess marinade off the chicken. Dredge in the mixed flour. Add one beaten egg to the buttermilk mixture. Dip the chicken back in this, and then coat again with flour. Deep fry till golden.
(By Art Smith, executive chef and owner of Table Fifty-Two)
170ml vegetable oil 30ml oil for sauting okra 90g all purpose flour 2 celery ribs chopped 1 medium green bell pepper chopped 2 medium onions chopped 5 finely chopped garlic cloves 2.5lt chicken or shrimp stock 500g chopped tomatoes 1/2kg sliced okra 1 tsp chopped thyme 2 bay leaves 1 tsp cayenne pepper 20g chopped parsley 100g chopped scallions 700g medium-sized shrimp, peeled and de-veined 250g crab meat 24 oysters (optional)lsalt to taste
In a large pot over medium heat stir together oil and flour with a wooden spoon. Cook roux over medium heat stirring constantly until well browned (about 20 mins). Add celery, bell pepper, onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender. Saut okra separately in a skillet then add to the pot with the other vegetables. Stir in stock, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt. Bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender. Add parsley, scallions, shrimp and oyster (if using). Cook stirring till the seafood is just cooked through (5-10 mins). Stir in the crabmeat and simmer until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Discard bay leaf and serve hot in bowls with rice and chopped scallions
(By chef Susan Spicer, owner of Mondo in New Orleans)