In the second installment of our celebratory July 4th posts, our next group of chefs and writers pick out their favourite all-American dishes for your delectation. This time, we have Elizabeth Haigh, Bea Vo and Tim Hayward on board, heading South.
And things are starting to get distinctly messier. You're going to need plenty of kitchen towel!
Elizabeth Haigh (née Allen) - Sloppy Joes
4th July is the best time for barbecues and getting the grill on and celebrating with plenty of beers. If the weather isn't as reliable as it should be, then one of my failsafe recipes would be 'sloppy joes' a messy beef / pork mince in a burger bun. It’s an American classic, could be made in advance and then constructed last minute. My twist on it would be to make 'sloppy kids', using goat mince instead of pork/beef. Goat is one of my favourite meats to use as it's leaner and has a lot of flavour. Spice it up by adding chilli into the sauce mix and enjoy!
Elizabeth Haigh is a chef and leading light behind Kaizen House, a London company with a focus on building great restaurants, encompassing Japanese philosophy and warm hospitality.You can find her at www.kaizenhouse.co.uk and on social media as @the_modernchef
Bea Vo - Crawfish Boil
For me, it has to be a crawfish boil. Nothing more and nothing less will do. And I am talking mountains and mountains of spiced crawfish here. Plunged into a seething cauldron of water, with plenty of aromats, onion, bay and lemons. Add potatoes, sweetcorn, Polish style beef sausage and once done, drain and serve straight on the table, covered with newspaper to catch the all the glorious and messy juice. Don't forget the garlic bread; along with cocktail sauce, comeback sauce and a special cajun butter sauce for dipping. The comeback sauce is easy. Just mix mayonnaise with some more chilli. Napkins. You will also need plenty of napkins. And lots and lots of cold beer to wash down with. This is a crawfish boil the way my family has it back in the States and is a not a feast for the faint-hearted.
Bea Vo is a chef and founder of Stax Diner, the first child of the Feed Your Soul family, serving up authentic home style cooking of the American Deep south. You can also find her on social media as @London_Bea
Tim Hayward - Chicken Fried Steak
I lived for several years in North Carolina, married to a local girl and working as a freelance hash slinger in a rich variety of small town restaurants and diners. This was not Michelin star stuff by any stretch of the imagination, just simple regional cooking. Chicken fried steak was on most menus and something we often cooked at home. You’d also get it at family reunions, church suppers.
It weird that it’s rarely considered when we talk about Southern food in the BBQ obsessed UK but, for me chicken-fried steak was the single most representative food. Homely, gorgeous and could be elevated to greatness with simple modifications..
Chicken-fried steak (You can call it CFS… but only if you’ve worn a paper hat and manned a grill) is usually done with cheap meat. As the piece needs to be beaten out, it’s well tenderised and so more flavourful, tougher slices can be used. Something like top round works well. In the US butchers sell ‘cube steak’ which is a slice that’s been fed through a mechanical tenderiser - a bit like a mangle studded with spikes. Something sold in the UK as a ‘minute steak’ might be an equivalent. (I’ve also made excellent CFS with veal escalopes or even beaten out rump so you can go for quality if you prefer but it’s not in the spirit of the thing).
Some joints dip their CFS in commercial batter - but then some joints also drop them in the big deep-fat frier and, to me, that’s just barbaric. I prefer the domestic method of dipping in seasoned flour, then egg and milk wash, then back in the flour again. As with all southern recipes, the flour seasoning will be a deep and deadly family secret - and as with all southern recipes, the secret is usually Tabasco and Old Bay Seasoning Mix. I usually go with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder and a small twist of oregano. Others include parmesan, dried onions, mustard powder and some add a little baking powder so the crust will puff up. Experiment and create your own secret blend to defend with your life. Tabasco and/or Worcestershire sauce (pronounced wer-SESTer-shire, naturally), can be added to the egg wash.
Fry the steak, both sides in lard. Don’t argue, lard! Lard is good, lard is healthy and if you don’t believe me we can’t be friends. The only reason not to use lard would be if you had access to ‘Fry Grease’ which is the dripping that a responsible grill monkey carefully husbands as he works. It’s mainly bacon fat… mainly… and it tastes of untrammelled joy.
Once the CFS is browned on both sides, lift it out to drain and rest on kitchen paper. Pour off a bit of the lard if you fancy and then add an equal volume of the leftover seasoned flour to the lard that’s left in the pan and whisk to a smooth paste. This is effectively a kind of bastard redneck roux. Once this has cooked to a tan colour you can, now let it down with liquid to make gravy. If you’re a double-hard bastard you can pour in some black coffee to make ‘Red-Eye Gravy’ - a hangover cure approved by clinicians worldwide - or if you’re a little more refined you can add milk or cream which will create a smooth, silky beige ointment, after which you will never look at Bisto again without laughing.
Serve CFS with mashed potatoes. Don’t get all refined and mash them smooth with cream and butter - trust me you’re going to ram your lipid count through the roof anyway. Think about the mash as a bland absorptive matrix for the gravy. (If you can get your hands on white polenta, consider yourself indeed fortunate, for these are the legendary ‘grits’. Make up with an equal amount of water and cook to a porridge like consistency).
If we were in a little diner in the Appalachians right now, I’d obviously recommend collard greens here but you really need those to be grown on your own patch out back. Instead, here’s a weirdly healthy suggestion - take a bag of cavolo nero or kale from the section in your supermarket marked ‘Achingly Hipster’ and cook it down in a little chicken stock with some cubed smokey bacon, chopped onion, minced chilli and chicken stock. Keep the temperature low and the ‘greens’ bubbling until all those health nutters and Elizabeth David cultists are screaming that you’ve cooked the life out of it, then add a healthy splash of vinegar. These ain’t real greens by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ll bet they’re the most exciting thing you’ve ever eaten with kale in it.
Serve the CFS on a thick white china plate with a mound of potatoes and swimming in the gravy. I usually take my greens on the side because it’s essential to get some of that liquor in every spoonful.
Tim Hayward is an award winning food writer, columnist and author of several books. His latest, The Modern Kitchen, will be available in November, published by Quadrille Publishing, RRP £20. You can find him at www.timhayward.com and on social media as @timhayward