Londoners are now no foreigners to cornbread, baby-back ribs and all things buttermilk (and butter!), thanks to an influx of Deep-Southern style restaurants and a fresh import of chefs, such as The Lockhart’s Brad McDonald, and Ollie Dabbous’s Barnyard.
The Deep-Southern attitude of kicking back, taking it easy, sipping a cool, sharp drink (Bourbon whisky, preferably) and tucking into some good home-style food, Londoners found irresistible. Pioneers of the barbecue, slow cooking, pickling, frying and the make-do-and-mend approach to cooking and to life, our fascination with the Deep South combines our favourite food trends of the moment in one vivacious and simultaneously mysterious culinary and cultural style.
My good friend, chef and improvisational jazz singer Gwen Sampé has her roots firmly planted in Louisiana, her family are real Creoles – that specific, enigmatic mix of African, French and old-school Deep Dixie South. Gwen’s identity is made that bit more curious, due to her moving between Massachusetts, Texas, London and Paris, resulting in a spoken accent très particulier.
The food we Londoners can buy and enjoy from the likes of Lockhart and Barnyard seem like excerpts taken from the imaginary darkly stained, big leather-bound book of recipes that Gwen’s family cook from. The following are some of Gwen’s favourite recipes – classics like sausage and shellfish gumbo, beans and rice, smothered greens and corn and barbecue shrimp, all with a sprinkling of classic Creole and Gwennie juju…magic.
Grilled Corn and Crab Salad
For anyone who thinks food from the Deep South is all heavy, this one will change your mind for good. Using only white crab meat, a light mix of salad vegetables and fresh herbs, it’s the kind of food you want to eat in the blazing Louisiana heat – this, and ribs.
White crab meat (Cornish crab is excellent)
Salad vegetables: red pepper, red onion, etc.
1.) Prepare the corn by grilling on the barbecue until some of the yellow corn is lightly blackened, as well as chopping any other salad vegetables you would like to include – red pepper and red onion goes well
2.) Prepare the spicy and hugely flavourful roasted pecans by baking them with paprika, cumin, chilli powder, salt and sugar – though you can improvise with your ingredients, of course
3.) Prepare the remoulade to go with the crab, a New-Orleans versions of mayonnaise, mixing: crushed green peppercorns, chives, a bit of ketchup, mustard, homemade mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce
4.) Mix a small amount of the remoulade with the fresh white crab meat
5.) Plate the dish, pudding the corn and vegetables in first, topping with the crab remoulade and finishing with the spicy roasted pecans and fresh herbs – basil works wonderfully
BBQ Shrimp with Roasted Sweet Potato
They’re called barbecue shrimp, but they’re not really barbecued, just marinated and then sautéed. ‘Leave it to people from New Orleans to get things mixed up!’ For anyone who likes shrimp, this is basically the Holy Grail.
Unsalted butter (and lots of it)
Fresh jumbo shrimp (shell-on)
1.) Prepare the shrimp by de-shelling them, but leaving the tails on
2.) Make a broth with the shrimp shells – with just water, to add a concentrated sauce to the mixture later
3.) Prepare a marinade for the shrimp by mixing white wine, lemon juice, thyme, bay leaves, lemon juice, paprika and chilli powder and then leaving the shrimp in the mixture for about an hour
4.) Prepare the sweet potato by cutting in circular, silver-dollar slices and grilling on a barbecue or roasting in an oven
5.) After an hour, sautée the shrimp in a big pan with plenty of unsalted butter
6.) Plate the shrimp and the sweet potato and then make the sauce: mixing the marinade with the concentrated shrimp-shell broth, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne, the sauce should be a beautiful orangey-red colour
7.) Ladle the sauce on top of the shrimp and sweet potato and serve – then witness your guests’ delight
Ribs with Pickled Watermelon Rind
No Deep-Southern barbecue would be complete without ribs – and these are completely packed with flavour and extremely moreish. Paired with this unusual recipe for pickled watermelon rind, get ready to get your hands dirty.
Pork ribs (Ginger Pig is a favourite)
1.) Dry rub the ribs with brown sugar, sea salt, ground cumin, paprika, mustard, grated garlic, grated onions and Worcestershire sauce, the marinade for at least three hours – overnight is best
2.) Then whack on the grill and serve with the pickled watermelon rind
Traditionally made up of scraps from whatever is frying in the pan, these little fried cornmeal balls were thrown to the yapping dogs to ‘hush the puppies!’ But then I guess someone decided they just tasted too good to give away, and they became a popular side dish in Deep-Southern cooking. Adding Parmesan and bacon, like we did, is not traditional, but typical of Gwennie’s traveller style. Also great with crab or shrimp!
1.) Make your batter by mixing the cornmeal, eggs, flour, baking powder, parsley, chopped bacon, chilli, onion and celery together
2.) Fill a large pan with olive oil and fry round dollops of the batter
3.) When ready, place hush puppies on some kitchen roll so they don’t lose their crispiness, and serve
Oyster, Mussel, Sausage and Chicken Gumbo
A real Creole dish, Gumbo is a dish originating from African slave culture: a rich broth filled with herbs and spices, meat and shellfish, it can be made with duck, chicken, crawfish, shrimp, crab, but never beef or fish.
Gumbo is a Bantu word for okra – so this is always a prominent ingredient in the dish, as well as what they call the “holy trinity” as the ingredients are so often used in their cooking: onions, green pepper and celery.
Chicken (skin on)
Mussels (in shells)
Filé or Gumbo Powder (a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree native to eastern North America)
Duck, chicken or shellfish broth
Jasmine rice (or whichever you prefer)
1.) First make the roux, a dark roux, by gently cooking the flour and oil until it becomes a dark brown – this should take about half an hour
2.)Then add garlic and the “holy trinity”: onions, green peppers and celery to the mix, stirring slowly
3.) Prepare the rice
4.) Next add the broth – whether it’s duck, chicken or shellfish doesn’t really matter – it just adds a bit of body to the mixture
5.) Then add the sausage and chicken – we used lovely free-range chicken with the skin still on for flavour – always add the meat before the shellfish as the shellfish cooks much quicker than any meat
6.) Add the rest of the vegetables, herbs and spices, and at the end add the oysters and mussels
7.) Serve in a bowl over rice, adding fresh sprigs of thyme on top and Tabasco sauce to the table for an extra kick
Pit-roasted Pork with Smothered Greens and Refried Beans
This dish creates instant comfort – the well-seasoned pork, rich and thick refried beans and sticky smothered greens gives a real home-style warmth to whoever is tucking in to it. Good for the soul.
Pork belly or shoulder
Erebette (or any field greens you fancy)
1.) Open the piece of meat up and season very well with lots of garlic, rosemary, parsley, pepper and thyme – it’s best to grind these peppers and herbs with a pestle and mortar to completely saturate the meat with flavour
2.) Fold up the meat and marinade it in these herbs and white-wine vinegar for an hour
3.) Score it and then slow-roast on 180 degrees for about two hours
4.) Make the beans by cooking slowly in a pot with oil, celery, garlic, parsley and green peppers, and mixing in some pork fat for flavour
5.) Smothered simply means cooked in humidity, so to make the greens in this fashion, sautée the chard and erebette for a little bit first and then add just a small amount of water to the mix so that they go slightly brown, then cover it up and let it smother
6.) Slice up the pork and serve!
Whisky and plump peaches – a very Deep-Southern combination. A rather light end to an indulgent Deep-Southern banquet, if you’re feeling greedy pairing with some Angel-Food cake wouldn’t go amiss.
Vanilla ice cream
1.) Put the whisky, cloves, sugar and cinnamon on a pot on the stove until hot
2.) Put the poaches in the pot with the whisky to let them poach
3.) After they have been cooked, skin the peaches and serve with vanilla ice cream