Southern food is red-hot. It seems like every third restaurant that opens up here or in New York or San Francisco has some kind of Dixie influence, whether it's serving pulled pork barbecue or shrimp and grits.
But real Southern food today goes beyond those cliches, embracing global influences and haute-cuisine pretensions, too. And that's the idea behind Down South, the new book from New Orleans chef Donald Link, the James Beard Award-winner behind Herbsaint, Cochon, and three other top Crescent City restaurants.
Where Link's previous book, Real Cajun (which won a Beard Award for Best American Cookbook in 2010), focused on the home cooking of the chef's southwest Louisiana birthplace, Down South is much more far-reaching, journeying to the Gulf Coast of Florida for seafood, Texas and Alabama for barbecue, and even further afield – there are recipes for Uruguayan-style baked cheese, grouper ceviche inspired by a trip to Cabo, and a traditional cassoulet from France's Languedoc region. ]
It also reflects the diversity of Southerners themselves. The recipe for Braised Chicken with Salami and Olives (below), comes from the sizable Sicilian community of New Orleans' suburbs. It slow-cooks chicken with southern-Italian salami, olives, fennel and tomato, but it incorporates them into a roux-thickened sauce that shows its Creole roots as well.
Of course, there are plenty of traditional Southern dishes here, too: biscuits and beignets, red beans and rice, fried frog's legs and the like abound. But the best recipes in the book are those that come from Link's friends and colleagues around the region. The chapter on grilling and barbecue starts with a meaty (ha!) introduction about Link teaming up with Birmingham, Ala., barbecue restaurateur Nick Pihakis to up their smoked-meat game by raising sustainable hogs, which inspired a number of the pork recipes.
And Link gives credit to a host of other chefs and sources for many of the recipes, enabling him to go outside his comfort zone. The cocktail chapter that opens the book sources drinks from high-end boîtes like Cure in New Orleans and Holeman & Finch in Atlanta as well as from the Flora-Bama, a rowdy beach dive that straddles the Florida-Alabama border.
Now, this is not exactly an everyday cookbook – many recipe recipes, though they don't call for terribly exotic ingredients, can be a bit fussy and labor-intensive – but for a special occasion, it's a real winner.
Braised Chicken with Salami and Olives
From: Down South, by Donald Link
Serves: 4 – 6
1 (3½- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into 10 pieces
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 (8-inch) rosemary branch
1¼ cups diced salami
1 cup green olives, cut in half
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2¼ cups chicken broth
4 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Heat the oven to 375ºF. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sear the chicken in 2 batches until golden brown, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a 9 × 13-inch baking dish.
2. Add the onion to the skillet and cook in the rendered chicken fat, stirring, until brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel, rosemary, salami, olives, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pour in the wine and simmer to reduce, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring to incorporate, for another 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the chicken broth in batches and stir to incorporate. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves and lemon juice.
4. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the baking dish and roast in the oven, basting every 30 minutes, until the chicken is very tender, about 1½ hours. Discard the bay leaves.
5. Serve the chicken warm, with plenty of the sauce.
Jason Horn has been obsessed with food since he learned the secret ingredient in his dad's chicken soup (he'll never tell) and obsessed with writing since he followed a high-school crush to a literary magazine meeting (it didn't work out). Follow him online at The Messy Epicure and on Twitter at @MessyEpicure. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.