Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, sits about 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Georgia. It’s one of the largest waterfront properties on the East Coast, full of nature preserves and walking trails, and with a swanky inn and spa that overlooks the May River. It’s a classy place, and every year they celebrate the region’s food and culture at the Music to Your Mouth culinary festival. After the event is done on Saturday, the organizers put on this supercool party for the visiting chefs as a sort of thank-you. They swing these massive cast-iron griddles out over a giant bonfire on the riverbank. They load up the griddles with May River oysters and roast ’em until they pop open. They dump the roasted oysters on a picnic table and you stand elbow to elbow with other guests, squeezing lemon juice or hot sauce onto the juiciest, sweetest, saltiest roasted oysters you’ve ever tasted. I love it. Every year, I spend the entire party time standing at the table. I feel like I’m knocking back a grotesque amount of oysters. One year, I came back from the event and apparently hadn’t gotten my fill because I developed this recipe to satisfy a need. I made a spicy emulsified butter sauce to spoon into the warm oysters. At first, I worried about serving this dish. People never have two minds about oysters: They either love them or hate them. I’ve since served these oysters hundreds of times, and all of six people have refused to try them. That’s a pretty good percentage. I should also mention that an exponentially large number of people ate this dish simply because it was put in front of them. And they ended up loving it!
Think of this as an American take on classic steak carpaccio. But the meat is pork and it’s cooked with smoke. You thinly slice the smoked pork loin, lay it on a plate, and then top it with greens dressed with a simple anchovy vinaigrette. The smoked pork tastes almost like Canadian bacon but without the curing. To get a jump on things, you can smoke the loin up to a week ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. For that matter, you can make the vinaigrette ahead too. Keep those elements in the fridge, and this dish is the perfect last-minute lunch or light supper.
This is a crazy idea turned into a recipe. Chicken-fried steak is normally made with beef eye of round, a lean, dense, inexpensive cut from the back ass of the animal. I always wanted to make it with pork because it just sounded awesome. I use the same cut from the pig—the ham—and cut it into fillets like beef tenderloin. You could serve these pork steaks with anything and they’d be delicious. Some people have chicken-fried steak for dinner. Some for breakfast. My personal favorite is with a bowl of spicy turnip greens. Or enjoy it with Fatback Fried Corn and Basic Cabbage Slaw.
Everyone likes the taste of fried chicken but maybe not the extra fat. I wanted to get the crispy skin of fried chicken without the frying. It took me a few years to figure out that roasting the chicken pieces in a cast-iron pan gives you a similar result. It’s a simple technique that can easily become standard in your repertoire. Just make sure the surface of the chicken is really dry so that the skin crisps up when it hits the pan. You pan-roast the chicken pieces almost exclusively on the skin side, then transfer the pan to the oven to cook the meat all the way through. To switch things up, I pair the chicken with Middle Eastern flavors. Farro is a form of wheat berry brought to the Southern United States from Europe; it’s prepared much like bulgur wheat is prepared in Lebanese cuisine. I give it a crunchy texture similar to fried rice by toasting the farro grains in the rendered chicken fat. They puff up and take on a glossy sheen, sort of like Honey Smacks cereal. Then I mix in some lemon juice and Brussels sprout leaves for a crisp, bright flavor. A traditional Lebanese tahini sauce rounds out the flavors with some bitterness. When these flavors stand alone, the chicken might taste too salty, the farro too sour, or the tahini too bitter. But when tasted together, they strike a balance. It’s a very satisfying take on a traditional Southern favorite.
I get a lot of hunters asking me how to cook deer meat. Most hunters have the entire animal ground into hamburger because they don’t know what else to do with the meat. Here’s a recipe for all that ground venison you have in cold storage. The venison stands in for lamb in a classic Middle Eastern preparation. You season the ground meat and pack it into a cylinder on a long metal skewer, then grill it. Remember that venison is extremely lean, so you only want to cook these to medium. Otherwise they will get very dry. Gamey meats love the sweet stuff, and the tomato jam pairs perfectly with all the herbs and spices in the venison. It’s like a different look at hamburgers with ketchup—a venison burger on a stick with tomato jam.