Saturday, February 16, 2008

Coho-corn chowder

...or, Happy Black History Month

I wanted to make a special Black History Month post, just to say "hey, Black People, thanks for helping make American food so fucking great! Cuz' if we didn't have soul food then I just don't know what." Have you noticed that, like jazz is to music, the only real completely "American" food we have is soul food? Black people are awesome.

So I wanted to conduct an interview of sorts with a fellow food blogger, like the foodie version of Ask a Black Dude. I looked around a bit and with a little hand-holding from Cynthia (who graciously bowed out of my invitation since she's a Guyanese Barbadan, and doesn’t actually celebrate BHM) I had the good fortune of making a new friend in Bloggyland - Courtney (aka Glamah16) of Coco Cooks. Courtney is hell of cosmopolitan - the lovechild of a Mississippian (but raised in Chicago) mother and Nigerian father - and she went to college in Paris! Perfect!

She was game, and so I pretended that I was sitting there with her like James Lipton instead of typing questions for email.

Heather: Hi, Courtney. Okay, sorry it took so long for me to get my shit together, but I finally have some interview questions. I want you to answer in your true voice, don't worry about how it types up. You may have noticed that I tend to say whatever the hell is on my mind, and type phonetically, so answer as honest as you wanna be. I will try not to use my "blaccent", but feel free to use yours, if you have one. :)

Courtney: Remember I grew up as the only black, or just a few in an all white environment. Let’s just say I was, and still am, mimicked. I have been called Carlton from Fresh Prince, or my new favorite (not) Oprah (in terms of speech). But that’s the beauty of being me and black. Not being pigeon-holed as to what society expects you to be like. I am what I am. Some people, either my own or others, don’t like it and that’s their issue.

H: Who taught you how to cook? (btw: my mom never let me help in the kitchen when I was a kid. She was always afraid I'd get kid germs and hair in everything or that I'd cut/burn/dismember myself if she let me do anything besides open a can or peel a potato. I didn't get to handle a real knife until 6th grade Home Ec.)

C: I was one of those precocious kids that was ahead of her time. My Mom encouraged me to cook. My parents were divorced and I remember her boyfriend at the time was speechless when he saw me grill my own lamb chops under the broiler for my dinner. I must have been like 11. My Mom let me start off experimenting with eggs. She was the most overprotective Mother you can imagine but that didn’t stop her from letting me cook. My favorite was lobster. Always had to have it. I was spoiled. I always liked grilled meats, and unusual things. On weekends when I visited my father I always plotted some concoction to cook for him that I got from a magazine. I never liked Nigerian food. Not that it wasn’t good, I just got sick of us having to eat it everyday. There was always a pot of "Soup" which was really a tomato based stew with meat, dried fish, or chicken served up with fufu. Not really exciting if it’s in your face everyday.

H: You mentioned to me once that your favorite food growing up was more influenced by your Southern mom. Is that still true, or have you begun to explore your father's Nigerian cuisine, too?

C: Oops, I answered this above. But now I can appreciate it more (Nigerian).When my father died and all these relatives were coming, I had to find a Nigerian restaurant to cater [the funeral]. I wish there were better and more Nigerian restaurants in Chicago. It turned out okay, however, and the cousins were pleased. Will I have a dinner party with it? Probably not. But it's simple comfort food.

H: When you talked about all of the foods that you loved growing up, you used the word "stereotypical" to describe them. This makes me think of that Dave Chappelle sketch where he says he's afraid to eat fried chicken in public because it means he's "living up to the stereotype". But shit, my mom's family is Southern too - I loved eating all that good shit growing up, and I'm white. I also grew up poor. Do you think that black people are reluctant to identify with those foods because they are "black" foods or because they're "poor folks'" foods?

C: That’s more of a class thing than a race thing. I find at least in my world. A lot of people who become enlightened or educated move away from these foods. The big thing I see is the rejection of pork. I love my pork. But for dietary, health, or religious [reasons] I see a lot moving away from it. I also see a lot of vegetarians out there. There’s this cool place called Soul Vegetarian in Chicago. I mean we as a race have higher incidents of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. So these changes are good on the whole. But once in awhile is good. We are a rich race which can draw on so many culinary influences (Latin, Caribbean, Creole, etc.) Fried chicken isn’t my first choice in favorites. I love it but prefer other things. I find it comical how my boyfriend embraces it. He has a colleague that’s envious that he eats Harold’s, as the colleagues don’t have the guts to visit one. Do I fry chicken myself? Rarely. This brings to mind a Jewish friend who "introduced" me to the best ribs on the South Side: Lems. This so-called Ivy League liberal was appalled I had never heard of this famous place and couldn’t find my way driving to it. Then he always wanted to go there and it got on my nerves. Like all black people eat BBQ ribs, chicken, and watermelon. Some of us do, and some other races too, but don’t assume it. Patronizing liberal people like that get on my nerves like those fake Gluten Free people bug you!

H: It find it ironic that a Jew recommended a rib joint named after a Hebrew name that means "belonging to God". Anyways, I can relate to what you said about continuing to eat foods that are sort of reminiscent of harder times (like neck bones, chitlins, etc.), because I still love a pot of just regular white beans cooked with a ham hock, or S.O.S. (that's "shit on a shingle", for those of you who didn't have military parents), etc. This attitude towards the "nasty bits" is a very French one and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. How does that make you feel?

C: I never knew that honestly about the Lem’s part. Funny! I crack up about the “nasty bits”. Especially watching Top Chef and they have ‘Offal’ challenges. I was thinking about this pork belly rage. Kind of reminds me just some fat back or slab bacon. I worked in a restaurant once when the chef's amuse bouche was essentially some fat back sliced paper thin with some glaze or something. We have a cafeteria at work. I always chuckle because they actually serve neckbones some days. It’s funny to see the non-black visitors on those days and if they eat it or not. As for the black staff, half opt for a salad. There was this one white guy, a contractor that wasn’t ashamed to eat them and was sucking off the meat, much to the horror of his other white colleague. Must have been a Southern guy.

H: LOL, yeah pork is hell of trendy right now. So, you have a German boyfriend. Does he ever cook German foods, or request that you cook German food? (My dad's family is German and I identify most as a sausage-and-cheese-eating German girl.)

C: Yes. I learned some stuff from his mother. He loves his pork loin roasted on a bed of salt. I started making sausages with the KitchenAid he gave me. He loves his meat and starch. Ironically, he loves Asian too. Especially the noodle dishes. Once a year we visit all the extended relatives on my mother’s side for JULY 4TH. He loves the food. Maybe German and Soul Food have many similarities.

H: Does Black History Month even mean anything to you, or is it just some bullshit "holiday" that white people made up 'cuz they feel bad about slavery/MLK assassination/the past 200 years in general/etc.? Why do black people only get one month? What type of shit is that? (Editor's note: a quick wiki reveals that BHM was actually established by black Americans in 1976. My bad.)

C: Honestly, I never gave it much thought until I started working for the company I worked for. It’s an all-black company. It’s important for sure. Especially for the young or adults that may not have grown up knowing their history. I love history because there is always so much more to learn. And that shouldn’t be limited to just one month. It’s like only having Valentines Day to show your love. Ridiculous.

H: Word. As a black woman, Obama or Clinton in '08? I know that doesn't have anything to do with food, I'm just interested.

C: OBAMA!!! I love him. I can relate to him with the African father and mother who died of ovarian cancer (like mine). Plus he’s my neighbor. I used to attend the health club he goes to,and I can say he’s the most gracious, real person. Always pleasant. I remember when he was just a State Senator here in Chicago when I first moved. Like I said, always pleasant. I was one of the few blacks that never got on that Clinton bandwagon. That’s me. It seemed all their friends were going down as they brushed the dirt off and rose higher. Patronizing liberals. That’s just my opinion and it’s supposedly a free country!

H: It totally is a free country, or I’d have been stoned to death by now. If you could come over to my house for dinner right now, what would you like me to cook for you?

C: That pulled pork you had on your blog this week.

Then I was gonna cook the dish she chose, but it hadn’t occurred to me that she was gonna say something I had already blogged. So I made up a dish for her. It’s exotic, yet down-to-earth. It’s east-meets-west-meets-north-meets-south. Courtney calls it Nouvelle Soul (I’m totally stealing that, btw).

Coco” Chowder

This is corn chowder with coho salmon and coconut milk, spiced up with galangal and star anise. Corn’s sweetness pairs wonderfully with salmon. Serves 4-6.

2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 oz salt pork (or 2 slices bacon)
1 celery rib,diced
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
½ c red onion, diced
¾-1 lb. waxy potatoes (I used Russian banana fingerlings), diced
1 c frozen corn
1 can creamed corn
1 c coconut milk
3.5 c seafood stock (I used homemade crawfish stock from the freezer)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp grated fresh galangal (ginger is an acceptable substitute)
3 star anise pods
2 tbsp basil chiffonade
8 oz. coho salmon fillet, skinned and deboned
S&P to taste
Garnish: arugula chiffonade or chopped cilantro

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter over medium-high. Add the olive oil to prevent the butter from browning, and add the salt pork. Let the pork render for a minute, then add the celery, jalapeño and onion. Toss in a pinch of salt so the mirepoix sweats (we don’t want browning here).

Add the potatoes and frozen corn, and stir to coat with the buttery pork fat. Add the creamed corn, coconut milk and stock, the bay leaves and the star anise. Simmer over medium-low until the potatoes are tender, ~20 minutes.

When the potatoes are nice and tender, turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves and star anise. Slice the salmon into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup with the basil. The latent heat from the soup will cook the salmon.

Pairs well with a nice tart Reisling.


glamah16 said...

How perfect for me. And the German Boyfreind will love thiss with his favorite Reisling. Thanks for this!

Heather said...

Thanks so much for your collaboration, Coco! This was such a fun project.

Peter M said...

Great interview Heather...I can see you on the cover the Rolling Stone!

As for corn chowder, I like you use of star anise and must of hit the chinoise store recently like i did.

It's Saturday, party it ip!

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Great post Heather! I love the chowder and may have to try and get my hands on some salmon and try this!!!

Anonymous said...

Great interview and very informative. Nice to see a "spiced up" version f the corn chowder.

Emily said...

Glad to know more about you Courtney/Glamah16!
You have an interesting life.
I really enjoy those Southern comfort foods like fried chicken, ribs, sweet potatoes, and turnip greens. Not so big on watermelon though.

This is a good interview, Heather.

And your chow-dah looks tasty.

Pixie said...

That was a wonderful interview Heather! A fabulous entry.

The Coco chowder sounds wonderful and I've been on the lookout for recipes with star anise in it,so thanks for that!

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Heather-I just gave you an award. Go on over to my blog to pick it up! You make me laugh and have made all of the foodie blog world more real!!! Please keep it real!

Ben said...

What a great interview. I think I love you two now even more, you are my heroines :D

Jen said...

Great post and wonderful recipe! This was wonderful to read.

Heather said...

Awww, thanks everyone!

Peter - I'm pretty sure writers never get the cover of Rolling Stone, so maybe I need to become a rock star too.

Judy - Thank you so much! At first I thought there was actually a "Keepin' it Real" Award, but I'll E for Excellent! :D

Peter - The original recipe I have for corn chowder, which I've used for the last decade, comes from some sleepy beach town church cookbook that someone gave me when I was about 13. It was time for a face-lift. :)

Emiline - Thank you! Courtney is pretty cool, ain't she?

Pixie - I have a huge jar of star anise and try to find new uses for it all the time, too. You also grind the seeds and add it to other sweet spices for snickerdoodles.

Oh, why Sr. Ben! I think I'm blushing a little. ;) You're pretty slick yourself.

Jen - Thank you for actually reading the whole thing! It is 4 pages in Word, and even I think it looks to be a daunting read. Not that I'm afraid of reading, mind you.

Thistlemoon said...

This was really great. I really enjoyed learning more about Courtney AND Heather through this interview! Thanks guys!

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