Here in the Mid-South, we make three sandwiches with raw vegetables. One is the cucumber sandwich, served on pretty little trays aside ewers of lemonade, iced tea or gin and tonic on tables topped with linen and silver, eaten by ladies smelling of lavender sachets and gentlemen of a certain persuasion in pastel seersuckers. Diametrically opposite of this delicate denizen of elegant afternoon gatherings is the sweet onion sandwich, gnawed upon with indecorous gusto as well as deservedly considerable discretion over a kitchen sink and washed down with Miller or PBR by the likes of hunters, ATV enthusiasts and women’s sports columnists.
Then we have the tomato sandwich. Egalitarian and comfortable in company, this summer staple of Dixie is found on every front porch and patio, at picnics and tailgatings, on the table for breakfast, lunch or even a late dinner. For me a tomato sandwich is the ultimate nosh on a sultry summer afternoon when you’re watching the “Real Housewives” reunion. The essential components are bread, sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise. The bread should be sliced loaf, a soft wheat or white; for the sake of authenticity, Wonder bread is often mentioned. The tomatoes should be the best your particular part of the world has to offer, firm and richly ripe, though not uniformly so, since you want a blush of green around the stem end to ensure the fruit has a tinge of acidity that is the signature of a homegrown tomato.
The mayonnaise should be slathered on the tomatoes as well as the bread, thus ensuring an even moisture to the arrangement. Season with plenty of salt and a bit more black pepper then you would ordinarily consider enough. Adding bacon elevates a tomato sandwich from a mere culinary concoction to sheer poetry, but lettuce in any form or fashion is superfluous and annoying.
Here’s a Dr. Seuss twist on an old standby for finger sandwiches on formal occasions or just a nice afternoon nosh. You can add chopped stuffed green olives to this, which makes a colorful mix, and you can use any kind of pepper you like, but if you use a jalapeno, I recommend seeding it to remove most of the heat. You can mash the avocado or cut it into small cubes, and it should be quite ripe or the mixture will be lumpy. Save some of the onion for garnish.
6 large soft-boiled eggs, chopped or diced
1 ripe avocado
¼ cup diced pepper
¼ cup diced red onion
3 or 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
A tablespoon or so of spicy mustard
Juice of one lime or lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
Dr. Amalia Andres-Pizarro, associate professor of Indigenous Peoples Studies at the University of Lima, has discovered what she claims is the world’s oldest recipe for potato salad in a manuscript recently uncovered from the Incan ruins at Lactapata.
“It is an important discovery in terms of Incan culture because it sheds light on the daily lives of the Incan people,” Andres-Pizarro said. “We know that the Incas cultivated potatoes hundreds of different varieties of potatoes, cooked them in stews, baked them in coals, and prepared them for storage. The Incas also invented chuno, the first freeze dried potatoes, a precursor to present-day instant mashed potatoes.”
The manuscript, written in Spanish, was probably set down by a priest who accompanied the conquistadores and was held captive by the puppet emperor Manco. The text describes various dishes prepared by the Incas as well as details of their dress, games they played, housing and exotic sexual mores. Andres-Pizarro said what are most certainly the bones of a European were found in the tomb with the manuscript.
What’s most impressive about the recipe is that the Incans actually had invented an early form of mayonnaise. “The text describes an emulsion made from the eggs of the great curassow (Crax rubra) and maize (corn) oil, which is practically identical to what we know as mayonnaise. The writer describes its preparation as a highly-guarded secret with religious overtones,” Andres-Pizarro said. “The recipe also incorporated chilis of various kinds in different amounts and boiled curassow eggs as well.”
Andres-Pizarro said that she is adapting other Incan recipes from the manuscript for the modern-day kitchen as the basis of a forthcoming Incan cookbook called The Kitchens of Manchu Picchu.
1 pound red potatoes
3 hard-cooked eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 poblano chili finely chopped
¼ cup kernel corn
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ cup mayonnaise
cayenne pepper and salt to taste
Peel potatoes, boil and cube, chop boiled eggs, add other ingredients, mix very well and chill overnight before serving.
Use fresh sweet basil if you can find it for that strong hint of clove it carries. Honey is an option, but if you ask me—and I know you didn’t—pure cane sugar is the best sweetener for citrus because it does not blunt the fruit’s bite nor muddle the liquid. Combine a fistful of rinsed basil—leaves, stems and blossoms, whatever you gather with blithe abandon—with about a quarter cup sugar and crush with a wooden spoon. (If you happen to have a mortar handy, of course that is what you should use instead.) Add basil and sugar along with a half cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice to a quart of water. Stir until sugar is dissolved, strain and add more sugar to taste. Chill and serve over ice.
In this case catfish, but the method works with any small fish, not much less nor much more than a pound. Pat whole gutted, scaled and skinned fish dry–this is an important step–score and slather with softened butter flavored with thyme, garlic, pepper and paprika. Place in a well-oiled pan, add lemons with juice and put in a very hot oven until fish flakes easily to the bone. A final squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of oil before serving adds much to the dish.
You can still buy the grill that brought the American male out of house and onto the patio. The Weber original kettle charcoal 18” grill sells for $89 at weber.com. You can also buy the charcoal originally made from Henry Ford’s Model T production in Edison’s plant—Kingsford—at your local supermarket, though chances are you already have a far more sophisticated grill in your garage that uses a rack of gas burners and lava/porcelain briquettes.
In either case, for most people, summer is the grilling season, and while many (me among them) consider a pan-fried steak, simply seasoned and glossy with butter in and of itself transcendent for any carnivore, grilled meats provide a platform for dozens of sauces and condiments. Here are three you should try over the summer. Perhaps you’ll find one so much to your liking that it will become part of your repertoire.
Marchand du vin is a simple wine reduction, red wine and beef stock with butter and aromatics. In a saucepan, melt a stick of butter, increase heat to medium, add a half cup each finely-minced white onion or shallots, scallions and thinly sliced mushrooms. When vegetables are cooked through, increase heat and add three tablespoons plain flour. Cook until lightly browned, add two cups good beef stock and a scant cup of red wine, Cabernet, Merlot or your choice. Flavor with thyme, bay and Worcestershire. Serve as a side for grilled meats.
Americans devour tomato ketchup in untold gallons daily, but before tomato ketchup became popular, mushroom ketchup, a holdover from colonial days, was a popular standby. This is one of my favorite sides for grilled beef, and it makes a really good spread for sandwiches as well. My standard recipe involves two pounds of mushrooms—white button, portabella, oyster, shiitake, whatever you like—stewed in enough water to cover with a cheesecloth bag of pickling spices, about two tablespoons. Puree the mushrooms with a cup of red wine vinegar and season with ground ginger, nutmeg and allspice, about a half teaspoon of each. I like to add Coleman’s mustard for kick.
Finally, here is another favorite with ancho chilies. Soak a half dozen ancho chilis in warm water until soft. Remove the chilies (reserving the water), take off stems, chop coarsely and set aside. Sauté in vegetable oil one large chopped onion with four minced cloves garlic. Add a small can tomato sauce and a quarter cup or so of red wine vinegar. Let this mixture cool and place with chilies and puree until smooth. Place back on the heat, season with a tablespoon fresh ground cumin, Mexican oregano and cayenne to taste. A sweetener of some form is optional. Reduce to the desired thickness. You can serve this warm or cool.
There walk among us those in which the spirit of rebellion is fierce and pervasive, scofflaws whose sense of outrage at any form of constraint extends even unto the recommended directions printed on the back of a box. The following variant reflects the decadence and degradation–not to mention the unmitigated arrogance–of such an approach to existence. Here wholesome milk is replaced by debased beer, which the originator assures us gives a “lighter, somewhat more robust and yeastier” taste to the cake.
Yes, well, no doubt. Mix one 15-ounce box yellow cake mix with 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 3 large eggs and one 12-ounce can lager like Budweiser or (God help you) PBR. Bake in bundt. Note this corruption extends even unto the icing, composed of 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar mixed with enough of the same beer to make a glaze.
Within living memory, there was a time when commercial products and establishments went a long way to convince consumers that their products were “Just like!” if not “Better than!” homemade. This marketing was still going on when I was a kid in the Sixties even though for the most part Baby Boomers were a generation removed from true home cooking, by which I mean cooking that largely involved fresh (unprocessed) dairy, meats and produce. While “homemade” is making a comeback as a marketing tag thanks to a resurgence of what I like to call the “Whole Earth” attitude—God bless Stewart Brand and all who sail in him—there’s a counter-movement in marketing based on selling products that are the very antithesis of homemade, meaning those developed specifically for restaurant franchises. And while you can buy selected products from Starbucks, Taco Bell and TGI Friday’s, you’re not going to find specialty items such as McDonald’s “special sauce” for a Big Mac.
It’s only logical that recipes for successful restaurant recipes are a closely-guarded secret. As a child, I knew a woman who claimed to know the Sanders’ Original Recipe of “11 herbs and spices”, one of the most famous trade secrets in the catering industry, by virtue of the fact that she had worked in a franchise outlet in Grenada, Mississippi for three months while her husband was in the Grenada County lock-up for beating up a grease monkey who’d stolen a gun from the glove compartment of his car while it was in for an oil change. She didn’t really know it, of course; her fried chicken tasted nothing like it, though perhaps it might have to her after her daily bottle of vodka. It wasn’t until August 2016 that the recipe was made public when the Chicago Tribune reported that a nephew by marriage of Colonel Sanders, had claimed to have found a copy of the original KFC fried chicken recipe on a handwritten piece of paper in an envelope in a scrapbook.
As journalists of fortitude and integrity, Tribune staffers verified the recipe before publication, and after “some trial and error” they decided the chicken should be soaked in buttermilk and coated once in the following breading mixture, then fried in oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown. With the addition of MSG (in an unspecified amount) they claimed the recipe produced fried chicken “indistinguishable” from fried chicken they had purchased at KFC.
11 Spices – Mix With 2 Cups White Flour
2/3 Ts (tablespoons) Salt
1/2 Ts Thyme
1/2 Ts Basil
1/3 Ts Oregano
1 Ts Celery salt
1 Ts Black pepper
1 Ts Dried mustard
4 Ts Paprika
2 Ts Garlic salt
1 Ts Ground ginger
3 Ts White pepper
While the KFC empire, which includes some 23 thousand restaurants worldwide with major markets in China (4,563 units), the United States (4,491 units), Japan (1,181 units), the United Kingdom (900 units) and South Africa (736 units), is built upon fried chicken, many people consider the appurtenances: biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, etc. essential to the KFC experience. And one of those essentials is cole slaw, which, after a considerable digression, leads me back to copycat recipes.
As a matter of fact, you can find a copycat recipe for McDonald’s special sauce; several have been online for almost a decade. As a matter of fact, you can find a copycat recipe for damn near anything; dozens of cookbooks and websites are devoted to the subject, and there’s no real reason to think they’re not any good. I’m sure most of them are delicious. But I’m of the studied opinion that foods are a lot more than the sum of their parts, that is to say that does KFC copycat cole slaw ever taste exactly the same if you’re not eating it out of a Styrofoam red-and-white container with a stylized image of Harlan Sanders on it?
You tell me.
KFC Copycat Cole Slaw
13 cups chopped cabbage This is about 1 large head of cabbage or 2 medium heads of cabbage
1 green bell pepper (optional, there is no bell pepper in the KFC recipe)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot 1 medium size carrot
2 cups Miracle Whip Light
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
If you are lucky enough to have a food processor, get it out of your cupboard. Start to cut up the cabbage and place it in the processor. While cutting up the cabbage, also cut up small slices of green pepper, onion, and carrot and add to the processor. Mixing up the ingredients this way will help distribute the flavors throughout the slaw. You may want to use a little less of the onion, or green bell pepper, but do use all of the carrot. If you do not have a food processor, no problem, simply chop the cabbage, onions, and carrots into small pieces. Add chopped green bell pepper if desired. Now mix Miracle Whip, vinegar, oil, and sugar until you have a smooth mixture. The taste should be sweet with just a hint of vinegar. The amount of dressing may be increased or decreased according to the amount of slaw you are making. Add to cut up veggies and mix well. Let stand at least one hour to let flavors mix.