Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Husk: Chef Sean Brock's Lowcountry Cuisine

Husk Restaurant has been among the most celebrated restaurants in town, ever since it first opened its doors in late 2010, for its respect for good Southern cooking, settling comfortably into Charleston’s rich food scene with a dedication to Southern ingredients that’s unmatched anywhere in the city. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” Husk’s James Beard Award-winning chef, Sean Brock, has famously proclaimed. As he explains, the resulting cuisine "is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food." Every single item on Husk’s menu comes from below the Mason-Dixon Line, from the salt to the olive oil, from the rare heirloom beans to the seafood. Centrally located in historic downtown Charleston in a beautifully restored circa-1893 Queen Anne home, Husk is more simple and straightforward than Brock’s flagship McCrady’s, where the kitchen is full of high-tech toys and modernist ingredients. At Husk, Brock transforms the essence of Southern food. Led by Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, a Lowcountry native, the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston. Chef Sean Brock puts the focus on the artisans and ingredients of the modern south. Menu changes daily with a commitment to procuring only from within the south.

Chef Sean Brock

Brock and Grimes grow much of their own produce on the restaurant’s garden, and concentrate on heirloom grains and vegetables that once flourished in the region, but were lost to 20th-century industrial agriculture. Then they take what is fresh and available today, or even this hour, and transform it into an evolving menu. Seasonal bounty comes in waves, however, and what they can’t use immediately is preserved, pickled, smoked, and saved. The menu flourishes with Lowcountry ingredients, where Brock puts his fanatically sourced products in daily-changing menus that feature incredible versions of classics, like his shrimp and grits made with smoked sausage, roasted tomatoes and fennel topped with fried pigs’ ears; or a fried chicken cooked in four types of fat — butter, chicken fat, bacon fat and country ham fat, and Brock’s fried chicken, which undergoes constant experimentation in pursuit of perfection. 

The modern interior of Husk

Husk's daily changing menu of southern low country cuisine, where every ingredient comes from below the Mason-Dixon Line, focuses on heirloom grains and vegetables that once flourished in the region

One very smart looking Ketel One Vodka Martini

A 'Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch' from a recipe from the Charleston Preservation Society, made with California brandy, Jamaican rum, peach brandy, Black tea, lemon juice and raw sugar

Linen wrapped hot dinner rolls topped with benne seeds and salt

Bacon-infused butter

An appetizer of Cheddar Pimento Cheese on house made Benne Crackers with pickle relish and crisp country ham

Fried South Carolina Soft Shelled Crab with sugar snap and charred ramp vinaigrette, spring onions, Virginia peanuts and cilantro

Tennessee Flat Iron Steak with crispy creamer potatoes, South Carolina snap beans and spinach, seer onions, bacon and spring garlic butter

Cornmeal Dusted Catfish with Florida sweet corn creamed with green garlic, fried cabbage, roasted fennel and peppers

Sean Brock's Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread with Allan Benton’s smokehouse bacon

Brock shares his admiration for the purveyors and ingredients he cherishes by highlighting their names on a huge board in the foyer of Husk

Chef Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cookbook

Husk's Cornbread
Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of chef Sean Brock

2 cups coarse yellow Anson Mills cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons fresh lard or bacon fat, melted but not hot 
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Large pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 450°F. Place a 10-inch cast-iron pan in the oven to get hot. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda and baking powder. In another bowl, combine 4 tablespoons of the lard, egg and buttermilk, then stir the wet ingredients into the dry until smooth. Move the pan from the oven to the stove top, over high heat. Add the remaining lard to the pan and swirl to coat. Pour in the batter — it should sizzle vigorously. Distribute the batter evenly and place into the oven. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Shrimp and Grits With Roasted Tomato, Fennel & Sausage
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Sean Brock

For the Roasted Tomato: 
8 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Fennel:
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and fronds reserved
2-3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tbsp butter
kosher salt & white pepper

For the Grits:
1 cup coarse corn grits, soaked overnight if necessary 
kosher salt
1 fresh bay leaf
1 1⁄2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cream cheese
white pepper
1⁄2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp hot sauce

For the Shrimp:
1 tbsp olive oil
20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup smoked sausage, cooked and crumbled 
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
hot sauce
kosher salt
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a bowl, combine the tomato, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and toss well. Arrange the tomato halves, cut side up, on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until they collapse and are lightly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes, then set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the fennel, half the reserved fronds, and enough water or broth just to cover. Add butter and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook until fork tender, 8 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate, discard cooked fronds, but reserve the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, prepare the grits according to the package directions, seasoning with salt and adding a bay leaf halfway through cooking. Once cooked, mix the grits with butter, cream cheese, pepper, lemon juice, and hot sauce.

Prepare the shrimp about 15 minutes before the grits are done by heating a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, add oil, and sear shrimp 1 minute per side. Add the fennel, sausage, roasted tomatoes, and 1 1/2 cups of the reserved fennel cooking liquid. Bring to a simmer, stir in lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and chopped parsley — add more fennel cooking liquid if it seem too dry.

To serve, divide the grits among four shallow soup plates, top with shrimp mixture, and garnish with uncooked fennel fronds.

The Husk Cheeseburger
Serves 10
Recipe courtesy of chef Sean Brock

Special Sauce:
1 3/4 cups mayonnaise, preferably Duke's
1 1/4 cups yellow mustard
5 tbsp ketchup
1/2 cup Bread-and-Butter pickles, drained and cut into 1/8-inch dice
1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, drained and cut into 1/8-inch dice
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp hot sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp pepper vinegar, preferably Texas Pete brand

1 3-pound fresh boneless chuck roast
12 oz fresh flank steak
3 oz bacon, preferably Benton's
3 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
10 burger buns, preferably potato rolls
1 cup white onion, shaved
20 slices American cheese
50 Bread-and-Butter pickles

For the sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a large container and stir together to blend well. Cover and refrigerate. Tightly covered, the sauce will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

For the cheeseburgers, grind the chuck, flank steak and bacon through a meat grinder fitted with the large die into a bowl. Mix gently to combine.
Then run half of the mixture through the small die. Mix the two together.
Portion the meat mixture into twenty 3-ounce patties, about 1/2-inch thick — each burger gets 2 patties. If not cooking right away, arrange on a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The patties can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook; it’s important that the patties are not ice-cold when they hit the hot pan.

Generously butter the tops and bottoms of the buns. Toast on a griddle until nice and golden brown, and set aside. Heat two 12-inch cast-iron skillets until as hot as possible. Divide the patties between the two hot pans. When the patties are nice and charred, about 2 minutes, flip them over and cook for 2 minutes more for medium. Place the onion slices on 10 of the patties. Place a slice of the cheese on all of the patties and allow it to melt, about 30 seconds. Stack the non-onion patties on top of the onion patties. Remove from the heat.

To serve, smear both sides of the buns with special sauce and place 5 pickles on the bottom half of each bun. Add the burger patties and top with the top halves of the buns and serve at once.