The Southern Foodie's Guide To The Pig
Chris Chamberlain offers up a meaty culinary tour of the South in his latest cookbook and shares what dishes will be on his Thanksgiving table this year.
For his first cookbook, Nashville food writer Chris Chamberlain decided to go big or go home. Under the moniker “The Southern Foodie,” he compiled 100 Places to Eat in the South full of 134 recipes from 13 states and 100 chefs. He says the book was inspired by his travels and chefs he’s met as a food journalist over the years, so when it came time for a second book, Chamberlain just decided to narrow his focus.
The Southern Foodie’s Guide To The Pig is both a travel guide and cookbook, complete with restaurants across the South known for their pig dishes and personal recipes from chefs. We talked to Chamberlain from his home in Nashville about the importance of pork in Southern history, his favorite cooking techniques and how he plans to incorporate a bit of oink into his Thanksgiving menu this year.
Why pig, and should it replace the Thanksgiving turkey?
“You have to do a lot of work, a lot of brining, a lot of injecting to make a turkey as special as the event ought to be, but it’s part of the tradition. I believe because the pig was such an indigenous wild animal, it’s a common ingredient throughout the region, but it also engenders such a strong opinion of how it ought to be cooked. I thought it was fascinating to do the research to find out that really it expresses what I like to call a Southern terroir, because it’s the same ingredient everywhere and it’s a very similar cooking method. People realize that this sturdy, tasty animal takes some special care to make it tender enough that you want to eat it. Individually, they all came up with the wonderful simultaneous discovery that the best way to do it was to dig a hole in the ground and cook it low and slow. The indigenous fuel sources are what adds a lot of the flavor to it, so it may be hickory wood in Tennessee and it may be pecan wood in Mississippi. The other neat discovery was one of best ways to tenderize that meat even further and to keep it from getting too dry is usually to baste it with some sort of acidic sauce … You’ve got history wrapped up in how this pig is cooked, you’ve got immigration history wrapped up in how they make their individual sauces, and 300 years later it turns into really opinionated pitmasters and chefs having fun arguments about how something ought to be cooked, realizing that it’s really based in where they come from and what they grew up eating. That’s why I saw it as this universal protein that has the history of the region wrapped up in it.”
Importance of accompaniments like sauces, brines and rubs …
“I think if you talk to people who do like to cook outdoors, it’s a pretty basic technique for how you want to cook ribs or how you want to cook a pork shoulder, but the way you add your own individual panache to it is taking some sort of basic rub and sauce recipe and adding your twist to it. That’s what’s so great about all these recipes. You’re completely free to experiment all the way through. Unlike with a lot of cooking — you can’t really do much tasting along the way while you’re baking— but with a barbecue rub or a barbecue sauce, feel free to stick your finger in it and take a taste at any point. The recipes are a good starting point, and the rubs are also a great thing to give away as a gift. I’ll make rubs and then I’ll package them and give them away in Mason jars to friends.”
Favorite experience or memory during the making of this book?
“There was a night at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium two years ago dedicated to barbecue. The plan for the final night was to have everyone come out to a farm on the outskirts of Oxford [Mississippi]. I was staying out there, so I was getting to see the process from beginning to end — from building the pits and digging holes. It required staying up all night with pitmasters like Pat Martin and participating in the conversations that happened around that. Chefs staying in town would come out to see the process. Down this long, dark country road, you’d see headlights and there’s Keri Moser and Sean Brock who just wanted to sit on top of an Igloo cooler, listen to a tiny radio and be part of of the communion of smoking meat.”
Thanksgiving at Chez Chamberlain …
“I usually take the whole week off. Home smoking requires you to stay close to your house for at least 15 hours, so if you’re committed to sitting on your couch and watching football, it’s no problem getting up between quarters and basting the meat. I’ll be cooking a turkey, but also think I’ll do raspberry glazed pork that Chef’s Market contributed the recipe for. No, the raspberry won’t be a substitute for cranberry. We have to have cranberry sauce out of the can with the ridges in it.”
“The Southern table’s all about sharing — getting family and friends together and sharing food and experiences and recipes.”
Get recipes for Raspberry Glazed Pork and Grapefruit Chess Pie in our 2014 Thanksgiving Menu.