At last, it’s here: The long-awaited, eagerly anticipated cookbook from Vivian (A Chef’s Life) Howard. And it’s just what we knew it would be, only even more so. Like Vivian herself, it’s warm and engaging; it’s honest and generous. It’s full of charming stories and an astonishing variety of mouth-watering recipes. This is one of those cookbooks that you can read with enormous pleasure even if you’ve never even wanted to boil water.
Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South is a heavy book, and it is meant to be read not skimmed. The photos are beautiful, but not slick and glossy food porno. Even the design and layout reflect the charm and personality of the author. Deep Run Roots is divided into sections by ingredient, such as corn, figs, pecans, watermelon, rice, sausage, and blueberries. At the top corner of each page there is a charming little iconic drawing of the ingredient featured in that section.
For those of us who follow A Chef’s Life on PBS (damn PBS makes it so hard with their constant schedule changes and no notice), Vivian is the antidote to the Food Network and its cult of [chef] personality. Ironically, unlike the Food Network “Stars,” who are such non-entities, Vivian actually has a personality. With most TV cooking shows, you end up asking yourself, as Pam Frier notes in Laughing With My Mouth Full, “wait a second — wait a second! The guy’s just making soup. Why am I here?” Not so A Chef’s Life. There is no gleaming spotless kitchen, no gleaming spotless Le Creuset pots and pans that look as if they are replaced new for each shoot, and no rows of glass prep dishes already filled with ingredients. Most importantly, there are no pan-flips, so reminiscent of the snotty SoCal blond hair toss, that make being a chef look easy, fun, and glam. So, even though she is more than smart and pretty enough to make it look all of the above, she is honest enough not to. (Note: She is honest without “sharing,” thank the Lord.}
And, bless her heart, she can write, reinforcing my notion that the best U.S. writers, including the best cookbook writers, are from the south. (Ask me some other time, and I will explain why Edith Wharton is the exception that proves the rule!) Furthermore, unlike most of the big-name celebrity chefs/cookbook writers, I will bet dollars to donuts that she actually wrote this book. It sounds just like her. I will be working through the recipes and reporting on them, but I have no doubt that they will all be every bit as lip-smacking as the ones I’ve tried so far — both from her TV show and from the book.
Pork Shoulder Steaks with Red Curry Braised Watermelon
(click to see original recipe)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 lbs. pork shoulder or blade steaks (4 8-ounce steaks, or whatever your butcher will do for you)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 5 cups watermelon, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes, seeds removed.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Trim the pork of as much of the fat as possible without cutting into the flesh.
- Season the steaks with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch casserole over medium-high heat until almost smoking and place steaks in a single layer.
- Brown the pork on all four sides to get as much caramelization as possible.
- While the meat is browning, whisk together the vinegar, honey, red curry paste, and fish sauce.
- Once the pork is well-caramelized, remove the meat to a platter, and drain the excess fat.
- Return the meat to the casserole, and place the watermelon over it.
- Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon.
- Cover the casserole and place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
- Then bake another 30 minutes without the lid.
- Serve with rice. Don’t skimp on the broth.
The watermelon resembles and has the texture of tomatoes, and the broth is the hands-down star of the show.
This recipe serves four. After eating both tonight and tomorrow night’s portions, Mr. Darcy looked up from his dish, announced the meal “addictive,” and asked for more. I held on to my plate for dear life.