Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 92.

Number 92
Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger

            If you ever sit down and read a few pages of John T. Edge’s excellent book, Hamburgers & Fries, an American Story, I’m willing to bet that by the time you finish the preface, you’ll be on the prowl for a burger. I was. After reading about hamburgers stuffed with short ribs, or onions, or bacon, or smoked Gouda cheese—after he described burgers topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms—I was more than a little burger crazy. I jumped in my car and drove until I came to the first hamburger joint I could find. I got out, and ordered whatever they were serving. I wasn’t going to be particular. I just needed a hamburger. Any hamburger—as long as it was a mound of ground beef—would do. After rewarding myself for reading the first seven pages of a book, I returned home.
            I believe I thought that if I stuffed myself with ground beef, the rest of the book would have no effect upon me. I was wrong. I do love hamburgers—there are several, for instance, in my top 100 meals—and the more I read, the more I wanted to try every recipe John put in his book. Little did I know what was coming. On page 47 Mr. Edge begins writing about cheese burgers. Well, I cannot eat a hamburger without cheese. Then he says, on the very next page: “. . . J.C. Reynolds, who operated the Dairy Bar in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1932 to 1984, is the man who popularized the pimiento burger.” A pimiento burger? I had lived some sixty years at that point, and never, ever, had I heard of a pimiento burger. How could such a thing have come to pass, and I hadn’t heard about it. I simply love pimiento cheese, and for years had made my own, eating home-made pimiento-cheese sandwiches three or four times a month. But when it came to hamburgers, I was still topping them with plain old medium cheddar cheese.
            Hell. By the time John T. Edge got to page 51, and mentioned all the joints in Columbia, South Carolina that served pimiento-cheese burgers—“Maurice’s Piggy Park. The Salty Nut. Edisto Market. Rockaway’s. Palmetto Sandwich Shop. Harper’s. The Mousetrap. What A Burger. And, of course, Eddie’s”—I was going insane. I had to have a genuine pimiento-cheese burger. I hopped in my car and drove straight through to Columbia, South Carolina, where I dragged my younger sister from her Internal Medicine doctor’s office, and accused her of treating me like a red-headed stepbrother all these years. “Why?” I asked. “Why have you never even mentioned getting a pimiento-cheese burger when I was in town?” Her answer was, “Because you never said you wanted one.”
Here's a shot of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. Don't let the size of the large serving plate fool you. That's one big hamburger. 

            You might think I’m kidding about driving to Columbia just for a pimiento-cheese burger, and I am, but only partly. I did go visit my sister about a month later. She now lives outside Columbus, in Lexington, and I did speak those exact words to her. She and my brother-in-law apologized. They didn’t realize that I’d never had one of Columbia’s famous pimiento-cheese burgers. They were so ubiquitous, my sister and brother-in-law never considered the fact that the rest of us, we non-Columbians, might be living like savages, never having the good fortune of eating a pimiento-cheese burger. For lunch, the same day I arrived, we all packed in two cars and went to Rockaway's, where I ate my first pimiento-cheese burger. It was heavenly. Nowadays, every time my wife and I visit my sister and brother-in-law, we go to Rockaway's and we all have a pimiento-cheese burger. The problem is, I cannot live on one or two pimiento-cheese burgers a year. I require more. Many more.
            Thus, I have conjured up my own recipe for the tasty, calorie-laden sandwiches. Mr. Edge gives a recipe, too, on page 54. He calls them P C Burgers. I’ve tried his recipe, and it’s good. My own recipe, however, is spectacular. I call it the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger because I wanted to make them one day and didn’t have any pimientos, usually a staple at my house. I did, however, have a jar of Mt. Olive Roasted Red Peppers. I tried them. Zowieee! Talk about making a great sandwich better—these peppers did the trick. Here’s the recipe. I advise you make one as soon as possible, or you might, like me, feel the urge to drive to South Carolina and order one already made. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing just that. But, c'mon—save yourself some money.

½ jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, sliced and chopped. I use about one and a-half peppers.

One handful—about a cup’s worth or more—of shredded, medium cheddar cheese (or mild, if that’s all you have.)

¼ cup good mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s).

½ teaspoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.

1/8 teaspoon of canned chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce (I keep a bag of these in the freezer and they last a year.) Don’t use too much, unless you really like hot-
flavored foods. I find that as I get older, I still yearn for the taste of hot foods, but
can’t take the heat, so I use less than I did as a young man.

Mix ingredients well—especially if you added chilpotle peppers. Refrigerate or, if you are as antsy as me and already have your burgers ready—begin the countdown. I no longer grill my burgers for this delicacy. I fry them slowly in sesame oil in a cast-iron frying pan on the stove top, with slices of onion where I can work them in the pan. I cook them eight minutes per side. I drain them well and toast a whole-wheat hamburger bun. On the top bun I add mayo, on the bottom bun I add a little mayo and Mister Mustard Original Hot mustard, place the burger on the bottom bun, add as many fried onions as you like, and pile the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento Cheese on top. I microwave the cheese-topped burger for 20 seconds to melt the cheese, put the top bun on, and grab a good handful of napkins. Now I can start to slow down and enjoy my feast. I sit and dig in. It takes both hands, by the way. And several napkins. But, believe me, it’s worth it. Let me reiterate—zowieee!

Here are some shots of a recent construction of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. 

Here's the bowl of mixed ingredients, awaiting the burgers.

Here's the burger with fried onions piled on.

The cheese has been melted. Almost ready.

 Ta-da! Put the bun on top and dig in. Don't forget--two hands and lots of napkins. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 93 Catfish Soup (Yum!)

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time.

Number 93
Catfish Soup (Yum!)

            I lied. Yep. Right there in the title is a big, fat lie. I’ve never made catfish soup, you see—I use cod. But in order to make this a “Mostly Southern” recipe, I lied and called it Catfish Soup. The actual name is simply, “Fish Soup.” There’s nothing wrong, however, if you prefer to use catfish in this recipe. It would probably taste even better than with cod. I use cod because of the health benefits of cold-water-salt-water fish, and because the fillets are boneless. I’m rather particular about using certain items when I cook for “health benefits.” For instance, I won’t prepare catfish at home, but will eat entire platefuls if I go out to eat, and the entrée is fried catfish. We have a great seafood buffet restaurant nearby, and my wife and I go once a year. I eat all the fried catfish, oysters, clams, and shrimp I can stuff down. I eat so much, I won’t want any more fried fish for a year. I’ve always found it quaint that in the South—in Alabama, anyway—we refer to catfish as “seafood.” The main dish at every “seafood” restaurant around here is fried catfish. I guess it’s similar to when we use the term “barbecue.” We don’t add the word “pork,” to it, because everyone here knows it means “barbecued pig product.” Everyone except for a few Texans, who pride themselves by being different from the rest of us Southerners by meaning “beef” when they say “barbecue.”
            But I’m getting off track. Making fun of Texans is fun, but this is supposed to be about Fish Soup. I wonder, though—when a Texan says “fish soup,” does he mean “beef-tongue soup?” Oh, well. Here’s my recipe, and I must explain the reason I present it at Number 93. I’d prefer placing it much higher, closer to twenty-two, or twenty-three, but cannot. My family won’t allow it. They don’t even want Fish Soup in the top 100, but some things cannot be left undone, and this is one of them.
The two chores of raising children and cooking meals are not only tied together out of necessity, they are similar in other ways, as well. You may not consider either one a chore, of course, but I’ve never met a man or a woman who didn’t consider feeding children “properly” to be anything other than a chore. By “properly,” I mean feeding them “healthy” meals.
Sure, anyone can order pizza to be delivered, or pick up fried chicken, hamburgers, or mass-produced tacos. These meals, to use the term loosely, are not what I mean when I say “feed children properly.” Getting kids to eat pizza, burgers, or tacos is no chore at all. Nor are these foods considered healthy for our children. My fish soup, on the other hand, is outstandingly healthy. And my kids—yours, too, I’ll bet—would all starve before they’d eat fish soup. This recipe, therefore, is not for your children. It’s for you. Do not even attempt to entice a child to eat it. Tell them that some things are not meant for them. They can’t watch R-rated movies, drink the same beverages you drink, wake up to a cup of hot coffee, and they damned-well can’t have any of your fish soup. Make them eat a greasy taco while you sip fish soup, going “ahh” and “ooh” every now and then, with your eyes closed, as you imagine yourself on a tropical isle, ladling exotic flavors from the sea down your throat.  Who knows? Maybe the little rascals will sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and steal a mug or two.
            I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been able to imagine how wonderful a really good fish soup would taste. I felt it would be a combination of clam chowder and oyster stew, two of my favorite meals. My problem is that over a period of twenty years, I never came across a recipe for plain old fish soup that came anywhere close to these dishes. My other problem was that I used to religiously follow the recipes I found, rather than experiment, or modify them. I was certain I’d find a recipe—one that was definitive—that I loved. Because of my bullheadedness, my children suffered. I prepared meal after meal of quite-awful fish soup.
Some of us men are lucky in life. We have wives who’ll always come to our rescue, who’ll stand beside us as we attempt to raise our kids together, no matter what we do wrong. We lucky men, though few, have an ally, a friend, a bulwark, one who comes to our aid when the children refuse to do as they’re told. Most of the time I am among these lucky, most fortunate of men. But not when I bring a huge, steaming bowl of fish soup to the dinner table.
My helpmate, my wife who promised to always adore me, crossed over to the other side and joined the children the first time I served up fish soup. Hey—I know it was awful tasting, but great cooks have to experiment, and who better to experiment on than one’s own family? Well, to make a long story short, we ordered lots of pizza back in the days when I was experimenting with my fish soup. The children, always themselves, would see and smell a big pot of fish soup on the stove and ask what we were having for supper. I’d say “fish soup,” and they’d jump up and down with joy, shouting, “Yay—it’s pizza night!”
Several years ago, after all the children had finally moved out (and, yes, we’ve had the same experience most Americans have had—entire batches of the children, with their own children, have moved in from time to time, out of economic necessity), I finally saw the error of my ways. I was never going to find a clear-cut recipe for fish soup that was like the one I had in my mind. I was leafing through some magazines and came across three recipes for fish soup, each different, and yet each similar in some respects. I decided to take only the parts of each recipe I knew I would like, add some Tony Chachere’s, and see what happened. What happened was a “Eureka!” moment. I ended up with two fish soup recipes, both of which I loved. I tried them immediately, and both were wonderful. The only problem was that my wife, inured from many years of not-so-tasty experimental fish soup, would not even try them. She still won’t. “Not for me, thanks,” is all she’ll say. I ruined her—or, as we say around here, “ruint her”—by fixing too many distasteful fish soups. Oh, well. Nowadays, when I fix fish soup, I let my wife eat leftovers. Or she orders a pizza. Not me. I place the bowl of steaming vegetables and sea creatures on the table, sit, and take in the wonderful aroma. I close my eyes, dreaming of tropical paradises, and feel blessed that there aren’t any complaining children present whom I need to scold because they aren’t eating the healthy meal I prepared. I plunge my spoon into the soup and go “ooh” and “ahh.” I take my time and enjoy every sip of my wonderful creation. It took me close to twenty years to find this soup. Now I want to enjoy it for another twenty.

Fish Soup Number 1.
Tomato-based Recipe.


4 tbs. olive oil
3-5 ripe bell or banana peppers, chopped (red or yellow, not green)
2 onions, chopped.
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar of pimientos (optional), chopped
1 can green chiles (optional) chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 bottles (8 oz. each) clam juice
1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth
1 can (11.5 oz.) V8
Lg. can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1-3 tbs. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole
1 tbs. sugar
1-2 pounds raw, shelled shrimp
1-2 lbs. cod fillets, cut into one-inch chunks (or catfish)
1 bag frozen scallops
2 packages (10 oz. each) chopped or leaf, frozen spinach
1-2 heads broccoli, chopped (optional)
1 celery root, chopped (optional)
1-3 cups water, as needed

Fish Soup Number 2
Cream-based Recipe

Follow the ingredients for Tomato-based with these exceptions and additions:

Crushed tomatoes and V8
 1 can (10 ¾  oz.) cream-of-celery soup
1 soup-can of milk
1 soup-can of cream
1 large or two medium potatoes, chopped (leave the skin on)

Directions (for both):

Heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the fresh vegetables (the onions, garlic, peppers, potatoes, carrots, celery root, etc., depending on which recipe you are using, and which vegetables. Don’t add the canned vegetables at this time.). Sauté for five minutes.
Add all other ingredients except shrimp and scallops. Cook over low-medium heat for 20 minutes. Don’t cover with lid. The soup should have a gentle roll as it slowly boils, sending sweet scents throughout the kitchen.
Order a pizza for your wife and children.
Add shrimp and scallops. Cook another 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Let sit for five minutes (on the burner is okay).
Toss all scallops that didn’t open.
As soon as pizza is delivered and paid for, suggest that the kids and your wife watch TV while they eat. Go to soup pot and ladle some soup into a sturdy bowl. Put bowl on a plate, grab a big, man-sized soup spoon, a heavy-duty napkin, and take all to table. Sit. Relax. Place both your arms on the table—no one’s watching, man. No need for Miss Manners tonight. Be yourself for a change. Smell the aroma. Close your eyes. Close out the sound of the TV. Take the first sip. Burp if you feel the need. Yep—you’re there—you’re on the tropical isle. Go on, admit it. This is the best damn soup you ever ate. Even if you have to eat it alone.