What is Carolina Coastal Cuisine?
I am travelling to NYC next week to culinarily represent the Grand Strand in a brief promotional tour of sorts. To prepare for this, I have had to think about and define what I am already doing, cooking a style of cuisine that in born of the coast and the Carolinas. It is a great thing; it has brought clarity and vision in my mind to a style of cuisine that has not been clearly defined. I recently talked to Becky Billingsley of www.myrtlebeachrestraurantnews.com and she is going through the same process, together I think we got further than either of us was separately.
What is Carolina Coastal food? Well, first of all, like all great regional cuisines, it is ingredient driven. We enjoy a wide array of locally and regionally fished, grown, and produced foods.
Seafood if paramount, of course. Arguable shrimp would be king, the local shrimp are amazingly firm and briny when freshly harvested, and are superior to imported frozen in my opinion. Oysters and blue crab, especially soft shell blues, are predominant and wonderful. We also buy fresh gag and scamp grouper, vermilion snapper (or B liners as they are called around here), dolphin or mahi mahi, tuna, flounder, and wahoo from local fishermen.
Pork if big in the Carolinas, and is used generously in our cooking. Bacon, fatback, country ham, and locally cured cuts are favorite ingredients. Chops are seen on many menus, and of course barbeque is a pillar of our culinary heritage.
We also enjoy many locally and regionally grown and produced fruits, vegetables, and grains, including sweet potatoes, mustard, turnip, and collard greens, peanuts, pecans, peaches, tomatoes, berries, melons, onions, field peas, and fresh corn. Rice is seeing a comeback, with locally grown varieties that made the Carolinas a wealthy place 150 years ago. Stone ground grits are a backbone of the area and cuisine, lending a versatile and flavorful component to man dishes.
In addition to our bountiful ingredients, I think that Carolina Coastal cuisine is rooted in our rich culinary history. Methods and traditions, such as smoking meats, cooking greens, mustard, vinegar, and tomato sauces, oyster roasts, chicken bog, and other traditions influence what and how we cook. The last component to Carolina Coastal food is a sense of recreation, fun, enjoyment, and leisure. I think all great food is meant to be enjoyable, of course, but we live in an area that is built around vacations and I think that comes through in our food.
Here are a few dishes that I think best represent Carolina Coastal cooking from my repertoire.
Cracker Crusted Scamp Grouper, Carolina Gold risotto timbale, fresh oyster stew, butter poached onions and leeks and parsley froth
Caw caw Creek pastured pork chop, stone ground grit soufflé, field asparagus, brandy demiglace
Carolina Shrimp with Country Ham and Sweet Potato Hash and
Mustard Verjus Sauce
Dredged in stone ground grits batter and pan fried
Shrimp and Grits
Carolina Shrimp with tasso ham, tomato, scallion, and bourbon cream over stone ground Adluh mills parmesan thyme grits
(On the menu at our newest restaurant called Roy and Sid’s American kitchen – in the market Common development)
Carolina Steamed Bun
Pulled pork and baby mustard greens, seasoned and wrapped in sweet dough, steamed, and served with two barbeque sauces
Cornmeal fried Carolina oysters with Piccalilli relish
(Very quick app, on the menu at Roy and Sid’s)
It is reflected in all of my restaurants, not intentionally but it is a natural way for me to cook. I think that, as this concept and understanding develops, we will see a greater definition, statement, vision, and promotion of Carolina Coastal cuisine, and I think that that is a great thing. Ciao!