Archive for the 'Eight Flavors' Category

Eight Flavors: My Book is on Sale NOW!

My first book, Eight Flavors:The Untold Story of American Cuisine, DROPS TODAY! You can get it direct from the publisher, on Amazon, Barnes and Nobleindie bookstores–or anywhere else books are sold! For a full list of retailers, click here.

“A unique and surprising view of American history… richly researched, intriguing, and elegantly written.”
The Atlantic

“A breezy American culinary history that you didn’t know you wanted.”
Bon Appetit

“Warning: This book may make you hungry.”
Bustle

“A compulsively readable, surprising and deeply researched culinary history…a wide ranging, open hearted investigation into the way that flavors simultaneously transmit and follow cultures around the globe”
Brooklyn BasedSmithsonian Magazine named it one of the best food books of 2016!

It’s the perfect gift for the foodie in your life!!
AUTOGRAPHED COPY!

If you live in New York City, I’ll be signing copies tomorrow night (Wednesday) at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum after my free Tenement Talk with Melissa Clark, from 6-8:30pm. Afterwards, I’ll be at the launch party at Lucky Jack’s until 10pm. Feel free to stop by!

Tuesday, December 13th I’ll be at The Brooklyn Historical Society leading a panel with Mario Carbone and Jonathan Wu on How Immigrant Cooks Shape American Food. Doors: 6:30 pm Event: 7 pm and I’ll be signing books afterwards.

In the early spring, I’ll be in Boston and Baltimore! More details coming soon.

Eight Flavors: Country Captain Chicken

chickenA chicken curry from the 1850s.

To create my first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, I researched the eight most popular flavors in American cooking: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. When I dived deep into each of these eight topics, I often found fascinating new information and recipes–some of which didn’t make it into the book. So over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this exclusive content on my blog! If it whets your appetite to read the whole book, make sure to get your own copy here.

One week after the 2016 presidential election, I attended a citizenship ceremony hosted by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Fifteen individuals, their birthplaces as wide ranging as Japan and Iraq, became Americans that day.

The most touching part of the ceremony was a speech delivered by Samantha Power, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, an immigrant herself from Ireland. During her speech, Power choked up while recounting the immigration stories of the families of her closest colleagues. “This is impossible,” she declared at one point, trying to get through the moving stories. She then went on to address the new citizens directly:

You are what America looks like…We are a nation of immigrants, but for as long as this nation has existed, Americans have been harkening back to a golden era, before families like yours or mine got here. It never seems to matter to those people that their parents or grandparents were on the receiving end of similar discrimination when they first arrived in this country. But even if we know deep down that such intolerance is as old as the nation itself, it doesn’t make it hurt any less when we experience it.

You may hear some people say that in order to become “real” Americans, you need to forget where you came from, or leave behind the history that brought you to this moment. Cover up your accent, change the way you dress…Please don’t list to those voices. Joining a new nation does not mean you have to leave behind the one you came from, or what it taught you.

You can watch Power’s speech in its entirety here.

I had attended this citizenship ceremony in the past, in 2013, to see my dear friend and colleague Raj become an American. Raj is an immigrant from New Zealand; his parents are from India. I talk about Raj in the Curry Powder chapter of my book; we went on a “curry crawl” together in Jackson Heights, Queens. In that chapter, I also focus on the stories of Indian immigrants in the early 20th century who were not allowed to receive their citizenship because of the color of their skin.

Often, when I list the flavors I’ve included in my book, I get a lot of push-back about curry powder. Many people don’t consider it an American ingredient. But Indian immigrants have been coming to America for more than 100 years; and we have been cooking with curry powder in this country for over 200 hundred. In fact, a dish called Country Captain Chicken, a traditional dish of the American South, arrived in this country in the 19th century through our Anglo-immigrant roots.

The History

The origin of Country Captain Chickens begins late in the 16th century, when the East India Company was granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth. The charter gave the East India Company a monopoly within Britain on trade with the Far East; the company would focus on India.

As the East Indian Company rapidly expanded in the 19th century, more and more employees moved to the “Country,” as India was known. They were posted to a new station in another part of India every three years, which exposed them to culinary traditions all over the subcontinent. When these British workers traveled around the subcontinent, they were carried in a litter by a team of men, the carriers traded out at roadside taverns like horses. The litter itself was misery, being shaped like a wooden coffin in which the traveler slowly baked in the Indian sun. When they stopped for food at a roadside eatery, called a “bungalow,” they were often served chicken. Beef and pork were not served in much of India because of Hindu and Muslim religious restrictions. And beyond that, chicken, no matter what the continent, was the convenience food of the 19th century. If you had sudden dinner guests, you could step out your back door and scoop up one of the chickens pecking around in the yard. A few hours of plucking and butchering later, you had a chicken dinner. It doesn’t sound convenient–but most other meat was seasonal. A chicken was available anytime.

Because British officials didn’t have the same cultural history and connection to each region as a native Indian, when eating at home, they would take the foods they loved willy-nilly from all regions and serve them together. A bowl of Anglo curry could be accompanied by garnishes from everywhere: Persian hard-boiled eggs, Punjabi pickled lemon, Madras-style sliced raw onions, fried papadum bread, as well as British-style crispy bacon. The transient English officials created a trans-continental cuisine, which became the food they imported when they returned to England. 

And that cuisine eventually traveled to America. Country Captain Chicken, a dish inspired by the bungalow dinners of the British, first showed up in America in Eliza Leslie’s 1857 cookbook Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book. Although Leslie was born in Philadelphia, she lived in England from the ages of 5-11. It’s likely that as a girl she was exposed to the Anglo curries being served in British households, and transported her love of spicy, fried Country Captain Chicken back to the States.

curry_chix1Curry powder ingredients according to a 19th century American recipe.

The Recipe

Leslie’s recipe asks the home cook to rub chicken parts in curry powder before frying them up crisp in butter and onions. The chicken is lifted out of the butter with a slotted spoon, and set aside to drain. A sauce is made from the butter and onions, with the addition of a few spoonfuls of coconut. It’s all served over rice, and the crispy chicken skin makes a lovely textural contrast to the sauce.

Country Captain Chicken
Recipe adapted by Jill Paradiso from Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book1857.

Yield: serves 4

For the curry powder:

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 teaspoon powdered coriander
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon powdered nutmeg
1 teaspoon powdered mace
1 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper

For the chicken:

Salt
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings)
2 large onions, peeled
1 stick butter
1/2 cup curry powder
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, shredded

  1. Make curry powder by combining the spices. Grind fresh from whole

spices for the best flavor.

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Once water has reached full

boil, add chicken breasts and onions and cook for 4 minutes. Then add

thighs, drumsticks, and wings, and continue cooking another 6 minutes.

  1. Remove the chicken from pot and drain well. Leave onion in boiling

water to continue cooking.

  1. Melt butter in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Toss chicken in

curry powder until well coated.

  1. When butter begins to foam, add chicken to pan and cook about 3

to 4 minutes until well browned. Turn chicken pieces over and cook

another 3 to 4 minutes. Turn heat down to low and remove chicken

from pan. Season chicken with salt and set aside.

  1. Remove onions from water. Slice onions in half lengthwise and then

cut into half-moon strips. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to pan

and cook in curry butter mixture over low heat about 8 minutes or until

onions are lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

  1. Garnish chicken with sautéed onions and coconut. Serve immediately

over any kind of rice you like.

 


Modern Country Captain Chicken. Photo by Dan Costin.

The Results

By the 1940s, Country Captain Chicken had spread from Philadelphia and appeared in the American South in church-fundraising cookbooks alongside Jello mold with marshmallows. It maintains a crazy level of popularity to this day, with several Southern cities laying claim to its invention. In the contemporary version, the chicken, after being fried, is stewed in the oven in a tomato sauce. And the few spoonfuls of coconut in Leslie’s recipe are replaced by a whole assortment of toppings served table side: slivered almonds, raisins, chutney, orange sections, pineapple and crispy bacon — much liked the varied condiments on the tables of the East India Company in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the South, these condiments are called “boys,” but according to one Savannah hostess, “Anything more than a five boy curry is considered pretentious north of Gaston Street.” Check out a modern recipe here.

 

Much of the background on The East India Company came from the fascinating book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham.

Eight Flavors: Data Visualization

all

All the eight flavors. Click for a larger image.

My first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine will be released December 6th, but is available for pre-sale right now. To create the book, I researched the eight most popular flavors in American cooking: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. When I dived deep into each of these eight topics, I often found fascinating new information and recipes–some of which didn’t make it into the book. So over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this exclusive content on my blog! If it whets your appetite to read the whole book, make sure to get your own copy here.

The premise of my new book, Eight Flavors, is that American cuisine can be illustrated by its most commonly used flavors. One of the most freqeunt questions I get about the book is how I picked my eight flavors to focus on.

When I began my research, I made a timeline of recipes from my respectable collection of cookbooks, dating from Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery, the first cookbook published in this country in 1796, all the way through modern American standards like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I flipped through these cookbooks from different eras: the 1800s, 1850s, 1900s, and 1950s, selecting the most influential tomes from those periods, like Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife; Fannie Merritt Farmer’s The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook; and James Beard’s The Fireside Cook Book. I looked for ingredients that significantly affected the flavor of the recipe. After I made a list of commonly used flavors, I plotted them on a graph with the help of Google’s Ngram Viewer, which visualizes the frequency of words in all the books Google has digitized. I set the sample size to American books from 1800 to 2000. When I built the graph of American flavors, it revealed which ones were used the most frequently (and for all practical purposes, were the most popular), when flavors entered our lexicon, and how some grew in popularity while others disappeared. After all was said and done, the results revealed eight winners—flavors that were the most popular, and had never significantly waned in their popularity.

The graph at the top of the page shows them all, and gives a really clear sense of how these flavors entered into our kitchens chronologically. I love in that top graph how clear garlic’s popularity is over the other flavors I talk about.

I write in the book that vanilla replaced rosewater in American kitchens, and you can see that below.

vanilla

Vanilla v. Rosewater

And look at how long curry powder has been used in the U.S.!

curry

Curry Powder

And look at how our use of MSG has declined in the last 30 years. I unpack the perception that MSG is “bad” for you in my book, but you can also listen to some great podcasts on the topic here.

MSG

These graphs gave me a quick and dirty way to identify trends over time, and a wonderful way to visualize how our larger culture was affecting consumption of these ingredients, and vice verse.

Eight Flavors: Black Pepper and White Wine Snow Drops

snowdrop1An 18th century candy made with white pepper, brandy and sugar.

My first book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine will be released December 6th, but is available for pre-sale right now. To create the book, I researched the eight most popular flavors in American cooking: black pepper, vanilla, chili powder, curry powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. When I dived deep into each of these eight topics, I often found fascinating new information and recipes–some of which didn’t make it into the book. So over the next few months, I’ll be publishing this exclusive content on my blog! If it whets your appetite to read the whole book, make sure to get your own copy here.

In the 21st century, black pepper sits firmly on the savory shelf of our kitchen. We add a twist from our peppers grinders to finish a salad, or crust the exterior of a thick steak with cracked peppercorns. But as I was researching  Eight Flavors I discovered pepper was used to complement sugar, just as often as it was used with salt.

Last week, I got the chance to do some of my first public speaking engagements in California, including a visit to the Dallidet Adobe in San Luis Obispo, California. As part of my talk, I made “pepper-cakes” from the 18th century, a simple candy made of pepper, alcohol and sugar. Easy enough to make, with an intense, but pleasant flavor.

 

The History

An early American reference to pepper used in sweets is found in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747 in England. This book was an extremely popular import to America, and also went through several domestic printings, with an added chapter on the use of American ingredients. In the first American edition in 1805, Glasse uses pepper in her pickles, fish recipes, and in many, but not all, of her meat recipes, often in combination with nutmeg, mace, cloves, parsley, savory, and thyme.

But tucked in next to recipes for cookies and gingerbread is this recipe:

To make pepper cakes.

Take half a gill of sack, half a quarter of an ounce of whole white-pepper, put it in, and boil it together a quarter of an hour; then take the pepper out, and put in as much double refined sugar as will make it like a paste; then drop it in what shape you please on plates, and let it dry itself.

The recipe is more of a candy than a cake: brandy is infused with pepper, mixed with sugar and left to dry. Sack is an old word for brandy, and a gill is a measurement of four ounces. So this recipes calls for 1/8 ounce white pepper, boiled for 15 minutes in 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of brandy. I suspect Glasse choose white pepper so as not to discolor the brandy; white pepper was prized historically because it kept white sauces (or in this case, white candy) looking clean and white. I decided to give this unusual recipe a try.

 

The Recipe

My tiniest saucepan is actually a two-cup measuring cup, perfect for my quarter cup of brandy and smattering of white peppercorns. I set it on my gas burner, and turned the flame up to high to bring the liquid to a hard boil. But after about two minutes of heating–it ignited!! A jet of flames leapt an impressive three feet into the air, flickering blue and gold, almost igniting my eyebrows in the process. Oops. I wonder why Hannah Glasse didn’t warn me about that?

Rather than smothering the flames, I turned off the burner and let it do its thing. The flames would burn off the alcohol, as well as infuse the aromatic oils from the pepper. It burned itself out in a couple minutes, and I strained the brandy into a glass bowl.

At this point, the smell of the white pepper infused brandy was very strong: musty, like old attic books. I added 1 ½ cups white sugar and mixed it into a paste. Glasse says  “drop it in what shape you please on plates,” so I used a mini ice cream scoop that I normally employ for doling out cookie dough. I shoveled tiny mounds of pale, cognac-colored sugar onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and set them aside to dry.

 

The Results

peppercandy2

The next morning, the little sugar balls were crusty and shockingly beautiful. Since the sugar is not cooked, the candy isn’t hard and smooth; instead, it’s crisp, crumbly, and sparkly! It looked like the top layer of snow: slightly melted, glistening in the sunshine. These simple treats were breathtakingly beautiful.

But tasted terrible.

I popped one in my mouth. Imagine the taste of musk. Something musky. White pepper is awful. It’s awful.

I hated the taste but loved the concept of this candy. So a couple quick substitutions, and I had made a vast improvement: instead of brandy, I used a sweet white wine. To replace the white pepper, classic Tellicherry black peppercorns offered a complex and surprisingly pleasant flavor.

Give this candy a try for a unique treat and what will seem like a  totally innovative way to use pepper– that’s actually over 200 years old.

 

White Wine and Black Pepper Snow Drops
Adapted from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse, 1805 edition.

¼ cup sweet white wine
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 ½ cups white sugar

Yield: makes 40-60 candies

  1. Combine wine and pepper in a small saucepan; place on a stove top burner on high. Cover. Boil for five minutes.
  1. Add sugar, stir to combine. Drop into ½ teaspoon sized balls onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  1. Allow to dry completely. This part of the process can be complicated on a humid day, resulting is a sticky, never-quite-dry candy. If you can, make this candy in the winter, or used a well-airconditioned room.

 

Pre-Order My Book: Eight Flavors!

8Flavors_Subtitle

My very first book is in presale, ready to wing its way to your hands on December 6th, 2016!

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine looks at the eight most popular flavors in American cooking as a way to define American food–and the American people. Moving chronologically through our history,  I explore black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. But this book is really about people, the folks who have shaped American food over time; and these are people that don’t normally get a page in our history books: blacks, women, immigrants. There’s Edmond Albius, a twelve-year-old slave, who discovered the technique still used to pollinate vanilla orchids today. And David Tran, the Vietnamese refugee who created Sriracha to support his family.

This book has got it all! There’s gorgeous illustrations (by Peter Van Hyning):

8A_Sriracha8B_David_Tran

 

Fun facts:

image4

And tempting recipes:

image1

Let’s face it: I’ve just made your Holiday shopping a snap. You can buy the book here.

image5

Thank you in advance for reading, and thank you for being fans, followers and readers–it’s because of you that this project has come to fruition!