(Our guest blogger Norm Dillon and his lovely wife Chelsea.)
North vs. South. Clam chowder vs. fried chicken. Lobster rolls vs. pimento cheese. Baked beans vs. collard greens. The matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI offers a lot of possibilities for an equally intense culinary showdown. Since I grew up in Houston and Kansas City, no team I care about has played in the Super Bowl in my lifetime. As a result, I have had to find other things to root for. Namely, food. I always root for the team that comes from the best food culture and thus, the best theme for the party. Sometimes, the choice is clear. Like when the Saints played the Colts in 2010. Jambalaya, gumbo, boudin, crawfish, and countless other dishes instead of bland Midwestern fare? Laissez les bon temps rouler! But this time, we have two cultures that in my mind carry equal weight in the food department. So here are a few ideas for some crowd pleasers in either theme, with a little bonus at the end. I apologize ahead of time to anyone looking for specific measurements and things of that sort. If you just absolutely need to know exact times, temperatures, and detailed instructions, I suggest reading this with a stress ball or a glass of wine to sooth your tortured mind.
Shippin’ up to Boston
Chowder to the People
We’ll start with our Yankee brethren to the north. We are all familiar with the Irish roots of many New Englanders, or so the Dropkick Murphys like to remind us over and over again with the repeated playing of that song every time a Boston sports team is in some kind of championship. Which, admittedly, is a lot. But, what is often overlooked is the strong Portuguese culture in the region. Many Portuguese fishermen from the Azores established communities in the Northeast, some going back as far as colonial times. The last time the Pats were in the big game, I made what I called a Portuguese clam chowder. It’s essentially a classic creamy clam chowder spiced up with some smoked paprika and linguiça, a dry-cured sausage (similar to salami). If you can’t find linguiça, Spanish chorizo works just as well. The smoky, mildly spicy backdrop goes perfectly with the richness of the chowder.
First, sweat some onion and garlic in butter over low heat.
Add the linguiça and let the fat render out a bit, giving everything a soft, orange glow (no political jokes here, please.)
Throw in diced potatoes and let them cook in the butter and sausage for a few minutes.
Cover it all with white wine, cream, and clam juice and cook till the ‘taters are tender.
Put the clams in at the end. You can use fresh clams, but I would steam them and chop them up ahead of time. If you do, use the steaming liquid instead of clam juice.
Top with chopped parsley and slurp it down.
If you want to make it super Portuguese-y, you can replace the clam with bacalhau (dried, salted cod) but adjust your seasoning as necessary.
New England is also famous for its clambakes. These can be a big production, usually done outside (very similar to crawfish boils for my fellow third-coasters), but you can make a simpler version in your kitchen:
Throw a couple different types of clams, mussels, lobster, corn on the cob, small red potatoes, garlic, and onion into the biggest pot you got, and steam away. The quality of the shellfish is very important and obviously can be very expensive, so bear that in mind. Maybe get your guests to kick in a few “clams”. Get it? Fine, back to the dish.
To keep the food out of the water and in the steam, you can pack a bunch of seaweed into the bottom of the pot so everything sits on top. In the absence of seaweed, just make sure you put the vegetables on the bottom.
As soon as the bivalves pop open, you’re ready to eat. Make sure to have plenty of butter handy.
Now, you could go all out and dig a big hole in your backyard in which to do the steaming, but I think this may take some attention away from the drama on the field.
It wouldn’t be a party without some kind of dip. We all love to dunk, scoop, dredge, and slather our way to gastronomical bliss and the Super Bowl is prime dipping time. I submit two options for your consideration: a decadent cheesy lobster dip and a more quotidian Boston baked bean dip.
For the lobster dip, think lobster mac and cheese without the mac:
Grate some good Vermont cheddar cheese and add a bit of processed American cheese (like Velveeta) and a dusting of corn starch for binding purposes (thanks to Serious Eats for the idea) then melt everything together over low heat. You can thin it out with some milk to the desired consistency if it’s a bit too thick.
Then mix in some cooked lobster meat, finely chopped. You want even distribution of the lobster instead of large chunks.
The bean dip is far simpler:
Stew some navy beans in chicken stock with bacon, molasses, red wine vinegar, garlic, and onions until tender, then blitz it up in a food processor. Add some pickled jalapeños for a kick.
How d’ya like them apples?!
Dirty South, Y’all
Sky’s Out, Thighs Out
We now cross the 39th Parallel on down to Atlanta, the home of Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, and Southern Hip-Hop. It’s an area that loves its food almost as much as its hyphens. The first dish that springs to mind is fried chicken. This is a little tricky to make for a large group of people, but maybe a more intimate gathering is a better idea. Who actually likes that many people anyway? Whatever you do, I recommend using skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs for juiciness, flavor, and a shorter cook time (and hyphens). You’ll have to plan ahead, however, as an overnight bath in buttermilk is essential. For the chicken that is, but hey, I’m not here to judge. The classic frying vessel of an iron skillet works best, but you can use whatever heavy bottomed pot you have. The method to the madness:
Fill your skillet/pot with about an inch of vegetable oil or shortening and bring it up to 350°F.
Double dredge that chicken in flour seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne then gently lay them in the oil, skin side down.
Cook in batches that don’t overcrowd the pan.
Fry until golden brown on the bottom, then turn them to finish cooking on the other side.
Let them cool on a rack and hit them with a sprinkle of salt and bit more cayenne.
Now enjoy the most satisfying crunch since Joe Theismann.
Balls to the Walls
If you’re thinking frying batch after batch of chicken for your friends sounds like more work than wrestling a greased up hog in heat, that’s ok. I have another idea. Balls. Collard balls, to be specific. My mother makes spinach balls for Thanksgiving and this is a great adaption for the theme.
Stew up a bunch of collard greens until tender, then finely chop them by hand or in a food processor.
Mix them with seasoned bread crumbs, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and eggs for binding.
Roll them into 1 in. balls and bake them in a hot oven until golden brown and serve with good mustard.
It’s everything you want from collard greens baked into a crispy ball, except for maybe the pot liquor. Just drink normal liquor instead.
Now Dip, Baby, Dip
For the Atlanta theme, I think the most appropriate would be a pimento cheese dip. The classic version includes mayonnaise and cream cheese and of course, pimentos. Now, I hate mayonnaise and cream cheese and I think we can do better than pimentos. For this version we’ll use a mild, fresh goat cheese (chevre for the insufferable foodies) for the creamy component and a mixture of poblano, red bell pepper, and pickled jalapeños in place of the pimentos.
Chop up the peppers and sauté them in a neutral oil with chopped garlic until tender, but keeping their vibrant color.
Mix about half and half the goat cheese and grated cheddar cheese, then add the peppers.
Mix in a food processor until desired consistency is reached. Some like it smooth, others chunky.
Season to taste.
**For extra credit, you can slather that dip between two pieces of bread, butter up the outside, brown it on both sides, and cut it into quarters for some pimento grilled cheese bites. If you then dip those bites in the pimento cheese, I think we can safely say you have transcended the known planes of existence.
BONUS: H-Tine, Holdin’ it Dine
“I represent that H at the bottom of the map”- Slim Thug
As you know, this year’s Super Bowl is hosted by none other than my hometown, Houston, TX, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include a section on what is probably the best food city in the United States (take that, Shelbyville!). That’s a bold statement, but Houston has the goods to back it up. With arguably the most diverse urban population in the country, there is almost nothing you can’t find. Whether it’s a multi-course tasting menu at one of many renowned chefs’ envelope-pushing restaurants or a humble pupusa from a hole in the wall, Houston has it all. With Vietnamese, Hispanic, Cajun, South Asian, and countless other influences, to represent the city with just a few dishes would be impossible. Instead, I’ll just give you my favorites.
Firmly at the top of this list, and an easy one to feed a crowd, is gumbo. I know it’s more associated with South Louisiana, but Southeast Texas has its fair share of surnames ending in –eaux and because of the oil industry and the odd hurricane, there has always been plenty of crossover of Cajun culture. There is no other dish in American cuisine that converges technique, depth of flavor, and a rich cultural history in a more beautiful symphony than a pot of gumbo. It is also tied to some significant memories for me and deserves its own post, so I won’t get too into here. I’ll just give the Cliff Notes version.
Start with a dark, chocolate colored roux (flour and butter mixture), then add in your trinity (onions, celery, and bell peppers), and okra.
Sauté till tender then toss in either tasso ham (spicy smoked cured pork) or andouille sausage, or both if you’re feeling wild, along with filé powder (ground sassafras) and any extra spices you want. If you’re doing chicken, this is the time to add it.
Add whatever stock matches your ingredients (fish, shrimp, chicken, etc.), covering everything by at least an inch.
Let it simmer for a couple of hours to bring all the flavors together.
If you’re doing seafood, add it at the end.
Serve over rice and enjoy.
Again, this barely scratches the surface of what gumbo is and what it means to me, but it’s a good start.
The Fajita Effect
Another great party food, and Houston staple, is fajitas, or tacos al carbon. It too is a dish connected to fond memories of backyard grilling with my dad and grandfather so it gets a well-deserved silver medal. Supposedly introduced to gringos at the original Ninfa’s restaurant in the East End, fajitas are now a mainstay of Tex-Mex cuisine all over the world, but no one does it better than us. Marinated for hours in lime juice, tons of garlic, cumin, chillies, salt, pepper, and oil, the humble flank steak undergoes a transformation into something truly wonderful. Here’s a couple tips for fajita optimization:
Sear over hot coals (that would be the “carbon”)
Thinly slice against the grain
Serve with warm flour tortillas and sautéed peppers and onions. A bit of pico de gallo and guacamole wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Houstonians love their dip, and I ain’t talkin’ Copenhagen. I just mentioned pico and guac, but there is also Texas caviar, seven layer dip, red salsa, green salsa, a bunch of other salsas, and of course the undisputed king of them all: queso. Walk into any Tex-Mex restaurant in the city of Houston and you will find some version of this among their appetizers. It might be white or the classic golden yellow. It might have gound taco meat in it. It might be spicy or mild. But it’s there, in all its melty glory. The most basic version is a stick of Velveeta and a couple cans of Rotel, but since it’s the Super Bowl, we might as well make a super version:
First, get your hands on some carnitas (basically Mexican pulled pork) or make your own. A lot of it.
Then grate some pepper jack cheese for extra flavor.
Now chop up fresh tomatoes, onions, and a mix of fresh and pickled jalapeños.
Mix with cubed up Velveeta (or other processed cheese) and melt it all together over low heat.
Top with fresh cilantro and sliced green onions for the final flourish and watch as your house is turned into an opium den of depravity with your friends and loved ones losing any sense of dignity or self-worth, cheese dripping shamelessly down their chins as they chase another hit of that sweet, sweet coma-inducing queso.
Well, that’s it. I hope you enjoyed these ideas or maybe were inspired to come up with some of your own. As a final note, I recommend pairing whatever you make with an appropriately themed beverage (hmm, another post perhaps?) But whether you’re pahking the cah in Hahvahd yahd, hitchin’ yer gunrack to the back of the Chevy, or rollin’ in the slab grippin’ wood grain, remember to be responsible. Have fun, y’all!
P.S. A word of warning: If any of you make “Texas chili” and proceed to defile it with tomatoes and/or beans, I will personally hunt you down and destroy everything you hold dear.
(Super Bowl watching in NYC)
Oh, and my wife and I also have blog! Check it out at http://dillonsgo.blogspot.ie/