Yes, I loaded the Kings of Leon onto my Amazon Cloud Player and rocked out reading Link’s seductive text. Why do I call it seductive? I’ll share the first paragraph of his introduction, so you’ll understand:
“‘I’m going back down South now.’ It’s a line from my favorite band, the Kings of Leon. For me the lyrics, especially cued to a guitar, stir up strong feelings, a yearning for a very specific place and our way of life here. My life in the South – the birthplace of Elvis, the blues, jazz, rock and roll, and country music – is cued to a soundtrack that includes everything from “Freebird,” the anthem at our high school parties (where we’d meet up in the country and drink beer), to the song “Whipping Post,” the background music for shooting pool and wearing my favorite cowboy boots at the Gator Bar (a classic backwoods dive) in Baton Rouge. There aren’t words to describe what it’s like staring out at the stars from the back of a pickup, on a warm summer night, while “Seven Bridges Road” by the eagles pals on the radio.” (page 9)
See why I’m hooked. This is a cookbook that’s not just about great food by sharing a piece of the heart. Food at its best isn’t just about taste and texture, but about the love, care, and memories that each bite conveys. Donald Link’s Down South is about sharing those Southern memories and hospitality. I can’t imagine a better guide than this James Beard Award-winning chef who’s traveled and sampled food throughout the South.
Starting with cocktails then cocktail party fare, this cookbook is a celebration of a culture where, according to Link, “Most Southern men feel as at home in a grungy hunting camp as they do at a black-tie gala…There’s always a tipping point, a graceful exit of formality before the booze kicks in and leads to long conversations where you make lasting connections with the other guests.” (page 35)
Some of the cocktail party recipes I know will become my own, in addition to the Blue Crab Beignets, are the Fancy Spiced Pecans, Sweet and Sour Onion Jam, Spicy Cheddar Crackers, and Parmesan Bacon Gougeres. Now I just need the occasion!
My trip through the South with Link continued to the most Southern of delicacies – the barbecue. Yes, I began to scent the aroma of hot coals and slow grilling meats. Being a Northerner with a Southern heart, I loved Link’s description of what sets barbecue apart in each region.
“The sauce issue is where the divide begins in the South. Texas is smoke and salt and beef brisket; sauce is an afterthought. Memphis sauce is sweet, and the Carolinas prefer a vinegar sauce. It all comes down to personal preference; everybody should eat what he or she likes. I like them all, depending on where I am and what I’m eating. It would be a boring world if all food tasted the same, so I embrace the differences.” (page 66)
Now who’s ready to take a road trip with me to sample all the various forms of barbecue? Well, if you can’t get a way now, you can recreate many the sense of the Southern barbecue thanks to Link’s recipes.
The seafood section is the one I’ll be returning to again and again. Yes, this girl would love to transplant herself to a Gulf Coast town, but if that’s not in the cards, I’ll be making Watermelon Gazpacho with Crab Meat, Beach House Ceviche, Shrimp and Crab Spaghetti, Scallops with Green Garlic Butter (oh, this brings back memories of shucking oysters for a similar dish in a French Alpine hotel).
The variety of shell fish recipes is outstanding. In addition, Link explains the different types of shrimp – the Gulf shrimp he grew up with, Royal Red shrimp form the Florida-Alabama border. I’ve never been brave enough to try making Soft-Shell Crabs at home, but may well do so once they’re back in season with Link’s recipe and careful instructions.
What meal is complete without fabulous side dishes. I’m already plotting out carrot-raisin salads, Cajun macaroni salad, among several others.
Finally, the desserts in Down South rock! I’m ingesting calories just reading the recipes, but each one will be worth it. Salted Caramel Peanut Brittle Ice Cream, White Chocolate Macadamia Blondies, Hath Bar Brownies with Fudgy Chocolate Icing, Spiced Apple Pecan Bread, Aunt Sally’s Coconut Pie … Oh my goodness, that’s just a partial selection of the amazing sweet treats that Link shares.
Now, which books would I pair this cookbook with? Quite simply any Southern title, but having just read Sandra Hill’s Snow on the Bayou that would get my vote. I’m planning on comparing recipes for the Monday Red Rice and Beans in each book and coming up with one that will be my own.
If you love good food, great conversation, and the South, Donald Link’s Down South is a must-read for your cookbook shelf. Even if you don’t cook, this is a book that you’ll enjoy reading.
From the Publisher
Donald Link Down South with Paula Disbrowe
Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything
Clarkson Potter ⎜ 9780770433185 ⎜ $35.00 ⎜ Feb 25, 2014
Perhaps best known as the James Beard Award-winning chef behind some of New Orleans’s most beloved restaurants, including Cochon and Herbsaint, Donald Link also has a knack for sniffing out a backyard barbecue wherever he travels and scoring an invitation to sample some of the best food around. In Down South he combines his talents to unearth true down home Southern cooking so everyone can pull up a seat at the table and sample some of the region’s finest flavors.
Link rejoices in the slow-cooked pork barbecue of Memphis, fresh seafood all along the Gulf coast, peas and shell beans from the farmlands in Mississippi and Alabama, Kentucky single barrel bourbon, and other regional standouts in 110 recipes and 100 color photographs. Along the way, he introduces all sorts of characters and places, including pitmaster Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ, Louisiana goat farmer Bill Ryal, beloved Southern writer Julia Reed, a true Tupelo honey apiary in Florida, and a Texas lamb ranch with a llama named Fritz.
Join Link Down South, where tall tales are told, drinks are slung back, great food is made to be shared, and too many desserts, it turns out, is just the right amount.