Three flavors for spring

The fun and popular Savor the South series by the University of North Carolina Press usually brings out two books in the spring, but this year, there’s a threefer: “Gumbo” by Dale Curry, “Shrimp” by Jay Pierce and “Catfish” by Paul and Angela Knipple.

GUMBO Cover imageIf anyone knows gumbo, it’s Dale Curry, who was food editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 20 years and lives in New Orleans. (Full disclosure: I have known Dale for years through the Association of Food Journalists, and I’m the author of two Savor the South cookbooks.)

I have made gumbo as best as a non-Louisianan can, but the book offers regional takes that I never imagined. Catfish Gumbo or Quail Gumbo, anyone? There is a roux-less gumbo for those who find making roux challenging, as I once did. Curry’s directions for making roux, an essential part of traditional gumbo, are simple but useful. To tell the truth, it’s one of those things that you just have to do a few times and you eventually get it, like riding a bicycle or following knitting directions. But believe Curry when she says do not use a burned roux.

The book includes recipes for some of gumbo’s relations, such as jambalaya – including a recipe for a slow-cooker jambalaya that I’m looking forward to trying out. This is a book of classics from another area of the South that is a good addition to the series.

SHRIMP Cover ImagePierce, author of “Shrimp,” recently became chef at ROCKSALT in Charlotte after years with Lucky 32 in Greensboro and Cary. (More full disclosure: I have met Pierce and welcomed him to the Savor the South sisterhood’s men’s auxiliary; he and Paul Knipple are the first men to enter the fold.) Whenever I encounter a chef-written cookbook, I get concerned that it will have miles-long directions involving hours of prep for those of us without a kitchen full of hired help. Not here. The recipes are creative and accessible, and the stories Pierce tells along with them make you feel like you’ve popped a beer and sat down next to a shrimp-loving buddy.

How to select quality shrimp and freeze it offers great information, as well as reassurance that frozen shrimp is OK, depending on where it’s from. He also clearly explains why buying American-caught shrimp is so important.

Soups, noodle dishes, pick-up goodies like Fire-Roasted Shrimp Tacos, rice dishes like Shrimp Risotto – there’s a lot of variety here. This is a great book to carry to the beach, or make you feel like you’re there.

CATFISH Cover ImageCatfish is a staple in the Deep South, but I wondered how the Knipples, experienced food writers who live in Memphis, would handle an entire book on the ingredient.

On the surface, catfish seems limited to crispy fried plates at fish camps. But they show that catfish can play a role in unexpected places, including Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Coriander Catfish Rolls bring the ingredient to Asian spring rolls. It’s paired with Indian spices in Dodson Lake Samosas. And Delta Paella brings catfish to the Mediterranean classic. Catfish, I barely knew ye before now.

Of course, the book includes precise directions for producing perfect deep- fried catfish, and some traditional sides to go with it such as hushpuppies and slaw.

Yes, she can can

I am reading a new book and planning my summer pastimes. It’s not a travel book, though. It’s a canning book.

IMG_3119I was canning before canning was cool, when most people looked it as something their grandmothers did, and far too much trouble. Now, it’s hip. Young singles haunt canning sites on Facebook and see the delicious value in making their own items. Chefs boost their eat-local stock by canning their own sauces and relishes.

So any new book about making pickles, relishes, jams and jellies needs to walk a line between the classic favorites – I dare you to feed me something better than good-old homemade bread and butter pickles – and new-wave creativity. “Pickles and Preserves: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Andrea Weigl (University of North Carolina Press, $18) does that.

Classic Dilly Beans and Fig Preserves are next to Soft Refrigerator Honeysuckle Jelly and Salt-Pickled Cucumbers with Shiso, providing basics for those new to canning and intriguing combinations for experienced canners. None of the recipes are so far out as to intimidate, and the variety will amply stock a pantry.

Many people are frightened off canning by the possibility of giving botulism as holiday gifts. But home canning is not difficult, and if you follow simple guidelines and use the proper equipment, perfectly safe. Weigl, who is the food editor for The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., carefully offers well-researched information on the process, along with what not to do and why. (I can’t believe anyone has seriously tried to process canned goods in a dishwasher but the answer from Weigl, and me, is: Just don’t.)

Full disclosure: I contributed a recipe to the book, and have written another in the Savor the South series. I have also begged for figs from Weigl’s neighborhood and intoxicated a book club with Brandied Peaches from her book.

On Wednesday night, March 12, Weigl will talk and sign copies of the book at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, on March 25 at the Barnes & Noble in Cary, and at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on March 19. Other signings are listed here.