Hominy, Tater Tots, beef jerky, mac & cheese, pickled vegetables, Red Velvet cake...lots of classic (and in some cases forgotten) comestibles have come on strong in recent times. Menus pay such ubiquitous homage to our national dishes that it's difficult to think of homegrown regional comfort foods that haven't been exploited by patriotic chefs. Don't strain yourself -- we did it for you. Here are five such items we hope to see more of:
5. Chicken with slippery dumplings: This longtime favorite of the Eastern Shore was inspired by the Pennsylvania Dutch living in the Delmarva region (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia). You like chicken? You like dumplings? Then this slippery little specialty is for you. It's simple enough to prepare: Roast a broiler chicken; prepare dumplings from flour, water, and shortening (don't forget the salt). Voilá! -- I mean abracadabra! Grab your knife and fork. (Note to restauranteurs: Hefty profit margin on this one). (Also: I think I speak for a few when I say enough with the fried chicken already).
4. Fluffernutter: This is exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, except instead of jelly you use Marshmallow Fluff. The sweet-and-salty concoction was dreamed up by Marshmallow Fluff's advertising agency, Durkee-Mower, in the early 1960s. If you've never had one, you must try it right away (especially if you're under the age of 8). I'm thinking of the Fluffernutter as more of a lunchtime restaurant treat than a dinner entree, although if cut into small interesting shapes it could perhaps get by as an intriguing a muse-bouche.
3. Herring in cream sauce: Never mind; you wouldn't understand.
3. Frogmore Stew: This is Gullah cooking at its best -- which brings up the inevitable question: Gullah? It's a Creole language combining 17th and 18th century black English and West African dialects. It is spoken by a group of descendants of freed slaves who live in a relatively isolated culture on the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Gullah cooking is like Lowcountry cooking, except Gullah cooks tend to use rendered smoked pork fat instead of butter or vegetable oil. There is also an emphasis on local seafood, which is where Frogmore Stew comes in. No, there are no frogs in it, but rather crab, shrimp, sausage potatoes and cobs of corn cooked with spicy seasonings and beer. Think of it as taking a bowl of gumbo and trading up.
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2. Shoulder of veal: Admittedly this isn't a particular dish, but it sure is a moist, tasty cut of meat that is rarely utilized. (Once again Mr. & Ms. Restaurant Proprietor: the shoulder is a relatively inexpensive cut of veal.) Because there's a lot of fat layered in, when braised the result will combine the meaty satisfaction of a roast with the juiciness of a belly cut. It can be stuffed (as we used to do as a special in The Russian Tea Room) or just cooked straightforwardly with mirepoix or vegetables. Chef Michael Symon throws some chipotle and cinnamon into his braised shoulder recipe for the Food Network. Looks like a winner.
1. Coconut custard pie: Key lime pie, lemon meringue pie, pecan pie and various fruit pies are all very popular now -- and banana cream pie is showing up on more and more menus. But coconut custard pie, with sweet white flakes flecked through silky vanilla custard, is deliriously good. Plus it would be very popular because lots of folks love coconuts and lots of folks also love coconut custard pie. And finally, the obvious reason we should be seeing this pie more often: This is Florida, and we grow a lot of coconuts.