Chef John Currence of Oxford, Mississippi knows a thing or two about good barbecue, good southern cooking, and good whiskey. Besides owning 6 restaurants, including City Grocery, Bouré, and Big Bad Breakfast—and getting a visit from Anthony Bourdain for an episode of Part’s Unknown—Chef John won the prestigious James Beard Award (kinda like the Oscars for chefs), in 2009 for Best Southern Chef.
So when he tells you how to make fried chicken or smoke a hog, you listen.
We’re listening. Chef John’s new cookbook, “Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey: Recipes From My Three Favorite Food Groups” (also nominated for a James Beard Award for best cookbook), is packed with good ol’ boy recipes elevated to high cuisine
I asked Chef John to give us a few of his favorites, some recipes we can use to impress at our next backyard bash. He didn’t disappoint. Below you’ll find instructions on how to make his smoked Tasso Ham, Coca-Cola Brined Fried Chicken, and Rosemary Cherry Lemonade to wash it all down. It’s enough to make you want to slap your grandpappy…
5 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons cayenne
2 tablespoons onion powder
5 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried sage
¾ teaspoons ground cloves
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
¼ cup salt
5 pounds pork cheeks (trimmed of fat) or pork butt, cut into 4-ounce pieces
(Makes 5 pounds)
In a small, stainless-steel bowl, combine the paprika, cayenne, onion and garlic powders, sage, cloves, brown sugar and salt. Coat the pork cheeks evenly with the spice cure mix. Wrap the meat in 3 – or – 4 piece batches tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 5 days.
In a smoker with a separate firebox, build a hot wood fire. When ready to smoke, remove the pork cheeks from the plastic wrap and hot-smoke at 200°F until the tasso reaches an internal temperature of 155°F. Remove from the smoker and store in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to day days. Alternatively, this can be vacuum sealed and frozen for up to 4 months.
COCA-COLA BRINED FRIED CHICKEN
12 chicken thighs (skin on)
Peanut oil and lard, for frying
1 qt Coca-Cola
1 tsp Liquid Smoke (optional)
2 1/2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. Tabasco
3 tbsp. ground black pepper
3 tbsp. coarse salt
3/4 cup peanut oil
Dry Mix (well combined):
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp. coarse salt
4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder
2 1/2 cups flour
Rinse chicken, drain, and set aside. Blend together brining mix until salt dissolves. Place chicken in brine in a large covered bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 hours.
Whisk egg well in a stainless-steel bowl and add peanut oil and 21/2 cups water. Add in dry mix, whisking slowly so batter doesn’t clump.
To prepare chicken: Fill a large cast-iron skillet halfway with equal amounts peanut oil and lard. Slowly bring temperature to 375 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer.) While oil is heating, remove chicken from brine and place in a colander in sink. Once chicken has drained, pat dry with paper towels (a critical step) and season with salt and pepper.
Dip chicken in batter and place (carefully) in hot oil. Adjust heat, as the chicken will bring the oil temperature down dramatically — you want it back up to just above 350 degrees. Turn chicken regularly using tongs to prevent burning. After 8 or 9 minutes, remove a piece, prick it to the bone with a fork, and mash it. If the juices run clear, it’s done. Continue cooking if necessary.
Serve with pickle-garlic relish. Cover any leftovers with a dish towel and leave out at room temperature (or in the fridge, if you must, although my grandmother never did). This keeps it crispy.
ROSEMARY CHERRY LEMONADE
1 cup sugar
8 cups water
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
½ cup chopped dried cherries
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon wheels, for service
(Makes 1 Medium-Size Pitcher)
Combine sugar with 2 cups of water and warm over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in the rosemary and let cool further to room temperature. Remove the rosemary sprig and discard.
Combine the cherries with1 cup of the water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a pitcher, combine the cooled rosemary syrup, the cherries and their liquid, the lemon juice, and the remaining 5 cups of water. Stir to combine. Serve over crushed ice with a lemon wheel.