Oh Carolina!

Thu 13 Mar 2014 @ 10:13
Author Staff writer

We've been doing a bit of work with the good people at South Carolina lately. They're keen to point out that their home state offers much more than just unspoilt landscape, historic towns and beautiful beaches – that it's pretty good when it comes to food, too. So, one lunchtime, we decided to put a couple of traditional South Carolina dishes through their paces.

The state is the home of the southern BBQ so that seemed a sensible place to start. Here, BBQ means pork. It's often shoulder, which is cooked low and slow so that the meat pulls apart. We chose a couple of racks of ribs instead – not only because they work so well but also because we didn't have to cook them so long, meaning they'd be ready in time for lunch! South Carolina BBQ sauces fall into one of two groups - either a yellow mustard-based sauce or a red tomato one. We chose tomato, a spicy concoction with a good backbone of vinegary acidity to cut through the fattiness of the meat.

For sides, we couldn't look past hoppin' john, the South Carolina version of the classic rice and beans combo, versions of which are found throughout the American Southwest and the Caribbean. The origin of the dish's name is lost to time. Some claim that, back in the 1840s, it was hawked through the cobblestone streets of the state's former capital, Charleston, by a crippled street vendor known as Hoppin' John. Maybe. One thing not in dispute is that it is supremely satisfying soul food – evocatively spiced and deeply savoury, it went brilliantly with the ribs. Throw in some BBQ-blackened corn cobs and a splash of fresh green salad leaves and we were good to go.

It's fair to say we made light work of the ribs. Spicy, sticky and nicely charred from the grill, they were every bit as delicious as we'd been promised by our friends from South Carolina. The hoppin' john was equally good, so much so that it's already become a firm family favourite after the several times I've cooked it at home (I fear I've spoiled my five-year-old son's appreciation of plain, boiled rice for ever!). What not try them for yourself...

SOUTH CAROLINA BBQ PORK

Serves 4-6

. 2 racks of pork loin back ribs (about 1.6kg)
. Rocket and watercress, to serve

BBQ sauce
. 2 tbsp brown sugar
. 1 tbsp mustard powder
. 1 tbsp celery salt
. 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
. 1 tbsp ground white pepper
. 1 tbsp paprika
. 2 tbsp cornstarch
. ½ tsp allspice
. 960ml tomato juice
. ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
. 240ml white vinegar
. 1 tbsp grated onion

1. To make the BBQ sauce, combine all ingredients in a small pot and stir until well mixed. Cook over low heat for at least 30 minutes and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Season the ribs with salt and black pepper and rub all over to coat. Put the ribs in a large roasting pan, brush with the marinade and cover with foil. Cook in the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the meat pulls away from the bone easily. Baste the ribs with the marinade after 30 minutes. After 1 hour of cooking time remove the foil, baste and cook, uncovered, for the final 15 minutes, basting halfway through.
3. Transfer the ribs to a hot barbecue or a pre-heated medium grill for a final 5–10 minutes to add extra colour and a deliciously smoky flavour.
4. Transfer the ribs to a board and cut them up. Serve with corn cobs, handfuls of rocket and hoppin' john.

HOPPIN' JOHN
This recipe is adapted from one that originally appeared in classic American food magazine, Saveur.

Serves 8–10

. 2 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1cm pieces
. 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
. 1 stick celery, finely chopped
. ½ large onion, finely chopped
. ½ large green pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
. 1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed
. 1 tsp thyme leaves
. 1 tsp ground cumin
. 1 tsp ground coriander
. 2 whole cloves
. 1 stick cinnamon
. 1 bay leaf
. 600ml chicken stock
. 400ml can black-eyed peas, rinsed
. Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1. Heat the oven to 180C. Heat the bacon in large saucepan over medium-high heat; cook, stirring, until the fat renders. Add the garlic, celery, onion, and pepper, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until soft. Add the rice, thyme, cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaf, and cook until rice is lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
2. Cover the pan with a lid and place in oven; bake until the liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Stir in black-eyed peas and nutmeg and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.

For more information about food in South Carolina, have a look at the pdf of the advertising feature from issue 47 of Jamie Magazine. To be in with a chance of winning a truly special nine-day gourmet getaway to South Carolina, go to scdiningholiday.com. Or to book your trip, check out vacationstoamerica.com/south-carolina or call 01582 469777.

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