How to make celebrity chef John Ash's favorite American dishes
Is there an American cuisine? And if so, what does it taste like?
With my Good Food Hour co-host, Steve Garner, I recently interviewed Yale University history professor Paul Freedman about his new book, “American Cuisine and How It Got This Way” (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2019).
It's a fascinating read and points out that despite what skeptical foreigners and even a lot of Americans have denied - that there actually is an American cuisine. It ain't just hamburgers and pizza!
Freedman provides lots of proof that there is an exuberant and diverse, if not always coherent, American cuisine that reflects the colorful history of our nation.
“What Americans eat reflects eclecticism and experimentation, not obedience to tradition or rules,” he writes in the book's introduction.
“Why not have guacamole or blue cheese with that burger, or maybe try some pineapple on that pizza?”
In his book, Freedman looks at three threads woven into America's food history - the regional traditions that existed before the 20th century, our penchant for standardized food preparation and our contradictory yearning for variety. At the end, he also folds in the artisanal food revolution of the 1970s and the rise of farm-to-table eating.
This provides the author with a framework for the flavors - think peanut butter, barbecue sauce and pumpkin-spiced everything - that have influenced the American palate.
I'm sure most of us have dishes that define who we are and where we've been. This, then, is a remembrance of some of those recipes that define my culinary wanderings.
This is a traditional fish stew from San Francisco. Its origins are thought to go back to Genoa. Early immigrants who came to San Francisco from there improvised on a recipe they called Guippin.
There are other suggestions about the origin of the name. Some say that the name came from “chip in” (with the Italian “o” added), which encouraged each fisherman to throw something in the pot to feed the fishermen and their families.
Probably apocryphal but it's a charming story. Don't be put off buy the list of seafood below. Use whatever you have, just like those fishermen.
Makes 8 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup chopped carrot
2/3 cup chopped celery or fennel
1 28-ounce can whole peeled or diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
2 1/2 cups red wine
5 cups fish or chicken stock
3 large bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (2 teaspoons dried)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (or to taste)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 whole Dungeness crab (2-3 pounds), cleaned and chopped into sections
1 1/2 pounds fresh mussels (18-24)
1 pound rockfish or Pacific cod, filets cut into 2- inch cubes
16 medium deveined shrimp
8 thick slices of sourdough brushed with garlic olive oil and toasted
1/4 cup chopped parsley or basil
Heat the olive oil in a deep soup pot over moderate heat and add onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Sauté until vegetables are lightly browned.
Add the tomatoes, wine, stock, bay leaves, basil, oregano, fennel seed and chile flakes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook partially covered for 25 minutes. Strain if desired, discarding solids and return broth to pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add crab and mussels to the broth and cook over moderate heat until mussels open. Add fish and shrimp and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until fish is just cooked through.
Place a piece of toasted sourdough in the bottom of warm bowls and ladle soup on top. Sprinkle chopped parsley over all and serve immediately.
There are many riffs on this dish, but James Oseland, former editor of Saveur, describes it best: “Joe's Special is one of the most odd and divine scrambles known to man. Consisting of egg, garlic, spinach, and ground beef, the dish originated in San Francisco in the 1920s, at a long-gone Italian American restaurant, New Joe's.
Later, it was the signature dish of a Bay Area chain called Original Joe's - and a standby for countless home cooks in Northern California, including my mom.
At least once a month, we ate it for dinner, and I still make it, as there are few dishes so appealing and comforting to eat.”
When I was a young man in San Francisco, it was a go-to dish after a night of maybe too much “socializing”!
Makes 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
8 ounces ground beef chuck
1 (12 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry in paper towels
8 eggs, lightly beaten