I started writing this book on paper plates and paper bags.
I walked around with an entire book in my head from my years. Paula Deen happened, my response went viral, agents started calling and asking if I had a book in mind. Two years of journeying around the South, supported by Y’ALL 😊finding my food roots and family routes and the foundation was laid for The Cooking Gene. From finished chapters, to rough drafts to proof copies to the day the books arrived, I kept having the moment of arrival. Except I was wrong.
Every time y’all engage with this work and add your own stories, recipes and narratives or speak to your Ancestors, the book continues. This is the point this book is community property. No matter what your origins or identity, we are family now.
I love each and every one of y’all.
I met a lady in the Bay Area who scraped the funds together to come to the MOADSF dinner. Another couple drive 60 miles. A mom in Atlanta brought her three daughters out to see me and they were in tears. I’ve had people find out we were cousins as a result of reading this book. It’s so beautiful to see the human family come together with something positive.
I am grateful.
I appreciate every moment of this dream unfolding into reality.
I am excited to see how I can use my journey to help other people and flourish.
I am so glad I can share this with you my friends. You are loved.
When I first started doing this, I had my own intellectual interests at heart. Meeting everyone out there in the world has transformed me. My heart is bigger. I know we can strive for better. I know everyone has a story to tell.
Keep on with me, the journey isn’t over.
Country Captain a la Hazel
This was my Grandmother’s version of Country Captain, a dish strongly influenced by contact with India put through the lens of enslaved cooks in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry plantation kitchens. You can use bacon fat or you can use canola oil to start the sauce, but essentially this a smothered chicken that is delicious over rice, millet, grits or mashed sweet potato. You can try to serve this to six people but I bet you that you won’t get past four folks.
8 pieces of chicken, with the breasts cut in half
1 tablespoon of Kosher salt
1 tsp of kitchen pepper (see page 24 of The Cooking Gene)
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Fish Pepper Sauce (see page 24 of The Cooking Gene) or 1 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of Sun Brand, Madras Curry Powder
1 tsp of Bell’s poultry seasoning or another brand
Mix the spices and season the chicken pieces in a large glass bowl. Get deep in there. Get under the skin, rub tidily. Wash your hands—those spices will kill your eyes, nose, etc. Cover with plastic and set in the refrigerator for a few hours. Best done in the morning or even overnight.
¼ cup of canola oil or bacon fat
1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon of Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder
1-2 tsp of kosher salt or seasoned salt
2 tsp of kitchen pepper (see page 24 of The Cooking Gene)
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes with juice
1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
4 cups of vegetable broth (make your own with 2 carrots cut into rounds, 1 onion studded with cloves, 3 pieces of mashed garlic, 2 parsnips cut into rounds, 1 cubed turnip, 1 bunch parsley, 3 chopped celery ribs and 1 small cubed sweet potato covered with water, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper and simmered for 3 hours)
Saute the vegetables in order after heating your oil to a medium high heat in a stockpot. Let them sizzle and talk. Cook together for five to seven minutes or at least until the onions are clear. Put in the spices then tomato product. “Fry,” for a few minutes, stirring well, then add the broth and allow this to come to a boil and then reduce heat and allow it to cook together for about 30 minutes on a low heat. Taste and adjust before you put the chicken to bed after frying it as below.
1 cup of all purpose flour or gluten free substitute like rice flour or cornmeal
1 cup of vegetable or canola oil or a cup of oil heated with a half a cup of clean bacon fat heated on a medium-high setting.
Flour the pieces of chicken and fry on both sides for about 5 to 7 minutes each. The chicken will not be done but will be golden brown on the outside. Set on paper towels on a plate or platter to drain. Put pieces of chicken into sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Turn down to a low heat and cook in stockpot for about 35 minutes, covered. Turn off heat and allow this to mellow for about 20 minutes before serving with cooked rice, millet or mashed sweet potatoes. Rice is of course, the best thing in the world with country captain—Carolina Gold or basmati are perfect.
When my Grandmother made “curry,” or Country Captain there were always relishes with it. I don’t mean chopped pickle. Ours were little glass bowls of thinly sliced scallions, golden raisins that had been plumped with a little hot broth or water, thin carrot shavings, chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh coconut flakes, slivered almonds, fresh parsley etc. If you so choose, you can feed the eyes and the mouth with the rich color of these garnishes on the table.
One of the secrets to our cooking is making sure every single layer of the recipe is seasoned well and has a complicated and beautiful flavor. I do not season my flour because it tends to burn with things in it—so all of the spices go into the meat being fried. I also make a broth that is really rich. You can use a ready made broth and that’s better than water, but a homemade broth with tons of vegetables makes things so much more savory and tasty.