In the culinary world, vegetables have always taken a back seat to meat. Not in Sean Brock's world. "People take vegetables for granted," says the food virtuoso behind McCrady's, the Charleston, S.C., farm-to-table, veggie-centric joint. "I can convert you into a vegetable fanatic."
But achieving that feat isn't as simple as just handing over a recipe card. "Each vegetable has a unique personality and voice," says Brock. And those individual nuances make veggies, compared to your average hunk of meat, harder to get just right. But when done correctly, he says, vegetables can yield incredibly richer rewards.
We recently asked Brock – who rocks a sleeve of tattoos that feature a farmer's market's variety of everything from carrots, to gourds, to tomatoes – for a few rules that can help turn anyone from a kitchen novice to a seasoned chef into a vegetable whisperer. Here's what he told us.
Throw out the rules.
Unlike meat – which is rather consistent – vegetables shouldn't be cooked following set-in-stone instructions. That's why your first move should be to shelf your cookbook and experiment with each individual plant. "Taste each vegetable before you decide to cook it" Brock says. "Then think about a vegetable's unique characteristics before you do something with it."
Your move: According to Brock, there's a "sweet spot" during the cooking process where a vegetable reaches the perfect texture and flavor. "But people don't find it because they aren't focusing on specific vegetables' maturity stages enough." That's why you should consider each raw vegetable somewhere already along the cooking cycle. For example, a softer, riper, sweeter vegetable will require less cooking time, and vice versa for a firmer, younger, more savory vegetable. So let intermittent tastes, rather than a timer, be your guide.
Credit: Courtesy of Neighborhood Dining Group