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.
Make your own vegetable vinegar.
The right vinegar can elevate any vegetable dish from good to great. "We create our own from the same vegetable we're serving," says Brock. "You should see our 'R & D' kitchen – it's full of bubbling jars of vinegars and fermented juices." Indeed, the fact that Brock has nearly 60 different vinegars (including a Pabst Blue Ribbon version) in his garage confirms that the acidic liquid can be created from any vegetable: jalapeños, cucumbers, collard greens, cabbages. All you'll need is a little booze and some imagination.
Your move: Juice your vegetable of choice using a juicer or food processor. Strain it. Then mix three parts juice to one part "live vinegar," which contains jellyfish-looking unheated mother vinegar (Brock likes Bragg's vinegar, which can be found in most better grocery stores). From there, add about a tablespoon of high-proof, clear alcohol (Everclear if you can get your hands on it). Mix it all up. "Keep that in a mason jar, cover it with a cheesecloth, seal it with a rubber band, and let it age a month to two months at room temperature," says Brock. The best way to use vegetable vinegar? "Just add a few drops onto the dish after you've braised a vegetable. It brightens everything right up."
Credit: Courtesy of Neighborhood Dining Group