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.
Use the juice.
The juice inside vegetables is what gives them their true, bright flavor, explains Brock. But most cooking methods do more to strip that juice from the veggie than to leverage it for taste. The key is to create a barrier around the plant that locks in its juice throughout the cooking process. Brock's favorite method is to coat the vegetable in butter, olive oil, or a salt and egg mixture. "The natural water inside the vegetable hits the butter (or oil or salt) barrier and emulsifies. You get a beautiful glaze, and you're now braising a vegetable in its own juice. When it's done it will blow your mind."
Your move: Try the salt-baking method, which works particularly well for unpeeled root vegetables like beets. Take a pint of salt and add two whipped eggs to it. After that, lay part of the salt mixture out on a baking sheet to create a "bed" for the vegetables. Coat the vegetables in the remaining salt mixture and bake at 350 degrees until tender, usually about 20-30 minutes. Peel them. Dice them. Serve them. "You can also flavor the salt," says Brock. Try adding chopped bay leaves and orange peels to the mix.
Credit: Courtesy of Neighborhood Dining Group