The acclaimed southern chef Sean Brock abides by certain rules, codes to live (and cook) by. So in late summer, when farmers markets are brimming with gorgeous produce, he wants you to remember three big rules to wrest maximum flavor from high season corn, sweet peppers, peas, squash, and whatever else you can get your hands on.
Rule Number One: “Learn to shop,” says Brock, the former co-host of The Mind of a Chef and current owner of some of the hottest restaurants in the South, including Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, and Nashville. “You’re looking for vegetables picked at that absolute peak moment of ripeness.” The more a plant or vegetable is handled, says Brock, the more it deteriorates. “So try to find farmers who pick stuff from the field right into a truck and then drive to market,” he says.
Born and raised in rural Virginia, where his family grew cabbage and corn, Brock has built his reputation on reviving the foods of the pre–Civil War South: Sea Island red peas, benne seeds, traditional country ham. He’s dabbled in farming, too, with a plot on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina. That’s where
Brock developed Summer Produce Rule Number Two: “Don’t overcook it.”
“There was just something about eating vegetables out of my own field, still warm from the sun and alive, that taught me the value of handling them as little as possible,” he says. “It’s all about chasing the precise instant when great vegetables slip past raw to being just barely cooked, so you keep all that fresh f lavor but you’re not just biting into a raw radish.”
Which leads us to Summer Produce Rule Number Three: Make succotash.
The all-time champion of southern summer staples, succotash is an opportunity to toss together whatever amazing produce popped up in the market that day. “Succotash is really a theory more than a recipe,” Brock says, “so it doesn’t matter what you’ve got.” The dish goes great alongside chicken, fish, and beef, but Brock also suggests serving it as a main course. “In that case, I might add white beans or some kind of hearty grain like farro or rye berries,” he says. (Cooked first, of course.) “If you really want to try something cool, make the succotash a little thinner, with extra chicken stock,
and then, when everything else is just about cooked, drop in some beautiful, small pieces
of peeled fresh shrimp and let them poach.”
“Or, while we’re on the subject,” Brock says, “skip the shrimp and add even more broth and call it a soup! Oh, and I always top my succotash with lots of fresh herbs, like tarragon, chives, or parsley.” Fresh herbs, of course, raised right by a good farmer and, in this case, not cooked at all.
- Serves 4 to 6
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- ó sweet onion, sliced thin
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
- 2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob
- 2 cups fresh peas (about 1ó lbs), shelled
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock, chicken stock, white wine, or beer
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 ounce Asiago or Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 tbsp minced herbs (parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon, or some combination)
- (Optional: 1 cup cooked white beans or 1 cup cooked farro and/or 2 cups chopped fresh shrimp)
- Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until foamy. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 4 minutes.
- Add garlic and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers have barely softened, about 5 minutes.
- Toss in the corn kernels, peas, and stock (or wine or beer) and bring to a bare simmer (no hard boiling). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stock is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. (If adding cooked beans, grains, or shrimp, this is your moment.)
- Add cream (and, if you’re using beans/grains/shrimp, an extra 1/2 cup of stock), simmer, and stir until liquid has thickened and everything is warmed through, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from stove, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and stir in lemon juice. Gently fold in cheese and herbs and transfer to a serving bowl.