Cookbook: The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson
The Skim: Need some inspiration for cooking with your CSA share? Want to know what the heck to do with kohlrabi? Chef Hugh Acheson will lure you in with his unpretentious, relatable style, and then help you turn out restaurant-quality recipes in your home kitchen.
My favorite cookbooks come at vegetables not from a health standpoint, but with the goal of highlighting their deliciousness. After all, I know this stuff is good for me. Happily, the recipes in Broad Fork are all about building flavor, cooking the vegetables just to the point of doneness, and combining ingredients I'd never think to put together. With Acheson's help, even something as basic as a head of lettuce can become silky, luxurious, and a total joy to eat.
Recipes I Tried
- Seared Lettuce with Pine Nuts, Butter, and Lemon (p. 61)
- Soy-Braised Turnips (p. 156)
Cooking from The Broad Fork
The recipe for Seared Lettuce with Pine Nuts, Butter, and Lemon (p. 61) may be in the Fall chapter, but it is light and quick-cooking, making it perfect for warmer weather too. I was a little dubious about plunging delicate greens into a skillet of butter, but I shouldn’t have been — it was so, so good. The butter, lemon juice, and chicken stock reduce into a flavorful glaze, and a shower of toasted pine nuts gilds the lily — and I mean that in a good way. Acheson’s final step in the recipe is to "Deliver to the table and make people happy." I may have eaten the whole panful myself instead.
Soy-Braised Turnips (p. 156) were another huge winner. A delicate bunch of small turnips (I used the Hakurei variety) get a quick browning in butter, then soy sauce, chicken stock, and thyme are added and reduced to "a beautiful soy lacquer." When root vegetables are at their tender, springy best, it is great to treat them this way, with just a quick sauté and stovetop braise.
I also loved the idea of leaving some of the stems and greens on the turnips — they were so pretty on the plate. Since making this recipe, I’ve been leaving just a bit of the tops on my carrots and radishes too, giving them a lovely, fresh-from-the-garden hint of green. It’s a cheffy touch I never would have come up with on my own.
When I manage to get my hands on some boiled peanuts, I look forward to trying the Roasted Eggplant with Boiled Peanut Sauce (p. 42). The recipe is pretty straightforward: a medium eggplant gets sliced and roasted with a generous dose of olive oil, then tossed with lots of fresh herbs, chilis, lemon, and garlic. It sounds like it would be great at this point, but chefs are all about their sauces, right? The boiled peanut sauce completes the dish, and it’s a sweet nod to Acheson’s Southern point of view, standing in for the usual tahini.
Another dish I can’t wait to try is the Kimchi Creamed Collard Greens (p. 121), but I think I’ll wait until cooler weather rolls around to try it out. A big mess of collard greens are sautéed and simmered, then enriched with a reduction including a cup of heavy cream and that eponymous kimchi. Oh, and half a pound of bacon and a glug of sorghum syrup find their way into the mix, too. This looks like a knockout holiday side dish if there ever was one!
What I most appreciated about cooking from this book were the carefully worded, accurate cooking instructions. Acheson knows how long vegetables take to wilt, just how many tablespoons of broth are required to cook them down, how much salt is needed to season a dish. He doesn't get overly wordy, but his instructions are specific enough to make all of the recipes accessible, even if you've never cooked a particular vegetable before.
What Could Be Better
In the introduction, Acheson tells us that cooking isn’t difficult or best left to the pros. In his recipes, he often ends with cutesy phrases like “Google dat.” He’s so friendly and approachable and nice, and his voice (genuine with just a dash of snark) radiates throughout this entire book.
But when you read through the recipes carefully, you see that many of them take a little doing. Okay, a lot of doing. There are some techniques in here that require an attentive cook: you’ll find yourself reducing sauces, creating a roux, and making stock and pickles from scratch. Unless you’ve done some of the preparation in advance (or taken shortcuts, like buying pre-made stock and kimchi, for instance), most of these recipes aren't going to fit on a weeknight.
Sourcing might be an issue as well, depending on where you live. There are quite a few unusual ingredients that are hard to track down in my neck of the woods, or require a special trip or online order (chili threads, ascorbic acid, gumbo file, and boiled peanuts come to mind). You might find yourself tempted to substitute — for instance, sorghum syrup feels like an unnecessary splurge when I’ve already got other sweeteners on hand, and Acheson offers maple syrup as an alternative. He also tells you that, hey, you can use lemon juice if you don’t have that ascorbic acid in the cupboard.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some of the featured vegetables have short windows of availability, so it’s best to stay close to the seasonally organized chapters to find stuff you can make right now. Even better, scope the farmers’ market or your CSA share first, and then decide what to cook. Of the recipes in the Spring and Summer chapters, I'm especially excited about Roasted Poblano and Pecan Guacamole (p. 186), Crisped Pork Belly with Kimchi Rice Grits and Radishes (p.203), and Grilled Corn Salad with Chiles, Basil, and Lime (275).
Honestly, everything in The Broad Fork looks incredible, and I want to make it all! I’ve tabbed up the recipes I want to remember to make when their star ingredients come into season. Judging by what I’ve cooked so far, it’s worth the wait, and some extra time in the kitchen. With an encouraging, can-do attitude, Acheson makes me want to reach beyond the basics and let vegetables shine.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson
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