Despite living in New York City, a place where one could theoretically go to some fabulous new restaurant every night and not run out of places to eat for some time, we’re not big new-hot-thing chasers. When we go out to eat, we want to experience new tastes but also disappear for a couple hours, not ooh and aah over the celebrity at the next table while feeling bad about our clothes. But. Every so often a restaurant gets talked up so much that we’re unable to resist its magnetism and have to go as soon as humanly possible. This happened a few weekends ago and I’m so glad that it did.
Of course, the Red Rooster isn’t just any old restaurant. First, it’s neither below 14th Street or in Brooklyn, which alone makes it unlike the other 100 restaurants there’s been buzz about in recent years. Mostly, though, the food tastes different. The chef, Marcus Samuelsson, was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and moved to New York where he fell in love with soul food and manages to blend these influences together into food like we’ve never tasted before. I’ll spare you the point-by-point on the menu, the web is full of gasping Yard Bird and Uptown Steak Frites reviews. I’ll only admit that we ordered too much, which we always do when the menu looks so good it is impossible to make decisions. Also, there was cornbread.
No doubt you would hate being at a communal table (the only place where schlubs like us could get a seat) with nosy old me because I will totally spy on your meal. Because of this, I couldn’t help but notice that not a single party skipped the cornbread. We took the hint and indeed, it was fantastic. With a little kick from Turkish red pepper flakes, it was served thickly sliced and toasted with slathering options of honey butter or an African-spiced tomato jam. Or you can use both at once, if nobody is looking. I know we had a lot of good food that night — and, while we’re being honest, a few bourbon negronis to soften the blow of paying taxes that morning — but I couldn’t forget about the cornbread so I went to seek it out. It turned out that I didn’t have to go far because Samuelsson, on top of being an awesome chef and food activist is also a blogger and a share-r of his recipes, the the Red Rooster Cornbread was there for your home enjoyment. But first, mine.
One year ago: Creamed Chard and Spring Onions and Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing
Two years ago: Buttermilk Ice Cream
Three years ago: Cauliflower, Bean and Feta Salad and Pizza Bianca
Four years ago: Margarita Cookies, Tequila Lime Chicken and Green Onion Slaw
If my archives are any indication, I am on a constant hunt for my Cornbread Nirvana. I’ve made Yankee cornbread (sweet, cake-like), Southern cornbread (nominal sugar, with a cast-iron skillet crunchy edges) and even my own bastardized version (goat cheese, caramelized onions) but this one is different. There’s no butter or lard in it. There’s very little buttermilk but a lot of sour cream. There’s a bit of sugar, but only enough to balance the salt and heat. It’s as good toasted with honey and butter as it is with spicier fare, like chili, and it makes a really fun addition to your weekend scrambled eggs. So is this it? I’m not positive, but I liked it enough that I plan to make it six or seven more times, just to think real hard about it. What I’m trying to say is, it’s addictive.
Aleppo is a Turkish bright red pepper flake with a mild-to-moderate kick and a bit of tartness. I bought mine from Penzey’s in Grand Central. If you don’t have aleppo, a regular red pepper flake, cayenne or hot paprika, in a much smaller quantity, would be a nice substitution.
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (145 grams) yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoon (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dried aleppo flakes
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Generously butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick spray.
Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, aleppo and salt together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, buttermilk and olive oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones, mixing until just barely combined. Spread the batter in your prepared and bake for 22 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
Serve in slices, toasted with honey butter or salted and honeyed brown butter.