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Announcing Cured: Cooking with Ferments, Pickles, Preserves, & More
Howdy cookbook fans!
And welcome to a very, very, very special issue of Stained Page News. This is the issue where I FINALLY reveal the project I’ve been hinting at in this newsletter for years, a project that I think is worth the wait. Because it’s easily the best project I’ve ever worked on—proud is an understatement.
I am talking about Cured: Cooking with Ferments, Pickles, Preserves, & More by Steve McHugh with Paula Forbes. (That’s me.) (You knew that.)
But maybe you’d like to hear more about the book first?
Steve is a chef in San Antonio; the name of his first restaurant, Cured, has multiple meanings. Because Steve’s specialty is charcuterie, it’s “cured” like hams and other meats. But also this is the restaurant he dreamed up with his wife Sylvia while he was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over a decade ago, a restaurant that would be a light at the end of the tunnel during treatment.
Cured now has another meaning: it’s a cookbook. Or it will be, when it comes out in March. And it’s one hell of a cookbook, at that. With over 150 recipes, Cured aims to teach home cooks how to cook with preserved foods. It has recipes for sauerkraut and pickles and jams, yes. But the bulk of the recipes are not for preserved foods, they use preserved foods. These are dishes that can be made with store-bought mustards and salad dressings and spice blends and sundried tomatoes. Because this is a book that is less about how to make preserved foods, and more about why.
After all, cooking with preserved foods is just a fancy, cheffy way of saying pantry cooking.
So why are chefs like Steve obsessed with preservation?! Plenty of cookbooks will tell you how to put food in a jar. This one will tell you what to do with it once you take off the lid—whether that lid reveals homegrown strawberry jam or a tub of supermarket strawberry ice cream. And once you’ve figured out that why? Our hope is you’ll catch the preservation bug.
Let me back up. Almost 5 years ago, I got an email inviting me to go down to San Antonio to discuss the possibility of writing a cookbook with chef Steve McHugh. At the time, Steve had just the one restaurant—he’s since opened three more—but his reputation as one of the best chefs in the country had been fully established. I was thrilled.
“I’d love to,” I responded. “You’re asking because we’re both from Wisconsin and live in Texas, right?”
Nope! They had no idea. But it turned out to be serendipitous—Steve and I got along like gangbusters. (Just, uh, don’t ask how thick our Wisconsin accents get when we talk on the phone.) We quickly decided it was a good fit. The tricky part was figuring out the cookbook concept.
How to tell Steve’s story alongside recipes for his food? We ruled out a charcuterie book as too complicated, although some easy charcuterie recipes did end up in Cured. And publishers just aren’t as hot on restaurant cookbooks as they once were. So the trick was figuring out what Steve had to offer home cooks that made sense in parallel to telling his story as a chef, and Cured’s restaurant story. What was the cookbook only Steve could write?
Well, some home cooks might find making salami and hams intimidating, but pretty much everyone can make a spice blend or garlic confit. And they make tons of preserved foods at Cured, not just the complicated stuff. So preservation might be a good theme.
There was something sticky there, something deeper going on in the storytelling. We settled on the idea of preservation as a metaphor for lingering, prolonging. Making the good stuff last longer, whatever “the good stuff” might be. It’s a metaphor that fits Steve’s cancer journey, and the story of the restaurant, and the hows and whys home cooks might want to know about preservation. (I am not joking when I say I tear up every. single. time. I read the introduction.)
So we spent a few days in the back room of Cured with a giant stack of post-its (anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you I always show up armed with a bunch of post-its), coming up with recipe ideas. How would this work, exactly?
And here’s what we came up with: The book is divided by preservation method: Acid, Ice, Dry, Sugar, Fat, Cure, Ferment, Smoke. Each chapter has several “Base Ingredients”; these are your preserves, and you can make them using the recipe provided, or buy them at the store. And then there are 4-5 recipes that use each Base Ingredient. So here’s how a section works, using one of my favorite Base Ingredients from the Acid chapter: Mustard.
You get a recipe for Mustard, of course (which, by the way, is so much easier to make at home than you’d think). Then there are several variations: Beer Mustard, Sambal Mustard, Sweet Potato Mustard, Cherry Mustard. We give you a few easy ideas for using mustard, like adding a dab to macaroni and cheese to amplify the cheese flavor. And then there are the dishes:
A basic Remoulade (Steve came up in New Orleans restaurants, so there’s a lot of that in the book, along with Wisconsin and Texas, of course)
Mustardy Potato Salad with Bacon
Split Pea Soup with Whole-Grain Mustard
Mustard-Glazed Sheet-Pan Chicken with Root Vegetables
So you can make that sheet-pan chicken with your homemade cherry mustard or a store-bought honey mustard, and you can make the potato salad with sambal or beer mustard, and you can make the soup with...you get it. Right?!
Here are some of my favorite recipes from the book:
“Pimento” Cheese, made with pickles of your choice
Tomato Soup with Tiny Pasta and Greens, which uses jarred tomato sauce
Summer Squash Salad with Pesto and Pepitas (love that freezer pantry!)
Granola Pie, which is like pecan pie but with…granola!
Chipotle Marmalade Chicken Wings
Fregola with Preserved Lemons, Bacon, and Greens
Cured Fish, Melon, Cucumber, and Green Onion Salad (this is our cover dish!)
Kimchi Meatloaf (if you don’t count the glaze, this recipe only has six ingredients and is just astonishingly delicious)
Smoked Nuts Chocolate Tart
Okay so this is the part where I ask you to pre-order the book. As I am sure you have heard from other authors, pre-orders can be so so so important for a book launch. And! We’ve partnered with San Antonio bookstore The Twig, which just happens to be located right next door to Cured.
If you pre-order from the Twig, your copy will be signed by both me and Steve, and you will get the satisfaction of keeping your shopping choices both indie and local. (Well, local to Cured, anyhow.)
Truly, this is the best thing I’ve ever worked on. Which includes this newsletter, which I assume you enjoy, since you’ve read this far! It would mean the absolute world to me if you pre-ordered Cured. I love this book, and I think you’ll love it too.
Thanks as always for reading. And please behold this fantastically massive charcuterie board that was our last shot of the photo shoot. We ate it to celebrate!