Chain restaurants have brought a depressing monotony to the American diet. Olive Gardens and Outback Steakhouses in Miami and Memphis are the same as their counterparts in Peoria and Portland. Yet many regional cuisines are alive and well around the country, from Cajun food along the Gulf Coast to Cuban dishes in Miami. Some of these local cuisines are quite popular; most people have probably tasted a bowl of New England clam chowder, Chicago deep-dish pizza or jambalaya. But many of these regional foods fly under the culinary radar. You may not have heard of some of the following dishes, but they’re definitely worth a try … and they’re relatively easy to make at home.
4. Brunswick Stew
This Southern dish is a fixture at church barbecues and BBQ joints around the region. There are competing claims as to the stew’s origins, with both Virginia and Georgia dedicating historical markers as the “birthplace” of Brunswick stew. So it’s only fitting that stew lovers vigorously disagree on what should go in the big pot. Essential ingredients include tomatoes, corn and lima beans, but different variations also include rice or potatoes. There is even disagreement over the state of the ingredients (Peeled tomatoes or tomato juice? Fresh corn or creamed corn?) Most people tend to agree on chicken or pork as the meats of choice, instead of the original squirrel or possum used in 19th century recipes. Plenty of different recipes are available online; many of them are very time intensive, taking two hours or more to prepare. Here’s a slow cooker Brunswick stew recipe on MyRecipes.com that can be prepped in 15-20 minutes, and left to cook all day for that night’s meal.
The pasty might as well be the official symbol of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where you can find the food virtually everywhere from roadside stands and festivals to specialized pasty shops. A pasty is certainly not much to look at — it’s basically a pastry wrapped around a filling of meat, potato, onion and some other vegetables (Rutabaga? Yes!). That utilitarian form once served an important purpose. The pasty came to Michigan in the 1800s, with Cornish immigrants who went to work in the UP’s iron and copper mines. What could be more convenient for a hard-working miner to eat on the job than an enclosed meal in a single wrapping?
If you can’t visit Michigan’s scenic Upper Peninsula, here is a pasty recipe shared by a former Yooper who moved to New York City and developed a craving for her old favorite. The big debate here is store-bought versus homemade pie crusts. This is probably more of a time than a taste issue.
2. Southern Pulled Pork Barbecue
Pulled pork is served around the U.S. in many different forms, but in the South, it is treated with great reverence. Some Southerners will argue the merits of ketchup-based versus vinegar-based sauce more strenuously than they debate politics. Pulled pork barbecue is much easier to make at home than people think. There are many different recipes out there, but we’ll throw a penalty flag on any of them that suggest pulled pork can be prepared in an oven. Technically, it can — but where’s the fun in that? This is a meal meant to be prepared in a smoker or grill. Here’s a recipe on SouthernLiving.com from an Alabama native who moved away from home and went searching for the best pulled pork recipe. If you want our opinion, go with the vinegar-based sauce.
1. Lowcountry Boil
So you’re trying to figure out what to make for a big family gathering. You’d like to try something different, something fun, but you know Uncle Ed and Cousin Tony are hard-core meat-and-potatoes” guys. Introducing Lowcountry boil, a favorite in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. This pot full of goodness includes those essentials — smoked sausage and red potatoes — along with some other items to make the dish interesting. Also known as Frogmore stew or Beaufort stew, this meal is ridiculously easy to make. If you can boil water, you can make this like a pro.
Total prep time is about 45 minutes. If you want to be truly authentic, dump the cooked meal out on newspapers or paper bags and let everyone scoop up their food. If you want to be even more adventurous, substitute crawfish for the shrimp. That might freak out Uncle Ed and Cousin Tony, but they can stick to the other stuff in the pot. Here’s a Lowcountry boil recipe from CoastalLiving.com. A couple of important things to note: This is obviously not a meal for anyone who has a shellfish allergy, so if you’re not sure about everyone in attendance, steer clear. Secondly, use every recipe for this meal only as a general guideline for cooking time and prep, and alter the amounts as you see fit. Most recipes tend to overestimate the amount of shrimp guests will eat, and underestimate how much sausage and especially corn people want. Really, do you know anyone who is satisfied with half an ear of corn?