For Adrienne Cheatham, the concept of “Sunday best” is more of a feeling-a desire to do something with love, to put your best foot forward. The term, which is used by the Black community to describe the special set of clothes reserved for church, has been at the center of Cheatham’s approach to cooking. The name of her pre-COVID dinner party pop-up series and now her debut cookbook, Sunday Best is about feeding the people you care about most, nurturing both body and soul.
“On Sundays, especially with my dad’s family in Mississippi, we’d get dressed up and go to church, and then afterwards we’d stop by a series of friends’ and family’s houses,” Cheatham explains. “And everybody offers you something to eat. That’s their way of showing you that they care, and that you’re welcome.”
The Top Chef runner-up believes that showing care, for both yourself and others, is about taking a detour from doing something the same way you’ve always done. It’s about adding that little tweak to make, let’s say, a Tuesday dinner feel extra special.”It can be something as simple as, instead of cooking your vegetables on 350, turning your oven to 425 to get a little more caramelized, roasted flavor on the edges,” she says. “Or getting a store-bought rotisserie chicken, but then putting your favorite seasoning on the skin and popping it under the broiler just to crisp it up again.”
When it comes to Sunday breakfasts, Cheatham sees an opportunity to make use of the week’s leftovers, figuring out ways to enhance the flavors of what you already have on hand. “A weekend breakfast is always fun because you’ve got a little more time. You can wake up, be in your own space, and say, ‘Let’s see what the hell I have in the refrigerator,'” she says.
And her take on the open-faced sandwich, the Cornbread Toad-in-the-Hole with Crab and Andouille, is designed for that casual reinvention. It’s ideal for cornbread that has already been sitting out for a day or two. Chop up whatever aromatics you have, sauté some sausage, and fold in crab meat if it’s available. “If you’ve got a scallion, great. If you’ve got half an onion knocking around in your refrigerator, chop that up. It’s very low pressure,” she says.
The recipe starts on the pan, just to get the egg whites set, and then calls for an additional bake. This two-part process is ideal for having guests over, allowing you to be more flexible with time. “Say you’ve got one or two people stopping by to have brunch at your place. They’re bringing champagne, you’re cooking the food,” Cheatham explains. “You can just leave them on the tray and then when your guests get there, pop them in the oven.”If you’ve ever wondered what to do with your discarded bread holes, Cheatham suggests toasting them off to turn into croutons, or pulsing them in a food processor for a crispy crumble. You can even use them for a cornbread panzanella, which Cheatham also has a recipe for in Sunday Best.
For the andouille sausage that gets sprinkled on top, Cheatham suggests D’artagnan or Aidells brand. She likes to get her crab meat at Whole Foods, and recommends either jumbo lump or peekytoe, a picked crab that’s smaller than jumbo lump, but especially sweet.
As a finishing touch, Cheatham adds a vinegary hot sauce to cut through the richness of the crab. Sriracha and Tabasco are both great options, but her favorite condiment to use is her family’s “cha-cha.” It’s a tabletop pepper sauce created from soaking hot peppers in vinegar and sugar, letting it infuse indefinitely, and topping off the bottle with extra vinegar as you go.
“It’s funny because I learned we weren’t the only ones who did this. In my research for the cookbook, I found that it’s pretty ubiquitous,” she says. “It’s probably something that people have been doing in the South for so long that you just don’t know the origin.”Cheatham’s cornbread toad-in-the-hole recipe is just one of the ways she applies her “dressed up” approach to Southern and soul food-cuisines that have always been riddled with stereotypes.
“There’s always the misconception that it’s super heavy and you have to do things the same way they’ve been done for generations,” she says. “So, it’s fun to show that just like Italian country cooking or French country cooking, which have evolved to these venerated cuisines that we know today, Southern food can do the same. Because there’s so much beauty and nuance from region to region.”
Cornbread Toad-in-the-Hole with Crab and Andouille
Yield: Serves 6 Ingredients:
6 slices cornbread, about 3 to 4 inches wide and ½ inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 large eggs
½ sweet onion, such as Vidalia, roughly chopped (white or yellow onion will work too)
½ green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
½ red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 medium garlic clove, sliced
½ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves and stems
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces andouille or your favorite smoked sausage (about 1 link), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
8 ounces picked crabmeat (lump, jumbo lump, Jonah…all work great)
Tabasco sauce, Cha-Cha, or Fermented Pepper Sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and rub it lightly with a drizzle of oil.
2. Use a small knife or shot glass to cut out the center of each cornbread slice, leaving a ½-inch border around the outside. Save the centers in a zip-top bag for another use.
3. Heat a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Put 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan and swirl to coat. Lay the cornbread in the pan (work in batches, if needed) and toast the first side for about 4 minutes. Flip the cornbread and add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan, swirling to distribute the love among the slices. Crack an egg into the hole in each cornbread slice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the eggs are set on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to carefully transfer the egg-topped cornbread to the prepared baking sheet.
4. In a small food processor, combine the onion, green and red bell peppers, celery, garlic, and parsley and pulse 4 or 5 times, until coarsely chopped, like a Southern-style sofrito.
5. Drizzle a small amount of oil in the pan you used for the cornbread and eggs (why dirty another pan?) and heat over medium heat. Add the andouille and cook until the edges have crisped a little and some of the fat has rendered, 3-5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the andouille to a plate.
6. Add the “sofrito” to the pan and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then add the cherry tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to release liquid, 3 to 5 minutes, then return the sausage to the pan. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire and the scallion whites and reduce the heat to low. Gently fold in the crab until incorporated. Cook until just warmed through, 1-2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a few hits of Tabasco for a little spice and vinegary kick.
7. Place the baking sheet with the cornbread and eggs in the oven and cook for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are done to your liking. Remove from the oven and divide among plates. Spoon the crab-andouille mixture over the top. Garnish with the scallion greens and serve immediately.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
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