Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking

Craig Claiborne, who studied at the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland, and has written such books as THE NEW YORK TIMES INTERNATIONAL COOKBOOK, seems synonymous with the finest European cuisine. Yet his own roots are in the American South, and he regards as his most prized cookbook not the many French classics that he owns in first editions but rather a notebook of recipes his mother prepared for him, including all of her favorites from the boarding house she ran in Indianola, Mississippi.

Many of these recipes are for the traditional foods one associates with Southern cooking: deep-fried catfish, chitlins, collard greens, shrimp creole, gumbos, pecan pie, she-crab soup. Others represent a new wave of the region’s cuisine such as blackened redfish or charcoal-grilled stuffed quail, the former developed by Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans, the latter by Bill Neal of Chapel Hill.

Claiborne, too, has created many new dishes here by playing variations on traditional themes. His version of catfish fillets in white-wine sauce elevates an old standby to the level of haute cuisine. Anyone regarding grits as inedible will be pleasantly surprised by the recipe for shrimp with cheese grits or baked garlic-cheese grits. Black-eyed peas move from the cabin to the Big House when they associate with a vinaigrette sauce.

Adding even more spice--literally -- to this cookbook is a wide selection of Tex-Mex food. While one might not regard these dishes as truly Southern, Claiborne assures the reader that they were as much a part of his Mississippi childhood as the creoles and gumbos of Louisiana or the seafood from the Chesapeake and Carolina low country. Altogether, Claiborne offers some mighty fine eating here.