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Blue Plate Special: Lowcountry cuisine comes to Blue Heron

  • Deborah Snow, co-owner of the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland, shows off her caramelized onion deviled eggs. Create your own at home using the recipe in today’s Blue Plate Special. RECORDER STAFF/Paul Franz

  • Caramelized onion deviled eggs at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland. RECORDER STAFF/Paul Franz

  • Executive Chef Justin Mosher dresses lightly smoked pork ribeye with Carolina barbeque butter sauce and cheddar grits at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland. RECORDER STAFF/Paul Franz

  • Lightly smoked pork ribeye with Carolina barbeque butter sauce and cheddar grits at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland. Paul Franz

  • Fried oyster with bacon cabbage slaw remoulade at the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland. Paul Franz

  • Deborah Snow, co-owner of the Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland, garnishes her caramelized onion deviled eggs. Paul Franz



For The Recorder
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Anniversaries give people and institutions an opportunity to have a good time — and also a chance to look back at their origins.

Deborah Snow and Barbara White, owners of the Blue Heron on North Main Street in Sunderland, will indulge in both of those activities next week as they mark the 20th birthday of their restaurant.

On Friday, Oct. 27, at 6:30 p.m., the restaurant will present “Lowcountry Living,” an evening of Gullah cuisine and culture. The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved people who lived and still mainly live in the area between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, known as the Lowcountry.

“These African Americans created and maintained their traditions,” Deborah Snow told me when Paul Franz and I stopped by the restaurant recently. “They were isolated.”

She explained that many of the Gullah lived on islands to which there was no bridge until the 1950s. As a result, their culture was allowed to flourish into the 20th century. That culture included a number of African elements as well as traditions that originated in this country.

I asked what the Gullah had to do with the origins of the Blue Heron. Snow is from the Midwest; White, from New Jersey. Snow noted that before founding the restaurant, the two traveled around the country, in part to decide “what and who [they] were going to be as a restaurant.”

They were influenced by the sense of place and cuisine in two American regions — the Midwest and the South’s Lowcountry. In both areas, people have traditionally relied on the local land for their food and in large part for their identity, Snow told me.

They ate what was in season. They were generous in their cooking and in their culture.

In anticipation of this fall’s anniversary (the restaurant opened on Nov. 4, 1997), the two restaurateurs took another road trip, primarily to the American South. “I call it ‘the red-state tour,’” said Snow with a smile.

Visiting Saint Helena Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, they stopped in at an art gallery called the Red Piano, which specializes in Gullah art: The sweetgrass baskets for which the Gullah people are known and many folk-art paintings.

As the pair were preparing to leave the gallery, an artist named Sonja Griffin Evans walked in the door. “There was this incredible synchronicity,” noted Snow.

Born and raised in the Lowcountry, Evans specializes in vibrant, colorful interpretations of her culture’s past and present, including a group of paintings known as the American Gullah Collection.

Evans and that collection will visit the Blue Heron for the anniversary evening, which will feature an extensive, multi-course Lowcountry buffet on which Evans, Snow, and executive chef Justin Mosher have collaborated.

“Sonja’s a great storyteller,” enthused Snow. “She’s so alive and warm.”

To round out the evening’s offerings, opera singer Xan Jennings will perform. The contralto is on the advisory board of the South Carolina Cultural Heritage Society and frequently works with Sonja Griffin Evans.

Snow and White planned the event to feature the hallmarks of the Blue Heron over the years: Locally grown food, music, art, conversation and that amorphous ingredient known as authenticity.

The anniversary evening costs $80 and includes a champagne toast. To reserve a place, call the Blue Heron at 665-2102.

Paul Franz and I were lucky enough to be able to try just a few of the projected anniversary offerings: Pan-fried oysters with cabbage-bacon slaw, deviled eggs with buttery caramelized onions, and delectable pork with a butter barbecue sauce. Snow and Mosher kindly shared some of the recipes.

Deviled eggs with caramelized onion

The proportions in this recipe are vague on purpose; even the onion may be varied to taste. The butter and onion flavors come through beautifully in the resulting eggs. “You can’t eat just one,” Snow said of these treats.

Ingredients:

1 medium onion

Butter as needed for sautéing

12 hard-boiled eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Mayonnaise to taste

Dijon mustard to taste

A few drops of Worcestershire sauce

Instructions:

Slice the onion and sauté it in butter over very low heat until it becomes soft and brown. This may take up to 1 hour. Add more butter as needed to keep the onion from burning.

When the onion is ready, allow it to cool to room temperature, then chop it finely. Add it to the egg yolks, along with the salt, pepper, mayonnaise, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.

Pipe or stuff this filling into the egg whites.

Makes 12 deviled eggs.

Pork with Carolina vinegar barbecue sauce

The Blue Heron will use a pork cut its cooks called “pork ribeye” on Oct. 27. This cut is not readily available to consumers, however, so the recipe has been adapted here to use pork tenderloin. The smoking makes the pork extra tasty, but cooks without a smoker (like me!) may skip that step.

Ingredients:

2 pounds pork tenderloin

Salt and pepper to taste for the pork

Oil as needed for searing

¼ cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup cider vinegar

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder

1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon black pepper

Salt to taste for the sauce

2 tablespoons cold butter

Instructions:

If you have the capacity to do so, lightly smoke the pork. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Salt and pepper the meat generously, then pan sear it in the oil.

Transfer the pork to the oven. Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees. While it is roasting, prepare the sauce.

In a saucepan, combine the mustard, cider vinegar, sugars, chili powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture reduces by half (about 10 minutes). Stir in the butter.

When the pork is done, let it rest for 5 minutes. Then, slice it thinly and spoon sauce on top. Serve over grits. (See recipe below.)

Serves 4 to 6.

Cheddar grits

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 cup white grits

1 cup white cheddar cheese

Salt to taste

Instructions:

Place the water, cream and garlic in a medium pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the grits. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring until the mixture thickens and the grits taste done.

Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the cheese and salt.

Serves 4 to 6.

Food writer Tinky Weisblat of
Hawley is the author of “The
Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” For more information about Tinky visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.