The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem
By Marcus Samuelsson
Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt, 384 pages, $52.95, publishes on Oct. 18
From its opening dedication "to the people of Harlem," it's clear that Marcus Samuelsson's The Red Rooster Cookbook is much more than a compendium of restaurant recipes: It's a passionate love letter to the neighbourhood he has called home since 2005.
There are essays from local artists, musicians and restaurateurs including George Gabriel, owner of Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken, who preaches the gospel of presalting: "If you gone eat that chicken tomorrow, you gone season it today."
There are excellent playlists for each day of the week, a snap to assemble in the age of Spotify and Apple Music. Then there are Samuelsson's breathless, stream-of-consciousness stories that read as though they were dictated while riding around Harlem on his trusty black bike.
This quilt of colourful contributors sewn together with Samuelsson's infectious energy makes you want hop on the next plane to New York and visit a neighbourhood he describes as "a constant intersection of culture and mystique."
Born in Ethiopia and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, Samuelsson rose to culinary stardom in the mid-1990s at Aquavit, a high-end Scandinavian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, N.Y., where, at 24, he became the youngest chef to be awarded three stars by The New York Times. Since then, he's built up a celebrity-chef empire that includes an eponymous restaurant group, James Beard Awards and a line of specialty teas.
Part of the impetus for Red Rooster came from his mother, who admonished him for catering mostly to the 1 per cent. "You should cook in your neighbourhood. Not just fine folk would like to eat your food," he says she told him. And since he opened the doors in 2010, Red Rooster has been Harlem's most talked-about restaurant, a place that draws everyone from local walk-ins to U.S. President Barack Obama.
In addition to the soul food of the Great Migration, Rooster celebrates all the cuisines of Harlem, from the Latin specialties of El Barrio to bread baked by the Jewish immigrants of yore. But be warned: Restaurant recipes are labour-intensive by nature. Factor in the many subrecipes and sourcing exotic ingredients, and this is a cookbook for weekend projects. But you will eat very well on weekends.
There are a handful of easy ones, such as the cornbread, a dense, rich, tangy version that must share some DNA with cheesecake. Purists will scoff at this unconventional loaf, then proceed to eat three slices without pause.
My favourite dish, which I've adapted below, is a vegetarian rendition of braised collard greens, a southern staple that almost always contains pork. Red Rooster's uses a generous slick of Ethiopian-style ghee, which adds buttery richness and subtle spicing. It is patented Samuelsson: Take a dish with roots in Africa and return it to the motherland for an exciting new twist.
Servings: 6 to 8
Ready time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
1 lb unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 large bunches collard greens (about 2½ lbs total)
1/2 cup spiced butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
Salt to taste
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic, shallot, ginger and spices. When mixture starts to bubble, reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 30 minutes. (Remove from heat if mixture starts to brown.) When it’s done, skim and discard foam. Strain through fine sieve lined with four layers of cheesecloth. Transfer to airtight container. Spiced butter will keep in fridge up to three months.
Remove stems of collards. (Discard or save for vegetable stock.) Cut large leaves in half lengthwise. Cut crosswise into 1-inch wide ribbons. Wash in large bowl of water. Lift leaves out with hands and set aside.
Heat spiced butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion. Cook, stirring, five minutes. Add as much collards that will fit in pot. Cover. As they wilt, add remaining collards. Add chili flakes, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cover. Reduce heat to main gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, for 1 hour.
Adapted from The Red Rooster Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson.