Bitchin' Cooking Tips, From Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis

Plus: Burlap and Barrel’s co-founders on how to spice up your quarantine cooking

Photo: Wes Frazer

On January 2nd, 1939, Time Magazine released its “Man of the Year” issue—with Adolph Hitler on the cover. Hitler, they declared, had done the most that year to influence the news “for good or ill.” Reader: It was for ill.

In 1968, Muhammad Ali posed as though he were being crucified for protesting the Vietnam War on the cover of Esquire, alongside the headline: “The Passion of Muhammad Ali.” Elijah Muhammad’s son himself had to give permission for Ali to take on a Christian pose. 

In 1980, Annie Leibovitz photographed a naked John Lennon spooning a fully clothed Yoko Ono. The same day, Lennon was struck four times by a .38 special revolver. The next month, that Polaroid appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone

These magazine covers live on to this day because they captured a moment in time after which nothing would ever be the same. 

In a way, while far less famous, Cooking Light’s 2015 cover featuring Michelle Obama twirling a healthy bowl of noodles and veggies captures a similar inflection point. It was the first time a human being had ever been on the cover of the magazine, which is known for featuring blown up pictures of food. And it was meant to be a triumphant celebration of five years of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign. 

The article concluded with a quote from former Cooking in Quarantine guest Andrew Zimmern: “How can we ever go back on Let’s Move?” he asked, rhetorically, before declaring: “We can’t.” 

A few years, which felt like a few decades, later, President Trump was serving the Clemson Tigers Filets-O-Fish and Big Macs in the State Dining Room. And in recent weeks, as COVID-19 has swept through the country, students haven’t only been left without the healthy school lunches for which Mrs. Obama advocated; in many cases, they’ve been left without any lunch at all.

Editor’s Note: Donate to No Kid Hungry, which is feeding young people across the U.S.

Why, you may be asking yourselves, am I ranting about magazine covers from history, besides the fact that I am desperately trying to escape the present? Well, the answer is that today’s guest on Cooking and Quarantine is the man behind that Cooking Light cover: Hunter Lewis.

After spending four years editing Cooking Light, he became the Editor-in-Chief of Food and Wine, my favorite magazine about, well, read its name. In a past life, he also worked as a food editor at Bon Appetit, before it was cool. 

Hunter has spent a lot of his career editing articles about cooking, but these days, like all of us, he’s doing even more of it than usual. And while healthy eating might be gone from the White House, the spirit of “Let’s Move” lives on in Hunter’s kitchen, where he’s been making miso salad dressing, cooking nutritious recipes out of his magazine, and eating what sounds like a metric fuckton of something called Bitchin’ Sauce. 

Here’s more on how he’s been Cooking in Quarantine:

How Hunter stocked up

Hunter: I've sort of gone through like a few different phases of stocking up. And the first phase was boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Buying those in bulk and then packaging them into fours and freezing those. 

And then also getting frozen wild Gulf shrimp—large wild Gulf shrimp from my fishmonger and freezing those in one-pound bags as well. So that was like my practical phase—trying not to go overboard, but making sure I had key proteins in the freezer. You could do a million different things with those staple proteins.

And then in terms of pantry items, I got rice. A lot of it. Carolina Gold, which I love and which is a precious commodity at any point—and then a couple different short and long-grain white and brown rices, including Lundberg. And then, randomly, three different kinds of miso. That was my weird impulse craving.

Editor’s Note: California Gold *does* appear to be available right now on Amazon, though it will take just over a week to ship.

My second phase of stocking up started with the idea of: Let's support the farmers, let's support the fishmongers, the local makers. Over the past two weeks, I bought way too many proteins—some might freezer-burn—and some pretty esoteric stuff. I mean, I've got some chicken feet that I need to make some stock with. I've got some beef shin bones that I need to make some broth with. Different kinds of frozen sausages, andouilles and things like that.

Even though it’s beautiful outside, we’re still in early spring when it comes to vegetables. So essentially every farm is offering produce right now, it's basically like a little baby CSA. We’re getting random boxes of monster kohlrabi, beautiful little potatoes and turnips, any greens that we can get our hands on—some beautiful chard, tatsoi, things like that. I think the really good stuff we're all greedy for right now, the strawberries and asparagus, those are in short supply so far.

How he’s using all the miso he bought

Hunter: I try to use it like I would Dijon. It's always there as a back note. Marinades. Stirring some into soups. Dressings.

The dressing I've been making is not like a typical miso-ginger deal. It's more Caesary. It's garlic, chili flakes, a little Dijon, miso, anchovies, lemon juice, splash of any kind of vinegar, and olive oil. And the miso and the mustard kind of help emulsify all that. And then sometimes I'll add extra garlic and do grated parmesan in there, too.

How to make Hunter’s go-to stewy congee 

Hunter: I've got this rice and pea and shrimp stew that I make a lot. Super easy. It's kind of like a congee.

So you marinate shrimp in a lot of black pepper and fish sauce—and a little sugar and some minced shallots. And then you sautee that, you dump in rice that you've broken up in a Vitamixer and a spice grinder to make it extra piece-y and starchy. And then you add water times eight. So it's like really, really loose. And then it all comes together and thickens up, and you throw in a bunch of spinach and scallions and mint and cilantro. And that's really good. That also works with, like, you know, shredded, roasted chicken, things like that.

The Food & Wine recipes he’s been making

Hunter: We did a killer issue of Food & Wine in March, and that's got some recipes that I'm craving right now. One recipe I made last night, I just had for lunch again today—smoked Khao Soi. And that's from the Nolintha family in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Khao Soi is a Laotian gift of broth, noodles, and pungent pork ragout that keeps on giving.
Look for the recipe from @bidamanda @vanvisa and story by @ninafriend in the March issue of @foodandwine and on the interwebs at foodandwine.com.
April 9, 2020

READ: The Nolintha family’s Khao Soi recipe

And then another one—because I’ve got frozen quarts of black beans in my freezer—is called enfrijoladas. And that's from the Guelaguetza clan in L.A. That's in the same story in the March issue.

It’s almost like an enchilada, and you puree soup-like beans as your sauce, and you dip your tortillas in that. And then you shave cheese over the top of that, and thinly slice white onions.

READ: Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral’s recipe for Enfrijolades.

The bitchin' pantry staple Hunter’s been loving

Hunter: I’m embarrassed to say, but there is a sauce that I get at Whole Foods, and it's called Bitchin’ sauce. The one I've got here is chipotle-flavored bitchin’ sauce. It's made in Carlsbad, California, by Bitchin’ Inc. It’s so good that I’ll dip Wasa crackers in it.

It's really good with tossing roasted carrots in, and you can eat those cold the next day. It's a nut based sauce, an almond base. A lot of garlic and other good stuff. It’s definitely been a snack-y pantry staple, almost in lieu of, like, hummus.

BUY: Bitchin’ Sauce, direct from their bitchin’ website.

What Hunter’s Been Thinking About In The Kitchen

Hunter: I've been thinking a lot about my grandparents, who are long gone. When this shit first broke out and everything was hitting the fan, I kept thinking: “Man, I would love to ask them questions about this.” Like: What was the depression like, and how did it shape them?  

And I can already see how this is going to shape us, and how we’re going to be talking about it decades from now. So, in my mind, I’ve been thinking: OK, what would they do? First order of business for my grandmother would be, like, ironing shirts. I’ve been thinking about her—she used to make a bleu cheese dressing with the last of the mayonnaise in the mayonnaise jar.

So that's on my mind, too.

So is skillet fried chicken.

Editor’s Note: I dug up this 2012 video of Hunter making skillet fried chicken, which looks delicious. I also found a beautifully written 2011 essay Hunter published about his grandmother’s first cookbook: a 1963 edition of The Joy of Cooking.

How you can support those who need help most

Hunter: So my first order of business is: Support local.

I’ve been buying some take out from my favorite restaurants in Birmingham—and from people I love with the farmer's market. And before my fishmonger closed, because the boats in the Gulf were shut down, I bought a lot from him. I also bought a lot from my butcher. And then I would expand that out.

I really love what Edward Lee is doing in Louisville, that Lee Initiative, and creating community kitchens and restaurants for unemployed restaurant workers—to feed them, to feed the communities.

I think what Chris Shepherd and his team are doing with Southern Smoke down in Houston, partnering with The Restaurant Workers Community Fund, is awesome.

I also think what the Beard Foundation is doing with their disaster relief fund is great, too.

Editor’s Note: You can support the Lee Initiative’s Restaurant Workers Relief Program here, the James Beard Foundation Disaster Relief Fund here, and Southern Smoke here.

Food and Wine also published a SUPER helpful article on how to support restaurants across the country. It’s comprehensive and has specific action items for readers, tailored to where you live, so click👏the👏link.


HOW TO SPICE UP YOUR COOKING, WITH BURLAP AND BARREL’S FOUNDERS

When Seth Godin and his family praised Burlap and Barrel in our newsletter, an unprecedented number of you clicked on the link to buy their insanely delicious spices. Clearly, folks are getting tired of relying solely on S&P for seasoning. 

And by “folks,” I mean “me.” So, like many of you, I listened to the Godins and ordered Burlap and Barrel. But because my brain is more scrambled than a Gordon Ramsay egg, I put in the wrong address for shipping. Naturally, I wrote an apologetic email to the customer service account on Burlap and Barrel’s website, assuming I’d receive an automated response, since, uh, people in the food industry have more important things to worry about. But then, I got an email back from one of Burlap and Barrel’s co-founders, who personally changed the shipping address—and threw in a few free spices for good measure. 

Which is all to say: These guys, Ori Zohar and Ethan Frisch, are mensches, and you should buy their spices. In case you’re not convinced by me—or by Seth Godin—I spoke to the Burlap and Barrel co-founders themselves. And they dished on why they’re the ones to spice up your quarantine cooking. 

Editor’s Note: This is not sponsored content! I just really like B&B!

Which spices you should be buying during quarantine

Ori: Our paprika is excellent. We've been selling a lot more of the royal cinnamon, because I think everybody's baking at home. That really sweet, a little bit spicy cinnamon just kicks up these dishes. 

We've seen a run in our bay leaves, because everyone's stewing, and making pots of stuff that they're leaving on the stove for a long time.

Ethan: It’s crazy – we’ve sold more bay leaves in the last two weeks than the last two years. We literally cannot pack bay leaves fast enough to keep up with the demand that has appeared overnight. It’s insane.

Ori: One of my favorites that we recently bought is our purple-stripe garlic. People have had dried garlic and it sucks, so people don't think about it too much. But this one smells and tastes like a roasted garlic. I smell lemongrass and basil in there. And it's just such a flavor booster. I keep adding it to everything that's savory that I cook.

Why you should choose Burlap and Barrel

Ori: The quick pitch is that spices have origins, and where they come from and how they're grown and how they get here really matters. And in the same way that we care about where chocolate, our produce, and our meat comes from, how our spices come to us really matters. So what we've built is a single-origin spice company. We work directly with small-holder farmers. We connect them directly to kitchens and homes and restaurants all across the U.S. And so what we have is really fresh, really high-quality spices that have been sourced equitably, paying farmers a living wage.

It’s kind of like the difference between having an apple at a grocery store, and then going to a farmer's market and taking a bite, and you're like, “Oh, right. This is what this should taste like.” So that's what we're trying to convey with our site and with the descriptions of all that stuff online.

People are home a lot more right now. They're cooking many more meals and they're looking to jazz things up.

Ethan: The thing that Ori mentioned already that’s worth restating and talking a little more about is the fact that people don't know anything about where their spices come from. Home cooks who care about their coffee, or care about their produce, or care about their meat, often have no idea that, for instance, black pepper is even a plant—let alone how to identify processes on the farm that influence the flavor of the ultimate product that you're cooking with. 

Cinnamon, likewise: one of the most iconic ingredients in the American kitchen. And people have no clue that it’s tree bark, that it’s four different species, that they all taste different, that the age of the tree matters. Cinnamon stick is really about the aesthetic of the curled stick, and not about flavor—it tends to be mediocre cinnamon that just looks really nice. 

There’s just this whole world of agriculture and supply chains behind spices that even pretty sophisticated home cooks have no idea about. And that's where we spend most of our time: trying to open people up to that—not even trying to change their minds, but just to introduce them to this concept of spices as coming from farms; as being plants.

What You Should Cook If You’re Scared of Spices

Ori: People look at spices and say, “Well, great. Now I need to learn how to cook Indian cuisine.” People assume that integrating spices into their cooking means that they need to start all over. I think it ends up being intimidating.

We just encourage people, as much as possible, to throw stuff on dishes that they already make—to play with them and experiment with them. Think of spices as awesome ways to add flavor that don't involve salt or sugar or fat. 

What we like to say is, cook with what you know. These spices are a really great upgrade to what’s in your pantry. 

I have a couple of go-tos. One is, I do fried eggs and throw spices on them. A fried egg with herbs and chili is heavenly. A fried egg is a really good place to experiment with different spices—I have some friends who throw turmeric on there, or ginger, garlic, whatever. It's all kind of fun and interesting. I always like to cook a big-ass pot of beans, and I throw paprika in there, thyme, more garlic, a little bit of ginger. The cumin is excellent in there. 

Beans are also really good, because by themselves they can be delicious, but they take on flavors really nicely. Those have been some of my hits here in the household.

Ethan: The other night, I made a flounder in spiced butter recipe, which was delicious, but also super versatile. You could make this spiced butter with any spices and use it in a lot of different applications. I did garlic powder, black lime, purple peppercorns, a little bit of cumin, quite a bit of coriander, over a very low flame. 

I actually did it in a wok, and let the butter infuse all the spices for 10 minutes. And then I added the flounder and let it cook really slowly. It came out really nicely, but I could’ve put anything—veggies or chicken or anything—into the butter, and stir-fried it or coated it, and roasted it. You can swap out the spices really easily, too.

How they’re keeping everything in stock, given the strain on the supply chain

Ethan: Luckily, we did a big round of importing in January and February. So we had a decent amount in stock. 

We're now working on other shipments, and we've had either total stops or delays. We had a shipment from Turkey that took three weeks to clear customs coming into the U.S., where in the past it’s taken a couple of days. We had two big shipments stuck in India. Who knows when the lockdown’s going to end there? 

We have a shipment stuck in Guatemala, with a lockdown there. So we're just trying to feel it out. 

Meanwhile, we've gotten a shipment out of Vietnam without any delays. We got a shipment on the water from Indonesia with no issues. We’ll see what happens when they get here, and how they clear. But it seems like every country has been dealing with it so differently that we just have different situations in every country we're working in. So it's really a day-by-day, trying to solve the problems as they rise type situation.

How their business is surviving this disruption

Ethan: March was pretty insane. It started off normal, and then we lost all of our restaurant accounts, which is about half of our business. That was rough for us—but not nearly as rough as it has been for the restaurants themselves.

So that felt a little bit apocalyptic to have half the business evaporate overnight. And we really didn't know what the next step could be for us. 

But direct-to-consumer has always been the other half—and people really stepped up.  It's been pretty incredible, pretty emotional. We wound up ending March having had one of our best months ever. 

We're in a good position now, and people cooking at home, people shopping online, that works really well for us. So we’ll worry about supply chains and sourcing and importing everything—the back end of it—how that's going to work going forward. But for the moment, I think we’re fine.

Editor’s Note: Ethan also sent a picture of his mother-in-law’s Kabuli Pulao, made with Burlap and Barrel spices. And, after some prodding, he shared the recipe, which you can read below:

Shazia's Kabuli Pilau: Spiced Rice with Meat (or Chickpeas)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

~2 cups or ⅓ pound Basmati rice
3-4 tablespoons ghee, butter or neutral cooking oil
2 onions, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup raisins
1-2 carrots, julienned into matchsticks
¼ cup pistachios, toasted
¼ cup walnuts, toasted & chopped
¼ cup almonds, sliced & toasted
1 lb lamb or mutton (any cut with bones, traditionally shank or shin) OR 1 can (or 8 ounces cooked) chickpeas

Spices:

1 tablespoon wild mountain cumin seeds
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon verum
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons smoked pimenton paprika
1 teaspoon tumeric
6 pods yellow (or green) cardamom pods
4 cloves
1 star anise fruit
2 x cinnamon tree leaves or 3-4 laurel bay leaves

Plus: 0.25g saffron

Directions:

1. Mix saffron and 2-3 ice cubes in a small bowl and set aside to infuse.

2. Wash rice in a colander until water runs clear, then drain

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the rice. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until slightly soft on the outside but still crunchy in the middle. Drain into a colander.

4. While the rice is cooking, grind all spices (except for cinnamon/bay leaves and saffron) in an electric coffee or spice grinder to a fine powder texture.

5. In a pressure cooker, heat ghee/oil and sear the meat until brown, then add the lid and pressure-cook until tender (generally 20-30 min). Remove meat from the pan and set aside.

6. In the same pot, add onions, salt and ghee/oil and cook until onions turn deep brown. Add garlic and spices and lower heat to soften. Cook for ~10 minutes over low heat, until the texture is like a paste and the spices are fragrant.

7. Combine onions/spice paste, rice, and meat (or chickpeas) in the same pot, add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, wrap the pot lid with a cloth and cover. As the rice absorbs water, poke holes with the handle of a wooden spoon to allow water at the bottom to evaporate.

8. While rice is cooking, toast the nuts in a small pan and set aside.

9. In the same pan, sauté raisins in ghee until plump.

10. After raisins are plump, remove from pan and use the same pan, sauté carrots (with a sprinkle of sugar) in ghee until soft and sweet

11. When rice is done (al dente), add most of the carrots and raisins and salt to taste and gently fluff with a large slotted spoon.

12. Plate on a large serving dish and garnish with remaining carrots raisins, saffron-infused water and toast nuts. Serve with yogurt.

GOOD READ

Helen Rosner wrote the best piece on food I’ve read since the start of quarantine for The New Yorker. You should read it in full, but here’s a taste—her answer to the question of when you should dig into the stuff you’ve been freezing for when things get bad:

I want to say that the answer is never—because things will probably, almost certainly, be fine in the end. If you stumble upon your untouched baggies of broccoli florets eighteen months from now, I hope it’s because you need to make room for uneaten slices of birthday cake. I hope the cans of tuna and jars of peanut butter get called into action for school lunches. I hope that, soon enough, we’ll get to throw our emergency beans in the air and let them rain down like confetti around us.

Until next time...