Down South by Donald Link and Paula Disbrowe is a celebration of Southern food and heritage, although this “South” is more of the Cajun-Mississippi region, rather than the Carolinas-Georgia area that I traditionally associate with the term. A great variety of dishes are presented in this book from watermelon gazpacho with crabmeat to sweet & sour spring onions.
The photography of Chris Granger is superb throughout the book, as we’re treated not just to food porn but also to the landscape of the book’s South:
There’s pictures of ramshackle buildings, the coast, and the like peppered throughout the book, bringing the dishes to life. It’s always fantastic to see the dishes themselves of course, but I also think that a good cookbook helps to put the food in context:
Not only do we get a recipe and a picture of the finished dish on this page, we also got a blurb from the authors regarding the ingredient (Royal Red shrimp). The preceding page talked about the provenance of the shrimp, while this recipe mentions that you can use any Gulf shrimp, although Royal Reds provide the best results, along with an admonishment to grill using coals to add another dimension of flavor.
There are recipes for items I’ve never heard of before and I consider myself an expert in barbecue (hailing from the Carolinas, with family in Texas and Tennessee). And even then, I’d never heard of Alabama white barbecue sauce (p 71). And no wonder – the main ingredient is mayonnaise. No real barbecue purist would deign to even consider putting mayo on meat, no matter whatever else you may slap into there (vinegar, horseradish, lemon juice, cayenne, and more).
There’s more than just main dishes and protein-based dishes in the book – there’s also a few desserts:
The desserts at times look better than the main dishes, but that’s to be expected from mayo-slatherin’ Southerners. The main ingredients of this book’s recipes seems to be fat in some form, seafood, and pork. That’s not a bad thing if the recipes are good and for the most part, they sound good. I don’t see anything truly “game-changing” about any of the recipes – they’re mostly simple enough, but rely on being able to find certain ingredients, especially fresh. If you’re not able to find fresh Gulf shrimp or fish, you might as well ignore those recipes entirely.
That’s actually one of the downfalls that was mentioned by Donald Link, how he was unable to find fresh ingredients until the advent of farmer’s markets in that area a few years back, finally elevating the dishes from “decent” into “good” territory.
The design of the book itself is good for the most part – my favorite part are the blurbs on some recipes that provide ingredient highlights or insights. Most of the recipes are photographed, and there’s a decent enough narrative to make the book somewhat worth more than its recipes. The book design was by Jan Derevjanik and Stephanie Huntwork, whom I should admonish for allowing the authors to spell “Italian” as “I-TALIAN”, which appears throughout the book associated with that recipe. I don’t care if it’s a cutesy way to type it out, it’s distracting and incorrect.
Overall grade: C+
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Binding: Casebound paper, sewn pages, headbands (Excellent)
Paper: Semi-glossy (matte, but glossy photographs)
Affiliate link: Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything (Amazon)
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.