American Cuisine: Succotash

We knew there would come a time on The World Cup of Food when we would be tasked with presenting the food of our home nation, the United States of America. What would we prepare? Hot dogs and hamburgers? Fountain drinks the size of five-gallon buckets? Movie popcorn? The abomination that is instant mashed potatoes? We tend to think of American food in only the most negative, fast food-ish light, but of course it is so much more.

United States quick facts:

  • Capital: Washington, D.C.
  • Population: 317,763,000 (2013 estimate)
  • Notable Americans: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Feynman, Bill Murray, Duffman

Long before the Vikings discovered and Columbus pillaged the New World, Native Americans developed food traditions as wide and varied as the land itself. Corn, potatoes, squashes, and beans were cultivated in organized agricultural operations on our shores since prehistory, and wild game like turkey, deer, and elk, along with seafood and shellfish where available, providing for a cuisine far more sophisticated than one might imagine. Food preparations that owe their origins to Native Americans include succotash (recipe follows), beef jerky, popcorn, corn bread, and the New England clam bake.

When Europeans arrived they brought their own food traditions, and American cuisine today bears a strong resemblance to that of western Europe. In the modern era, immigration has made a mark, making the United States one of the world’s most multicultural nations and giving the average American familiarity with diverse foreign-origin foods like spring rolls, salsa, curries, or sushi.

The American restaurant industry is a booming business, and the success, intense competition, and chefs’ creativity in places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have led to the innovation of many dishes now celebrated around the world, including Cobb salad, spaghetti alla primavera, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, Philly cheesesteaks, eggs Benedict, and the decidedly French-sounding potato and leek soup vichyssoise to name a few.

But wait, there’s more! It is easy to think of America as a very homogenous culture, and that all the people from Alaska to Florida and all points in between are more or less culturally the same. At least in terms of food that is hardly the case. Regional specialties abound, like New England clam chowder (and objectively inferior Manhattan clam chowder), barbecue, fried chicken, sweet potato pie, gumbo, jambalaya, chile colorado, cioppino, and tuna casserole.

For our first American food feature we have chosen a food that originated with the first American people. Succotash gets its name from the Narragansett language’s “sohquttahhash,” meaning “broken corn kernels.” European settlers enjoyed the dish of lima beans and corn, and it remains a vital part of the modern Northeastern American Thanksgiving menu.

Succotash

This recipe was compiled largely from personal experience and family traditions, with consultation of Jasper White’s Cooking from New England to make sure our simple version wasn’t leaving anything out

SERVES 4 TO 6

  • 12 ounces frozen corn
  • 12 ounces frozen lima beans
  • 1 slice bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped

Our succotash is a simple saute of bacon, onions, frozen beans, and frozen corn. Before anything else, we needed to heat up our frozen vegetables, dumping them in a small saucepan with a splash of water over medium heat, stirring occasionally to redistribute the frozen kernels:

cornandlimabeans

After about ten minutes the vegetables were heated through and ready for the saute pan:

cornandlimabeanscooked

While the vegetables were cooking we started putting together our succotash by heating one of our trusty cast-iron skillets over medium-low heat, then adding the bacon:

bacon

After about five minutes, the bacon was crispy:

baconcrisped

…and the pan was ready for our onions:

onionsadded

The onions were cooked until softened, about five minutes.  Next, the heat was increased to medium and once the onions were really sizzling we added the beans and corn:

succotashstarted

Our succotash was sauteed, stirring often, until the corn was just beginning to show signs of browning, about six minutes:

succotash

Well, that was easy!  Our succotash was sweet, earthy, and bacony and added vibrant color to the plate.  Because it can be made in one pan with ingredients that can come from a can or a freezer, succotash’s popularity really took off in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  We appreciated it in our modern-era kitchen for its showcase of its under-heralded main ingredients corn and lima beans.  These nutritious vegetables carry a stigma to some of being nothing more than outdated 1950s Betty Crocker Cookbook-era American home cooking, but in our opinions deserve a greater spotlight.

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