5@5 - Overlooked Southern ingredients
October 5th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

What is Southern food?

We've posed the question many times in these here virtual walls, and each time, at least one commenter will confine Southern cuisine to its prevalent meat 'n' three and deep-fried parameters.

Hugh Acheson may be Canadian-born but he quickly learned that being Southern might just be a state of mind, especially when it comes to cooking. And, just because a food is served up below the Mason-Dixon doesn't mean it has to be drenched in Crisco and the antithesis of refined.

Acheson is the chef and partner of Five & Ten and The National in Athens, Georgia, and Empire State South in Atlanta. He is also the author of A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen and a recent contestant on "Top Chef Masters."

Five Overlooked Southern Ingredients: Hugh Acheson

1. Hominy
"Those cans have become ubiquitous but true dried hominy is a wonderful ingredient to play around with. You’ll need dried kernels from someone like Anson Mills and some pickling lime but once you take the time to nurture something like this through you’ll be really happy with the results."

2. Sorghum
"The maple syrup of the region. Such a wonderfully rich drizzle for biscuits or over some beautifully cut fruit. Or use it to sweeten a syllabub or crème brûlée. I have always been particularly enamored with Muddy Pond from Tennessee."

3. Pomegranate
"For some reason I always think that the red orbs should be from a more temperate climate but they abound in my neighborhood in Athens. My kids love them and they give a great little crunch to salads, meat dishes or Southern shrimp stews."

4. Quince
"This beautiful fruit makes wonderful pies and jams. We just don’t think of it much as a local growing fruit. We love making membrillo, chutneys, crumbles out of them, or really anything where a cooked apple would be used."

5. Chestnuts
"We buy about 200 pounds of local chestnuts per year and they are stellar. Soups, candied, stewed, they are a Southern bounty that reminds me of my Northern roots. Strange that I remember chestnuts roasting on open flames on carts outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, a very distinct sign of winter in a wintery land, but they are abundant here too! We have long made this mushroom and chestnut soup that rocks.

This soup marries three flavors I love: chestnuts, sherry and porcini. They just work brilliantly together. If you cannot find fresh porcini, use frozen; if you cannot find frozen use dried; if you cannot find dried, use shiitakes; if you can’t find shiitakes you should consider lobbying for better shopping in your neighborhood. You should be able to find chestnuts at your local farmers market if you are located on the East Coast. If not, conventional grocery stores have cans of roasted and peeled chestnuts, just be sure that you do not get water chestnuts."

Chestnut & Porcini Soup
Serves 8


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
  • 4 branches celery, peeled and minced
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced to 1 inch
  • 1/2 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, brushed of any dirt and cut into a 1-inch dice
  • 1/2 pound fresh button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup (about 12) chestnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • bouquet of thyme and parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Place a heavy soup pot or rondeau over medium heat. Add the butter to the pot and when the butter begins to bubble and froth, add the onions and celery and sweat down for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 10 minutes. Once the mushrooms are sautéed down a fair bit add the sherry and reduce for 5 minutes.
  3. Add potato and chestnuts to pan and cook for 10 more minutes. At this point you add the chicken stock, the bouquet and the bay leaf and cover. Cook until potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. While still on heat add the cream. Remove bouquet and bay leaves using a slotted spoon or tongs. Remove soup from heat.
  5. Season the soup and then carefully puree it in a blender. Pass through a fine chinois for a smoother texture.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Cuisines • Hugh Acheson • Southern • Think

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. htc????

    I appreciate your creating talent as well as your uncanny ability to create clear, concise points. I agree having a great deal of your distinctive views. Thank you. htc???? http://www.powerbankland.com

    June 21, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  2. eric

    really zoid, thats the comment you have to post. stupid, shallow much.

    October 7, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  3. Jorge

    I moved to Augusta, Georgia 6 years ago and got myself a good case of gallstones and GERD trying to adapt to the good ole' local cuisine, now I mostly eat home and keep my head up for grocery stores with good Hispanic and Mediterranean sections (which are rare here). No more country-fried indigestion for me.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  4. Ben

    Your chestnuts aren't local. American Chestnut treats were wiped out by a invasive exotic disease a long time ago. Any chestnuts you eat are from Chinese chestnut trees. Sorry.

    October 7, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Ben

      treats is trees...oops

      October 7, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Sun

      Yes, Mo Ron, they ARE local, the American trees were replaced by a variety from China, planted in the U.S. Do your research before you stick your ass in your mouth.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • myrtlemay lee

      Just FYI to y'all: There is a huge & successful project here in VA crossing our American chestnuts with the European chestnuts in order to bring back our trees with the inherent disease resistance of the others. I believe those with land/farms can even get 25 free hybrids per year if they document the growth progress etc. The project is very successful, but chestnut trees grow so slowly it will still be awhile before they can provide much of a harvest. Google American Chestnut Restoration or something like that, 'cuz I don't have the link handy.

      October 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  5. UGAgrad

    YAY! Hugh is getting much deserved recognition!!
    The Five and Ten in Athens, Ga is our wedding anniversary dinner every year. Chef Acheson has really raised the profile of local dining and brought attention to Athens local food movement. (And it is all soooo good!) CNN, gold stars for you for shining a light on a local hero for us.

    October 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  6. Sanford

    Pomegranate, quince and chestnuts are Southern? Don’t think so – A Canadian chef moving to GA don’t make him no expert on Southern food. All the chestnut trees were killed by a blight in the 1930’s, Quince was a old TV show kinda like CSI, but pomegranate juice is pretty good if you mix it with enough Stoli.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • fatigued

      Please get off your high horse, Sanford.

      October 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • UGAgrad

      Sanford! (wouldn't be Sanford Stadium would it...too much to hope :))
      All the ingredients he's listed are an homage to the Athens, Ga local food movement. Athens is a GREAT town for food, and the surrounding community has a plethora of local organic farmers who bring these things into local farmers markets every Saturday. And as for the chestnut, don't speak too quickly. It's true that blight has destroyed what was a historic crop, but it's resurgent, ironically, with special help from the University of Georgia (here in Athens!) who's experiments in transgenics have produced a uniquely blight resistant line that will bring it back to it's former glory. These are absolutely southern foods. As an outsider, Hugh's found a way to make them more beautiful and accessible to everyone!

      October 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Down by the river

      Chestnuts are still out there, i see them all the time. They repsrout from old stumps/roots after the blight girdles the stem. The blight doesn't kill the roots dude. Check yo-self son!!!

      October 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  7. Susan

    He's got to do something about that caterpillar on his face.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Jane

      Hehehe! Yeah but he is one cutie pie.

      October 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  8. NC34

    BWAHAHA! Don't get water chestnuts! Am I the only one that found that funny? Anyway, Southern food had so much fat and calories and was fried because poor people needed a better way to consume calories. Gotta remember, most Southerners worked hard manual labor. there were a lot of mouths to feed at home and frying things made it food go farther. Now, er needto kind of lay off the fat. Except for fried turkey, pork rinds from the flea market, okra, oysters, OK getting hungry now.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Kathleen

      One reason so much Southern food is fried is that frying doesn't heat up the kitchen like baking (and tastes better than boiled).

      October 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
      • NC34

        YUP YUP. I still cook outside a lot. Know people around here who still have their main cooking facilities outside w/o electricity. My husband's great aunt (who had one of the first homes on today million dollar lakefront) still uses a woodstove to cook with. Awesome. Funny to see her cooking on that next door to a McMansion on the lake in Charlotte.

        October 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • step

      Most Southerners worked manual labor? Fatter foods because they were poor? What a ridiculous statement.You must be from the West Coast and never visited southern city's like Charleston and Savannah.

      October 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
      • DCTraveler02

        Step, if YOU were a Southerner, you would know never to use Savannah and "that other city" in the same sentence.

        October 7, 2011 at 6:27 am |
      • Tad

        My family has been in VA since the 1600's...they did tons of manual labor and worked farms until the middle 1900's...I grew up with my grandparents with LOTS of frying of everything and loved it! We raised most of our food, chickens, pigs, a cow, pheasants, turkeys and a big garden. And my grandmother made bread twice a day and I haven't had any as good since she passed in 1982, God Bless her good soul.

        October 7, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  9. super stud puppy

    Hog fart tart with chicken fried cow patties and horse sperm gravy is the quintessential southern dish thank you.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • jellybean

      so what you think, stupid?

      October 7, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  10. Down by the river

    How are these forgotten? I had a couple of these just the other day.

    October 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  11. Justin Case

    American by birth, southern by the grace of God

    October 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Chris

      Right because where you live geographically makes you better then others? Get over it. I live in Texas and hate people that make a big deal about it.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
      • Wicked Pi$$uh@Chris

        Uh oh. Someone got their cornflakes pi$$ed upon. Tsk tsk.

        October 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
      • Sanford

        The only good thing coming out of Texas is I-10 East bound!

        October 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
      • step

        Then go back to Mexico...

        October 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
      • North GA Native

        @Chris: No, no, no. He is not saying he's better than everyone! He's just saying that he's better than you!

        Glad to be of help in making that clear. Call me if you need me again.

        October 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Jorge

      Well good golly goddamn, bless your heart, good for YOUUUUUU!!!!!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  12. PBLover

    Five & Ten is the only place I've eaten okra and actually liked it!

    October 6, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  13. Not a Fan

    Thought it said "Overcooked ..."

    October 6, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  14. Guest

    What about the possum chitlins with gopher gravy?crawdads?squirrel soup?

    October 6, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • MommaWombat

      While I have yet to try 'possum chitlins or gopher gravy, squirrel isn't half bad. The best way to prepare squirrel: Fry the squirrel and use the drippings to make gravy. Throw the squirrel out, since you will starve to death before you can eat enough. Crawdads are awesome, but again, if not prepared right you will starve to death before you can eat enough.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with eating what crawls, flies, or swims to the back door. It's all in how it's prepared.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
      • S1N

        Marinated dog is better. If you're ever in South Korea, ask for kegogi. That stuff is awesome. Who new "man's best friend" could taste so good?

        October 6, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • North GA Native

      I know you're making fun, but Squirrel Dumplings are one of my fondest memories from childhood. Made just like Chicken 'n' Dumplings, it does a great job stretching the scant meat on even two squirrels. (If we only shot one, we'd freeze it until we could bag another.) The dumplings also moderate the flavor so it is just right, not too gamey.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  15. TM

    You left out the Persimmon

    October 6, 2011 at 6:19 am |
    • Richard Simmons

      You rang?

      October 6, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  16. Animal Friend

    The difference in true old style Southern cooking is the seasoning which doesn't mean grease and a longer time to cook. The reason dishes are cook longer is due to the fact that most familys, including the children, worked the fields and the food was left to simmer on a wood stove. There was no electricity during that time. After coming in from the fields they were tired and hungry. By doing it this way at least their dinner was ready.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • South of the South

      I always wondered why Southern cooking involved squishy vegetables. Now I know. Thanks. Is that also why East Indian food is cooked almost to the point of not needing to chew?

      October 6, 2011 at 7:31 am |
      • North GA Native

        "South of the South"? Let me guess–you're from Florida.

        October 6, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  17. charlestonpride

    Gay? when someone uses a term like this... i am guessing his idea of food is as tasteless as his comment. And a true fake person.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  18. t.j.

    does that guy have a unibrow

    October 6, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Amy

      Hugh is well known for his unibrow.

      October 6, 2011 at 1:42 am |
      • Sweetenedtea

        True, but he's holding out hope that his cooking will one day be more famous than his unibrow.

        He's a silly dreamer, he is. That unibrow will never be overtaken as a claim to fame.

        October 7, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  19. mmi16

    Pork Fat – lots & lots of Pork Fat!

    October 6, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  20. hOmini

    Left out lard.

    October 6, 2011 at 1:10 am |
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