He's a man after my own heart. Damon Lee Fowler believes a good splash of bourbon can improve just about anything. In his New Southern Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2002, $26), Fowler adds this magic ingredient to many of the basics of the Southern pantheon -- oysters and leeks with cream, poundcake, macerated strawberries, sauteed mushrooms -- always to good effect.
With or without bourbon, however, these are appealing recipes. True, it was the pork tenderloins with bourbon-mustard glaze that spurred a cooking frenzy in my kitchen. The dish received rave reviews, especially when paired with Fowler's fresh apple chutney and whipped sweet potatoes with leeks. Next up on my "to cook" list is the asparagus and pecan salad with honey lemon bourbon vinaigrette.
But I also tested a number of other recipes. The hoecakes, those crisp little cornmeal pancakes that go so well with slow-cooked greens, were especially good, as were Lillie's Little Lemon Puddings, an easy-to-fix dessert that neatly separates into layers of cake and custard as it cooks.
An architect turned culinary historian and cooking teacher, Fowler is a chatty and knowledgeable guide to new -- and old -- Southern cooking. His first book, Classical Southern Cooking, was a model of scholarship. And while the text of this latest effort sometimes descends into breathless rapture over the glories of Southern-ness, the recipes show how tradition can lend character and grace to contemporary cooking. Some interesting surprises were recipes for lamb and veal, meats not ordinarily associated with Southern cooking, whose roots he traces back to Colonial times.
Damon Lee Fowler's New Southern Kitchen is not a book for beginners. Although the recipes are clear and well-written, they call for a few special ingredients -- turbinado sugar and soft-winter-wheat flour, among them -- and some kitchen experience. The results at table, however, are well worth the effort.
Pork Tenderloins With Bourbon-Mustard Glaze
1 pair pork tenderloins (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds total)
salt and whole black pepper in a peppermill
1/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard
Wash the tenderloins under cold running water; thoroughly pat them dry. Put them on a dish that will just hold them comfortably. Sprinkle the meat generously with salt and a few liberal grindings of black pepper.
Dissolve the sugar in the bourbon and whisk in the mustard. Pour this over the pork, turning it until all sides are well coated; set aside for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Lift the pork from the glaze, allowing the excess to flow back into the dish. Place the pork in a close-fitting open roasting pan or casserole and put it into the upper third of the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the mustard glaze begins to brown lightly.
Reduce the heat to 400 degrees, and roast, basting occasionally with the reserved glaze, until the pork is just cooked through, or reaches an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees, about 45 minutes.
Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Transfer it to a cutting board. Thinly slice the tenderloins across the grain, and transfer them to a warm platter. Return any accumulated juices to the roasting pan, stir until smooth, and drizzle over the pork. Serve hot or at room temperature.