San Antonio chef turns back time to give locals a taste of the Tricentennial
The farm-to-table restaurant trend is one thing. Imagining the farms of three centuries ago and bringing those elements to today’s menus is another. In honor of San Antonio’s 300th anniversary, recent James Beard Award finalist Steve McHugh of Cured sets his thoughtful, creative mindset to the task of spotlighting one indigenous food per month during 2018 in celebration of the city’s culinary heritage.
For example, on his February charcuterie boards, McHugh served pickled nopalitos (you know, the diced stems or pods of the prickly pear). In March, he’s highlighting one of the South's most down-to-earth delicacy — crawfish — in a crawfish pie with ravigote sauce and mache.
Throught the year, he’s putting Three Sister’s chow chow on the menu, a relish comprised of three crops essential to Native American people: winter squash, maize, and climbing beans, like purple hull beans, romano beans, and pole beans. This trio of plants anchored North American agricultural efforts long before the Spaniards established missions in the Alamo — almost 7,000 years before to be precise. Today, McHugh’s chow chow brings more zing to Cured’s offerings.
“This dish is a play on this three-century-old, Native American agricultural tradition in honor of the Tricentennial,” the chef says. “But the tradition also fits with what we do at Cured, conscientious pairings of ingredients that together have various health benefits. I like to follow the rule, ‘what grows together, goes together.’”
Grow together these crops certainly did. Centuries ago, farmers planted beans, corn, and squash near each other. Climbing beans wound around corn stalks, which provided a stalwart place for them to mature. The beans added nitrogen to the soil, making it more fertile, while flourishing squash vines and leaves spread all over the ground to offer cooling shade in the Texas heat. In McHugh’s chow chow dish, the flavors and texture intertwine in a way that’s just as copacetic.
Other foods McHugh says he will highlight during the Tricentennial year include:
- Beautyberries — a deciduous plant, magenta colored, mild in flavor and which will be incorporated into jelly.
- Chili Pequin —a pepper said to be 13 times hotter than a jalapeño, with citrus, smoky, and nutty notes McHugh will use as a spice and to pickle .
- Mesquite Beans —a common shrub in the Southwest with bean-like pods holding beans that McHugh grinds into a fine gluten-free flour, used to bake his signature Mesquite Crackers for his charcuterie plate.
So as you head to the many events and celebrations that herald the 300th anniversary of Alamo City, don’t forget that you can taste San Antonio’s rich heritage, too.