Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Roadfood' authors compile 'Lexicon' of American food

Jane and Michael Stern are food writers who travel the country. Three-time James Beard Foundation Awards winners, the Sterns are best known for their “Roadfood” books and appearances on the “The Splendid Table” radio show and in Saveur magazine.
            Gathering up their years of travels and food exploration, the Sterns have published the highly informative, “The Lexicon of Real American Food.” Written like an encyclopedia, the book’s ingredients travel from American Chop Suey and Andouille to Wonder Bread and Ya-Ka-Mein.
            I have to admit, I started out reviewing this tome with the idea of skimming its pages, examining the Louisiana entries and touching on subjects of interest. Instead, I couldn’t put it down, fascinated by the history of America’s foods, the unusual stories behind many dishes and pleased to find a handy guide to the different styles of clam chowder, barbecue sauces and the like.
            Louisiana is well represented here, and outside of a tiny error (beignets are not pronounced “bean-yay”), the Sterns are right on, showcasing the Bayou State with cochon de lait, red beans and rice and the New Orleans restauranteurs Anthony and Gail Uglesich, among many others.
There are several recipes scattered throughout, as well, plus fascinating stories on individuals dotting the national culinary landscape, accented by loads of photos. Here is a recipe to warm you on a chilly day, and if you can’t find fresh clams, I’m assuming canned clams might do:

Southern New England Clear Broth Clam Chowder
8 slices thick bacon (about ½ pound)
2 cups chopped onion
2 1/2 cups diced redskin potatoes, skin on
3 cups clam broth
18-20 large, hard-shell clams, shucked and drained and their liquor
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Directions: Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces. Fry in a large pot until crisp. Remove the bacon pieces and save them to put in omelets the next morning. Add onion to the rendered bacon fat and sauté until soft. Add pototes, clam brother, and enough water to fully cover the potatoes (at least 1 cup). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 12 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Coarsely cut the clams (do not mince or use a food processor). You should have about 3 cups of clam meat. Strain the clam liquor through a double-layer of cheesecloths to remove impurities, or boil it and skim off the foam that rises to the top. Add the clams and clam liquor to the chowder pot. Bring it back to a boil. Simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add pepper to taste. Sprinkle on basil; serve with crackers.
Learn more about the Sterns at

Cheré Coen is the author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at