Pots of plenty
A June 2012 issue of Science detailed an unusual find in Jiangxi province, China: 20,000-year-old pottery shards in Xianrendong Cave. This period, known as the Last Glacial Maximum, predates known periods of human agriculture by at least 10 millenia. Nonetheless, scorch marks on the shards clearly indicated the vessels were used for cooking — most likely to prepare soup.
These early recipes likely involved acorns and other easily gathered plant materials, but today in Charleston we are fortunate to be in the midst of a different sort of soup renaissance.
At Brasserie la Banque, recently opened at 1 Broad St., executive chef Jeb Aldrich is serving a contemporary version of classic French onion soup. Dating back to Roman times, onion soups began humbly, as sustenance for the poor. In the 18th century, the modern version took root in Paris, eventually being introduced at Henri Mouquin’s New York City restaurant in 1861, with the bready, cheesy embellishments we know today.
Aldrich’s version springs from that initial iteration, featuring a seasonal apple cider alongside the classic caramelized onions, crostini and, of course, lots and lots of Gruyere cheese.
Meanwhile, chef Jeffrey Stoneberger is no stranger to brothy fare, dishing out ramen for years with his 2Nixons pop-up. Stoneberger grew up on the Eastern shore of Delaware and Maryland, where he notes, “The food is ironically very similar to Lowcountry cuisine with a major difference being the temperate climate and the focus more on the protein than the starch, which is more often the backbone here, with respect to rice and grits.”
Along the way, his sights turned across the Pacific.
“I love the ethos of Japan. I am a white American dude from Delaware. I fell in love with Japan the way most people do: from afar. I think combining my heritage and cultural experience and my past restaurant experience is why and how I cook what I do. I used to cook modernist, over-the-top expensive food but I honestly didn’t relate with most of the clientele. Now I focus on the moment where you sit at your desk at work and you crave our food.”
Along with those crave-able ramen dishes featuring everything from smoked pork and pickles, to braised beef and Oaxacan-style cheese from Mexico, 2Nixons is currently featuring a nod to the South. His chicken-and-dumpling shio ramen references the subtleties of Japanese tradition while including local flavors of chicken, corn, tomatoes and even pork belly.
At Indaco on King Street, chef Mark Bolchoz is featuring a parmesan brodo cappelletti. Also known as broth or bouillon, Italian brodo is typically made by simmering bones, meat, vegetables or fish in a steaming vat of water. While it can be eaten alone, Bolchoz’s brothy pasta dish gilds the lily with short rib, ricotta and San Marzano tomatoes in a heart- and body-warming fusion. If that’s not enough, the parmesan brodo also offers delightful mouthfuls of stuffed cappelletti.
At James Island’s Kwei Fei, an ancient version of chef David Schuttenberg’s tingly beef noodle may have been the kind of dish that appeared in those early earthen bowls.
Discovered by Schuttenberg in an old Chinese cookbook, this noodle dish may be what the doctor ordered on a nippy night.
“Because it’s winter, it’s perfect,” he said. It features a braised meat, in this case a beef shank, which he noted, “I think a lot of Western palates would be used to braising a chuck or maybe a short rib, but the textural element in the beef shank is exceptional because of the actual body that it gives to the broth.”
Braised in a chicken stock base, Schuttenberg takes the braising liquid and adds seasonal vegetables like bok choy, purple daikon, scallions and cilantro, with “a couple nice spoonfuls of our chili crisp.”
While the kitchen team has experimented with pulling their own noodles, they rely on those produced locally by Brian Bertolini. “He makes really great noodles,” said Schuttenberg. “He makes what he would probably call a pappardelle, but I have him cut it a little wider.”
In the end, this East-meets-West pot roast is spicy, savory and comforting … And only available during the winter months.