Review of “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associates, LLC, March 1, 2012)
Restaurant cookbooks, like restaurants themselves, are a mixed bag. Some are heavily weighted with ego and over-the-top, confusing, classical instruction, rendering them basically useless for the home cook. Others are just plain mediocre, a stock-piling of poorly written recipes and haste-makes-waste production, that render them useless all together, except maybe for the author’s proud mother and a few scattered, distant family members. Then, there are the top-tier variety, the true labor of love restaurant cookbooks that capture the heart and soul of the restaurant and the people behind it while delivering lovely prose, photography, and recipes that will work in the home kitchen.
The recently released “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associations, LLC), fits ever so neatly into the latter category. Co-written by endearing Hank’s Chef Frank McMahon and Charleston Magazine’s Melissa Bigner, the cookbook is a beautifully compiled, photographed (by talented Peter Frank Edwards), well-organized, and soulful ode not just to Charleston, but also to the gems of the sea, creeks, and rivers that surround her.
The first several pages are a little heavy-handed on sometimes uninteresting, minutia details (except perhaps for the most die-hard Hank’s fans) about how and why the restaurant got started. But, the read-speed and interest quickly accelerate once Chef Frank McMahon’s voice graces the pages, joyfully dancing with the humor, lilt and cadence of McMahon’s native Limerick, Ireland dialect and substantial personal charm.
Together, McMahon and Bigner find his voice, both literally in quotes such as “The first time I had grits, I thought they were bad polenta that tasted like wallpaper paste.” Or, describing working for his father in their family restaurant, “Every day, (I’d) get home from rugby practice, I’d get busy skinning sole, chopping parsley, cleaning – whatever needed to be done. I couldn’t do right be him…” Bigner also weaves a figurative sub-text of what drives McMahon as a chef and leader in the kitchen, beginning with a love of seafood he nurtured as a boy in Ireland and mastered at The Culinary Institute of America and working with French seafood maestro Eric Ripert at Le Bernadin in NYC. Throughout nearly all of the 241 pages, McMahon’s work ethic, sincerity, humor and love of his work, staff, and Hank’s shine through loud and clear, making this book as delightful to read as it will be to cook from. Breathtaking photography pops on nearly every page of gorgeously plated, hunger-inducing dishes, as well as happy scenes from the kitchen, dining room and around Charleston, making this book perfectly at home on any coffee table, as well.
But, whatever you do, don’t leave it there gathering dust. This is a cook’s cookbook, through and through. Like McMahon himself, the 100 recipes in the book are direct and straight-forward. Though he explains technique, he explains it in a language even the most novice home cook can understand, tossing in helpful tips all along the way. Perhaps the most invigorating chapter is the one on the sauces, vinagrettes, and dressings McMahon considers crucial when preparing and serving seafood. Herb and flavor infused ceviche and tartare make solid showings, as well, and there is an entire chapter dedicated to the nuances of preparing fried seafood.
This book is a must-have for lover’s of Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, seafood, and yes, even Charleston. The hardcover book retails for $50 + tax and is available for sale at the restaurant, 10 Hayne Street, Charleston, SC 29401. Call (843) 723-3474 for details. Plans for the not-too-distant-future include selling the book at Hank’s website, www.hanksseafoodrestaurant.com
Here’s a seasonal recipe excerpt:
Creole Collard Soup
(Yields 2 1/2 Quarts)
1 tsp canola oil
1 cup diced andouille sausage
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs Cajun seasoning
2 cups diced fresh tomato
2 cups collard cooking liquor, plus 2 cups collard greens (see page 39 – recipe to follow below)
2 cups chicken stock
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until brown, 3 – 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and Cajun seasoning and cook for 4 minutes. Add tomato and cook for 2 minutes. Add the collard liquor, collards and chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
(Note: Preparations for the collard liquor is provided under a separate recipe on page 39 of the book. It’s essentially the cooking liquid from braised and seasoned collards. The recipe follows below):
Hank’s Collard Greens
2 bunches collards, washed, stems removed, and cut into 3-inch squares
3 cups chicken stock (Note: The book provides a recipe on another page, or use good quality prepared chicken stock)
1 ham hock
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup smoky BBQ sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
Combine all of the ingredients except the collards and salt and pepper in a 5-quart stockpot and bring to a boil. Add collards and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Pull the meat from the ham hock and break it up into small pieces. Add the meat back to the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipes from “Cool Inside: Hank’s Seafood Restaurant” (Peninsula Grill Associates, LLC, March 1, 2012). Photography by Peter Frank Edwards.