From colonial traditions through contemporary flavors, you’ll be amazed at the deliciously rich variety of Virginia’s cuisine. Patrick Evans-Hylton presents 145 delectable recipes celebrating the state’s oysters, blue crabs, peanuts, heirloom tomatoes, sweet potatoes, wine, and much more. Learn how to make Chesapeake Cioppino, Indian Butter Chicken, Black Cake, and scores of other regional delights. You’ll soon be pairing Classic Southern Slaw with Pulled Pork BBQ or Virginia Fried Chicken.
About the Author
Patrick Evans-Hylton is a food writer and editor and intimately involved with the local Virginian food world. He is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of Virginia and co-hosts a local NPR radio show, “What’s Cooking Wednesday” and is the food reporter for “The Hamptons Roads Show” on the local Fox TV affiliate. He lives in Virginia.
Marcel Desaulniers is a chef and part owner of the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia.
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Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay Region
The Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay region is Virginia's Low Country, an area surrounded by creeks and streams and rivers that wind through brackish marshes as they filter their way to the great estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. This area is the starting point not only for the commonwealth, but for the nation. It was here, on a spring morning in 1607, that three ships led by Captain Christopher Newport — the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery — ended their 144-day voyage from England. They anchored off Cape Henry in the present-day city of Virginia Beach, an event now referred to as the First Landing.
When Newport's crew of 104 men and boys, among them John Smith, who would later head up the Jamestown Colony, came ashore, they marveled in the richness of the New World. Crew member George Percy wrote of "meddowes and goodly tall Trees, with such Freshwaters running through the woods, as I was almost ravished at the first sight thereof." The ships eventually made their way into "the Bay of Chesupioc" and up what is now the James River, looking for a suitable site to colonize. They found it in Jamestown — the first permanent English settlement in North America, established by the group under the Virginia Company of London on May 14, 1607. Jamestown served as the colonial capital until 1699, when the center of the government moved to Williamsburg, which lost the title to Richmond in 1780.
Three Hundred Years Later
Today Hampton Roads is a major metropolitan area of more than 1.6 million people; the vernacular region incorporates the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Smithfield, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Williamsburg, and the counties of Gloucester, Isle of Wight, James City, Mathews, Surry, and York. The Metropolitan Statistical Area also includes Currituck County, North Carolina.
The Hampton Roads area is named for the historic waterway thoroughfare cutting between the two mainland spaces, the Southside and the Peninsula. The water that flows throughout the region has flavored its culture and history for centuries. In addition to the Bay, several rivers — the Elizabeth, James, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac — trace across the land, defining spaces such as the Peninsula (located between the James and York rivers, and site of Hampton, Newport News, and Williamsburg), the Middle Peninsula (between the York and Rappahannock rivers, home to Gloucester and Urbanna), and the Northern Neck (between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, with many towns and historic places; George Washington was born here).
The Eastern Shore, part of the Delmarva Peninsula, is a richly agricultural and aquacultural strip of land with the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The Eastern Shore stretches from Cape Charles in the south to Chincoteague in the north. Tangier Island off the western shore is a small village of folks, many of whom make their living on the water. A number also speak a unique English dialect, similar to that spoken when the community was established in 1686 and fostered over years of relative isolation.
Seafood, Peanuts, and Ham
Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay region are very diverse culinarily. From the surrounding waters comes an abundance of seafood with an annual economic impact of more than half a billion dollars. Entire communities rely on the industry for commerce; the tiny village of Reedville on the Northern Neck is the second largest U.S. fishing port based on landings. Families of crabbers, fishermen, and oystermen have been fishing for generations, and young people are venturing in to join the industry.
The area is also important agriculturally; the unusual Virginia-style peanut grows best in regions west of Norfolk, while the state's namesake country hams were first cured here — and still are. Vast stretches of farmland offer an abundance of potatoes and tomatoes on the Eastern Shore, strawberries in southern Hampton Roads, and soy and watermelons in Southampton County and Western Tidewater. Many farmers are also experimenting with organic growing methods and specialty crops, such as microgreens.
People eat well around here, choosing among world-class restaurants, quaint cafés, and old-fashioned diners, and enjoying community events like bake sales, oyster roasts, pig pickings, potlucks, shad plankings, and suppers on the lawn. Food choices are diverse; the area is home to the world's largest concentration of naval operations, and families that have lived in Asia and Europe fuel ethnic offerings, as does a large Filipino population. Norfolk houses the headquarters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and with large centers of higher learning like Old Dominion University and the College of William and Mary bringing in a younger crowd, vegetarian and vegan options abound.
In terms of cuisine, this area offers a flavorful confluence of Mid-Atlantic meets South. Chefs and home cooks alike prepare fresh seafood and classic southern dishes equally well. Menus at restaurants and at home include a mix of both, because local palates crave variety. As far as surf and turf goes, steak and lobster are reserved for fine restaurants; around here, the term means a piece of fried chicken and a crab cake.
This is the birthplace of American cuisine. This is America's first foodie region. This is the Hampton Roads and Chesapeake Bay region.
Rockfish Hampton Roads
Yield: 4 servings
One of Virginia's most remarkable culinary times of the year is the winter. Although rockfish, also known as striped bass, can be found in other seasons, in winter they are plentiful as they migrate through the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just off Cape Henry in Virginia Beach.
Rockfish has a fanciful history in the region. Captain John Smith, in his descriptive writing style, noted that the fish were so plentiful in the bay that one could walk across the water on their backs. People enjoyed rockfish so much that one of the first conservation statutes in the New World was written in 1639 to protect the species.
* 3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, stems removed
* ¾ cup roasted, unsalted Virginia peanuts
* 3 garlic cloves, peeled
* ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* ¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
* ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
* ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 (8-ounce) skin-on rockfish fillets
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 8 thin slices Virginia country ham
1. Make the pesto. Process the basil in the bowl of a food processor or blender until finely chopped, scraping the sides as necessary.
2. Add the peanuts, garlic, Parmesan, Romano, pepper flakes, and salt, and process until well combined, scraping the sides as necessary.
3. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together and slowly drizzle it into the bowl, processing until the mixture is well combined, creamy, and smooth.
4. Make the rockfish. Prepare the rockfish fillets by removing any bones and seasoning the skin-free side with salt and pepper.
5. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with a small amount of the oil. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
6. Heat a small amount of the oil in a skillet over high heat and carefully place the rockfish, skin-side up, in the skillet. Cook until the flesh begins to brown, about 3 minutes.
7. Remove the rockfish from the skillet and arrange skin-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast about 10 minutes, checking to make sure the flesh is cooked through but still moist. The skin should be crispy.
8. Serve each fillet over two thin slices of the country ham and top with the pesto to taste.
Yield: 2 entrées or 4–8 appetizers
In 1924 in a small, nondescript restaurant sitting near the corner of City Hall and Monticello Avenue in downtown Norfolk, a cook tossed a handful of crabmeat into an aluminum pan of sizzling butter, sautéed it quickly, and added dashes of salt, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and cooking sherry for good measure. It was the birth of Crab Norfolk.
The cook was probably W. O. Snowden, and the restaurant was Snowden and Mason's. When Snowden sold his interests in the downtown building, he stayed on with the new owner, Doc Twiford, to share his knowledge. At Doc's Seafood, folks sat at six cramped tables with bentwood chairs or on rickety red-leather barstools at the high countertop to watch Twiford create the savory treat. The restaurant was a local institution for 38 years.
Twiford was coy about his specialty, but later in his career, he shared his secret with local historian and Virginian-Pilot newspaper columnist/humorist George Tucker: "Melt a piece of butter the size of a hen's egg in a skillet. When it is hotter than the hinges of hell, dump in half a pound of the best backfin crabmeat. Then add salt and cayenne pepper and a dash each of Worcestershire sauce and cooking sherry for taste. Mix it carefully to avoid breaking up the crab lumps. And when it is sizzling, serve it up."
* ¼ cup white vinegar
* 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
* 1 teaspoon hot sauce
* ½ cup (1 stick) butter
* 2 cups backfin crabmeat
* ¼ teaspoon paprika, optional
1. Whisk the vinegar, Worcestershire, and hot sauce together in a small bowl.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the crabmeat, top with another 2 tablespoons butter, and add half the vinegar mixture.
3. Cook, tossing continually, until heated through and the butter and vinegar mixture reduces slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Keep warm while cooking the second serving. Or cook both portions in a medium skillet; cooking time will increase slightly.
4. Transfer to plates and sprinkle with paprika before serving.
Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham and Poppy-Mustard Butter
Yield: About 12 biscuits
A timeless Virginia treat, biscuits and ham are often served at luncheons or halved and held in place with toothpick frills to hold hors d'oeuvres at parties. Here, rich sweet potatoes flavor this classic combo, which also benefits from a piquant poppy-mustard butter. You can replace the spicy butter with jam or jelly for a great breakfast item.
* 1 cup salted butter, softened
* 3 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
* 2 tablespoons minced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
* 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
* ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
* 2 cups self-rising flour
* ½ cup sugar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
* ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
* ½ cup vegetable shortening
* 4 medium sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (about 2 cups)
* 2–4 tablespoons whole milk
* 4 tablespoons butter, melted
* 12 slices thin Virginia ham
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside.
2. Make the butter. Combine the butter, mustard, onion, poppy seeds, and pepper flakes in a medium bowl with a fork or small spatula and set aside.
3. Make the biscuits. Whisk the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl. Work the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter until well mixed.
4. Fold in the sweet potatoes and knead, adding a little more flour if the dough is too wet. If the dough is too dry, add the milk a little at a time. The mixture should be firm and smooth.
5. Roll out the dough on a floured cutting board to about a -inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet and brush the melted butter on top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are light brown; reduce the heat to 400°F if tops are cooking too quickly.
6. Split the biscuits and spread with the poppy-mustard butter; top with a thin slice of ham, close the biscuit, and serve immediately.
Yield: 2–3 appetizer servings
Joe Hoggard's Ship's Cabin restaurant rose from humble beginnings as a small food shack on the waterfront to one of Hampton Roads' premier restaurants. It helped introduce the region to fine dining in the 1970s and '80s with fresh, creative, and innovative dishes that capitalized on the abundance of fresh seafood caught just outside its door.
One such dish is Oysters Bingo, named after restaurant patron and Virginia politico Frederick T. "Bingo" Stant Jr. This version is inspired by the original dish at the venerable Norfolk eatery, which became the first AAA 4-Diamond restaurant in southeastern Virginia.
* 12 oysters
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* ½ teaspoon salt
* ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
* 2–3 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 2–3 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons reserved oyster liquor (can substitute bottled clam juice or seafood broth)
* 2 tablespoons white wine, such as Riesling
* 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* 2 medium shallots, minced
* Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish
* Lemon zest for garnish
1. Make the oysters. Shuck the oysters and reserve the liquor (liquid). Combine the flour, salt, black pepper, and pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Toss the oysters in the flour mixture, and shake to remove any excess flour.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over high heat. When the skillet is very hot, add the oysters, being careful not to crowd them (cook in batches if necessary). Sauté until the coating is golden brown, about 30 seconds, then turn and sauté for 30 seconds longer.
3. Transfer the oysters to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil/butter mixture in the skillet.
4. Make the sauce. Add the oyster liquor, white wine, lemon juice, and shallots to the oil/butter mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the skillet to incorporate the flavorful bits.
5. Remove the skillet from the heat, stir the sauce blend thoroughly, and pour over the oysters. Top immediately with shaved curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano and lemon zest and serve immediately.
Williamsburg Lodge Fried Green Tomato Salad with Serafina Cheese, Basil Pesto & Balsamic Vinegar
Recipe from Executive Chef Rhys Lewis, Williamsburg Lodge, Colonial Williamsburg
Yield: 4 servings
A hardscrabble southern standard, fried green tomatoes are dressed up in a salad with creamy garlic-herb cheese, basil pesto, and balsamic vinegar and served with boutique salad greens. Simply delicious but complex in flavors, this is wonderful for lunch or a light dinner.
* 1 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
* ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, peeled
* ½ cup balsamic vinegar
* 2 teaspoons brown sugar
* 1 cup breadcrumbs
* 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
* 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
* ½ cup flour
* 1 egg, beaten
* 3 medium green tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices
* Oil or clarified butter, for cooking
* 8 ounces Serafina cheese (or garlic-herb goat cheese), at room temperature
* Mâche lettuce (or other small greens), for garnish
1. Make the basil pesto. Combine the basil, olive oil, and garlic in a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
2. Make the balsamic vinegar. Combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in a small heavy pot over medium-high heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Set aside.
3. Make the tomatoes. Combine the breadcrumbs, rosemary, and thyme in a small bowl and salt and pepper to taste. Place the flour and egg in separate small bowls. Dredge the tomato slices in the flour, coat with the beaten egg, and cover with the herbed breadcrumbs.
4. Heat the oil or clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes in batches so as not to crowd the pan; cook until they are golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain excess oil.
5. Place a slice of tomato on a serving plate and top with a half-ounce of the goat cheese; repeat until there are three layers for each salad. Spoon a portion of the basil pesto and the balsamic reduction around the tomatoes on each plate. Top with the mâche lettuce and serve immediately.
Excerpted from "Dishing up Virginia"
Copyright © 2013 Patrick Evans-Hylton.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Marcel A. Desaulniers
Dishing It Up
1 Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay Region
2 Richmond and Southern Virginia
3 Central Virginia and Wine Country
4 The Capital Region and Northern Virginia
5 The Shenandoah Valley and Western Virginia
Recipes by Category
Recipe Contributors and Suppliers