By Robert Ramsey — Director of Advanced Culinary Center
Searching for inspiration for your holiday table? ICE Chef Robert Ramsey, a specialist in Southern cuisine, is sharing three sides so good it almost hurts to call them “sides” — because, really, any one of these could easily steal the show: creamy sweet potato soup with brown butter, sorghum syrup and sage croutons, Southern-style collard greens with black-eyed peas, grilled Chesapeake Bay oysters smothered in garlicky, bacon-y butter… hungry yet? Keep reading to get the recipes. Your holiday guests will thank you.
Creamy Sweet Potato Soup With Brown Butter, Sorghum Syrup and Sage Croutons
This soup is luxuriously smooth and creamy without being overly sweet. It’s the garnish, however, that really sets it apart. When I was living in Tennessee, I discovered sorghum syrup — it’s maple syrup for Southerners. The taste is fantastic and it’s an authentic Southern specialty. There are a lot of brands out there, but I prefer the sorghum syrup from Muddy Pond (about halfway between Knoxville and Nashville). Like its cousin, maple, it’s a perfect complement to the sweet potatoes.
For the soup
2 ounces unsalted butter
3-4 sweet potatoes, totaling about 2.5 pounds, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 quart whole milk
1 pint vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
- In a large stockpot melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the onion, celery and carrot and season with a good pinch of salt.
- Cook, stirring often, until the onions turn translucent, about 5-8 minutes.
- Add the nutmeg, brown sugar and sweet potatoes and continue to cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and cook about 3-4 minutes to reduce.
- Add the milk, stock and cream and bring to boil.
- Immediately reduce to a low, gentle simmer and allow everything to cook until tender, stirring often, about 30-40 minutes.
- When all vegetables are tender, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and purée until completely smooth, working in batches. Reserve.
Note: It’s best to make the soup 24 hours in advance and chill it overnight to allow the flavors to come together.
For the garnish
½ bunch sage, leaves picked from stems, minced
4 ounces butter
½ loaf stale sliced bread, crusts removed, diced
1 cup sorghum syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- In a small sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter until it begins to foam and turn brown. Turn off the heat immediately and reserve.
- Add sage to the butter while it is still hot — it should sizzle and pop a little.
- In a large mixing bowl, add stale bread, browned butter, sage and a little salt and pepper to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook the croutons until dry and crisp. Reserve.
- Reheat the soup gently, stirring often to prevent scorching. If the soup is too thick, adjust with a touch of milk and taste for seasoning.
- Ladle the soup into warm bowls and top with croutons. Drizzle some sorghum syrup (and crème fraîche if desired) on top of each and serve.
Southern-style Collard Greens with Black-Eyed Peas
Servings: about 6-8
This dish is a classic for a reason and one of my favorite ways to enjoy greens in the cold weather months. Other greens like mustard, turnip and kale will work just as well in this recipe, though they each have a distinct flavor.
2 bunches collard greens, washed thoroughly, stems removed, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 quart chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
6 ounces salt-cured country ham, diced
2 ounces unsalted butter
3 springs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from the stems
2 medium Spanish onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
- In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Add the diced country ham and the onions and cook until the onions turn translucent, stirring often, about 5-8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and thyme and cook one more minute.
- Pour apple cider into the pot to deglaze the mixture, scraping the bottom of the pan, then increase heat to medium-high and reduce the liquid by about three-quarters.
- Add the collard greens, black-eyed peas, chicken stock and smoked paprika and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and allow to cook until the beans and greens are tender, about one hour.
- During the simmering process, the beans may absorb a lot of liquid. If this happens, add warm water, about ½ cup at a time, to keep the consistency of a stew.
- The finished dish should not be dry, nor thin like a soup, but somewhere in between.
- Season to taste with a pinch or two of salt.
Note: This dish is best made a day or two ahead, chilled and reheated gently before serving. This will allow the flavors to come together. Be careful not to scorch the bottom when reheating by stirring often.
Grilled Chesapeake Bay Oysters
Servings: a dozen oysters
Big, plump, sweet Chesapeake Bay oysters are at their best during the holiday season, when the water is cooler. Specifically, I prefer Rappahannock, Stingray Point or Olde Salt oysters. At ICE, we pile them with smoky compound butter flavored with bacon and garlic. If you put just too much butter on top, don’t worry — the butter will drip over the shell into the flames below, creating a lot of smoke and flavor — and this is a very good thing.
12 Chesapeake Bay oysters
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 small bunch chives, thinly sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Fresh juice from ½ lemon
4 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp
1 small pinch of salt
1 dash Tabasco sauce
- Shuck the oysters, being careful to retain as much of the oyster liquid as possible. Leave the oysters in the cupped half of the shell and discard the flat half of the shell. Reserve.
- Mince the cooked bacon until it resembles bacon bits you would use on a salad.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the minced bacon with all the remaining ingredients except the oysters. Beat the mixture together using the paddle attachment until well-combined, about one minute on medium speed.
- Spoon the butter mixture onto the oysters, dividing evenly.
- Place the oysters in the shells directly on a preheated grill, using tongs to move them to the hottest parts.
- Cook 4-6 minutes or until the butter is melted and bubbling and the oysters have plumped. Serve immediately.
Want to master these Southern specialties and more with Chef Robert? Click here to learn about ICE’s Culinary Arts program.