Cooks Corner

June 1, 2014

Alabama white sauce is a tangy regional specialty

A note from a reader inquiring about an elusive white barbecue sauce leads perfectly into a roundup of recent cookbooks that are Cook’s Corner-approved.

A note from a reader inquiring about an elusive white barbecue sauce leads perfectly into a roundup of recent cookbooks that are Cook’s Corner-approved.

Reader question: White BBQ sauce?

Q. My husband recently was on the road and came home raving about a white barbecue sauce he had on a pulled pork sandwich. He maintains it was not mayonnaise, but had a kick. Do you have any idea what he is talking about?

Kay Aldano

A. Pure coincidence: In March I was thumbing through Southern Living and saw a recipe for white barbecue sauce in a feature about making mayonnaise. The magazine said to use the “vinegary, piquant north Alabama specialty” as a basting and finishing sauce.

Intrigued, I looked for more information. Various web sources credit the sauce to Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Ala., which started serving it in 1925. There are a lot of variations on the theme, but basically the recipe is mayonnaise, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper plus embellishments such as horseradish, Worcestershire, mustard or garlic.

Cookbook Corner: Grilling

• The recipe here using Alabama white sauce is from Grill to Perfection ($21.99, Page Street Publishing) by two champion pit masters, Andy Husbands and Chris Hart (with a foreward by Steven Raichlen; see Page E1). They describe the sauce as “a regional oddity that is virtually known outside Northern Alabama, tangy and rich, with a kick of horseradish. It is typically paired with chicken but tastes great with just about anything you can think to pour it on or dip in it.”

There are a lot of barbecue and grilling cookbooks out for the summer, but Grill to Perfection, released in April, is one of my favorites because it not only has intriguing recipes but makes grilling quite approachable with its emphasis on techniques.

In the chicken with Alabama white sauce recipe here, for example, it explains that dry rubs make for crispy skin. And “by cooking the chicken over low, direct heat, you vastly reduce the risk of burning the skin.” If you’re an expert you may find the directions overly tedious, but those who just wing it will love the help.

• If you enjoy reading a cookbook as much as trying the recipes, a must is The New York Times Grilling Cookbook ($24.95, Sterling Epicure) edited by Peter Kaminsky. Released in April, it is a tome — 400 pages, covering 100 years — with some of the great names in food writing and recipe creation who worked at The Times.

Florence Fabricant and Molly O’Neill perennially resound with me, but I also enjoyed anecdotes, food history and recipes from Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Jacques Pépin, Mimi Sheraton and so many more. This is a great book for your library, a lovely and comprehensive read. If I were to quibble, there are downsides: the dour grayness (hardly any photos, so like the New York Times of old) and a paucity of instruction for those who are not experts.

Cookbook Corner: Healthy Eating

• Every day it seems there is a new diet or go-green or detox cookbook hitting the shelves, but the standout has to be Michel Guerard’s Eat Well and Stay Slim ($40, Frances Lincoln Limited). Guerard revolutionized French cooking and was a driving force behind nouvelle cuisine. His groundbreaking 1970s Cuisine Minceur has sold more than a million copies.

This new book, out since April, reflects Guerard’s 40 years of cooking traditional flavor with fewer calories at his spa resort in southwest France, and shows the global influences that are redefining French cuisine. The main courses all are 240 calories or fewer (ceviche of white fish with mango and ginger; warm Thai chicken salad with potatoes; mushroom tarts with asparagus) and desserts equally appealing despite being low in calories (raspberry tiramisu! Apple crepes!). 140 recipes, with lots of gorgeous photos and illustrations.

•  The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson ($35, Stewart, Tabori & Chang) is enchanting, a beautiful journal of her move from New York City to a cabin in the woods near San Francisco. The natural surroundings inspired her to create vegetarian foods that use few ingredients and are simple to prepare yet celebrate fresh flavor.

Charming watercolor illustrations, photography and hand-lettering add to the appeal of the book, released in April. Her strawberry salad — a light mix of cucumber ribbons, sliced berries, crumbled goat cheese, peas and nuts tossed with lemon juice and olive oil — is a perfect example of the flavors Gleeson manages with little fuss and a short ingredient list.

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