Cook the Book

Cook the Book: Cured

By: Amber Chase

It feels fitting to dive into the world of ferments, pickling, and curing right as spring begins. All too often, I’m known to get swept up in the folly of farmers market overhead and find my fridge filled to the brim with wilted greens, browning vegetables, and a spoiled haul. This is one of the many reasons I was drawn to Steve McHugh and Paula ForbesCured: Cooking with Ferments, Pickles, Preserves & More, leaning into a desire to strategize, plan, and, ultimately, respect the produce I obtain and transform it into a kitchen staple even during the colder months. McHugh draws from personal experience battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, grappling with a different concept of “cure,” and says that his experience undergoing cancer treatment impressed upon him the idea that prolonging moments with friends, family, and food was an art to be sought after. This same idea of stretching and strengthening applies to McHugh’s culinary outlook, that curing and preserving ingredients bolsters their flavors and elevates them as “secret weapons” to take a dish to the next level. Though much of his career was based in New Orleans, McHugh now resides in San Antonio, Texas, where the namesake “Cured” also arches over the historic brick building of McHugh’s restaurant. 

chef Steve McHugh of Cured

McHugh’s restaurant, Cured, is known for their powerhouse charcuterie boards, leaning into whole-hog butchery with housemade salami, pâtés, and sausages. As a charcuterie aficionado myself, I was excited to peruse the recipes for ways to enhance my own skills. I’m known as an intense planner, plotting deadlines, toting around my calendar, and ticking off my to do list notch by notch. Knowing full well I was tackling a cookbook on fermentation, I was prepared to plan months in advance but was pleasantly surprised to find many of the recipes required 24 hours or less of fermentation before serving. This said, my timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as I finished McHugh’s cucumber pickles, chicken liver mousse, compound butter, and grissini just as my cheese subscription box from The Cheese Shop NC arrived. This, truly, is my favorite dinner: grazing and savoring the fruits of time well-spent and flavors well-formed. 

The structure of Cured is unique from many cookbooks I’ve encountered as it leaves ample space to play. When pulling together spices for my grissini, McHugh has suggested seasoning for texture and flavor, but leaves the door open for experimentation into other savory or sweet directions. This is my favorite way to cook; reading through a recipe as a source of guidance and inspiration, then tossing in a bit of my own personality when relevant. Aside from space for individual interpretation, I also admired the buildability and versatility of Cured’s recipes. McHugh’s chicken liver mousse utilizes a compound butter recipe that I now have in my freezer to top fish, steak, or veggies for an effortless pop of flavor. Additionally, I only used half of the yeast dough base for the grissini, leaving me with a prime dough set up for pizza night later in the week. Fermenting can often feel like an extra step or a hurdle striving after that sought-out tang, but McHugh’s recipes were an empowerment to re-envision ingredients not for what are in the moment, but for everything they can become.

My Favorite Recipes from Cured

Grissini on a sheet pan, ready to be baked


To put it bluntly, these are addictive. The simple yeast dough base for these grissini can be frozen and briefly thawed, making these breadsticks much more accessible on weekdays. My toddler was obsessed with dunking these in some of the softened compound butter, and we have hopes to make a sweet version together dusted with cinnamon sugar and dipped into Nutella.

Cured Chicken Liver Mousse

Chicken Liver Mousse

I was honestly a little terrified of making my first savory mousse. This said, the recipe steps were straightforward and simple and the mousse turned out perfectly fluffy. In hindsight, I would have baked the mousse in ramekins as suggested to maintain structure and avoid destroying it for serving. The unsung hero of this dish is the compound butter adding a little tang from apple cider vinegar with a medley of spices and herbs.

Cured cucumber pickles from a jar

Cucumber Pickles

It felt unorthodox to leave something pickled off of my list, and I’m so grateful I did not refrain! These cucumber pickles have that crave-able crunch, ample amounts of dill (a necessity in my humble opinion), and a tangy, bright brine. It took a fair amount of convincing for my husband to believe these only pickled for 24 hours.

Two renditions of a mix-and-match jam cocktail

Mix-and-Match Jam Cocktail

The sheer brilliance of this cocktail made it a recipe I couldn’t pass up. Two ounces of liquor, a tablespoon and a half of jam, ice, and club soda, shaken and poured. This was a cocktail I can make on a stressful Tuesday evening, returning from vacation to bare cupboards, or when I need to serve a crowd quickly. McHugh offers some pairing suggestions, and I moved forward with blueberry jam (that I happened to have on hand) and Durham Distillery’s Conniption Barrel Aged Gin. The result was a hassle-free sipper that felt fresh and only slightly sweet.

Get these recipes and more in Cured: Cooking with Ferments, Pickles, Preserves & More.

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