By Donna Cornelius
Journal features writer
Morgan Murphy has a rule about food: He tries not to eat anything he can’t pronounce.
“I’m not a food snob,” Murphy said. “There is a time and a place for Velveeta. I’ll eat a hotdog as readily as I’ll eat foie gras.”
The Mountain Brook resident’s new cookbook is devoted to two unpretentious Southern culinary darlings. “Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to the South’s Favorite Food Groups” tells readers everything they need to know about the popular potable and the prime part of pork.
“I wrote a cookbook that I would love,” Murphy said.
Southern Living readers likely will remember the writer’s wittiness as the magazine’s travel editor. Murphy has expressed his sense of humor in his new cookbook, too. The book begins with warnings like “Do not make anything in this book and then operate heavy machinery” and “The only whole grains in these recipes were immediately made into whisky.”
But putting the book together was serious business, Murphy said.
“I researched the old-fashioned way,” he said. “I drove about 10,000 miles last summer, visiting homes and businesses and poking around in distilleries. I got in pens with hogs.
“I take my job very seriously. I love bourbon and I adore bacon.”
Murphy packed his camera as well as his notebook.
“The book has tons of images. Every other page has photos,” he said.
He even drew “Morgan’s Pig Map,” the book’s two-page sketch of a hog with edible parts labeled. The pig’s feet are tagged with this handy tip: “Pickle these babies and sell ’em at a gas station.”
The book is divided, naturally enough, into two sections, one for each of Murphy’s two favorite “food groups.” Each section includes recipes, history lessons and fun facts.
“I wanted the book to read like a novel,” Murphy said.
Some recipes were contributed by well-known chefs like Frank Stitt, Chris Hastings and Leah Chase.
“Other recipes are favorites from Southern Living, pulled from its archives, and some are my own creations,” Murphy said.
Bourbon-centric recipes include The Handsome Devil, a drink that Murphy calls “an unabashed lady killer,” and Bourbon-Banana Pudding Panna Cotta from Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, S.C.
Bacon takes center stage with Smoked Pork Belly Sandwiches with Apple Butter and with Georgia Grits Waffles.
And some recipes, like Bourbon Candied Bacon, go whole hog by teaming up the cookbook’s two food stars.
Writing the book was a “journey of discovery for me,” Murphy said.
“I didn’t know much about bourbon when I started—I just knew I loved it,” he said. “But I found out that bourbon is tightly controlled. It can have no additives.”
Murphy said he learned that the bourbon-making process is pretty pure and simple.
“You and I could make bourbon tonight. I couldn’t make Diet Coke in 50 years,” he said.
Both bourbon and bacon are produced today very much like they were years ago, he said.
“You could take someone from 1895 and set him down at a modern distillery, and he’d understand the process. And you could take a farmer from the past to a boutique farm, and he’d understand how the bacon is being made,” Murphy said.
“Bourbon & Bacon” is the third cookbook for Murphy, who also wrote the bestselling “Southern Living: Off the Eaten Path” series.
He’s a judge on the Travel Channel’s new “American Grilled” show and was a James Beard Award nominee for his “Off the Eaten Path” video series.
The Alabama native began his journalistic career by working at a high-profile magazine.
“I started at Vanity Fair in 1994,” Murphy said. “From there I went to Forbes and then to Southern Living in 2000.”
He left his job as a Southern Living executive editor in 2007.
“I was managing 30 writers and photographers, and I got away from what I liked to do,” he said.
Since then, he’s become a TV and radio personality as well as a writer. He made a return appearance on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” earlier this month. He’s also been on NBC’s “Today” show, CNN, Sirius/XM and NPR.
“The last time I was on ‘Fox and Friends,’ we ended up having a food fight,” Murphy said.
The University of Oxford and Birmingham-Southern College graduate serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
He’s also an adjunct instructor in the University of Alabama’s journalism department.
A memorable lunch with Anne Sutherland Fuchs, then the publisher of Vogue, reminds Murphy that “we’ve all made food mistakes,” he said.
“I was 22 at the time. We went to a nice restaurant, and she ordered artichoke. I stuck a whole leaf in my mouth,” Murphy said. “She smiled and said, ‘You can spit that out, dear.’”
“Bourbon & Bacon: The Ultimate Guide to The South’s Favorite Food Groups” is a Southern Living book published by Oxmoor House. The price for the 288-page hardcover book is $22.95. It’s available at Birmingham area bookstores and on amazon.com.
For more information, visit oxmoorhouse.com.
If you’re a bourbon and bacon fan—and who’s not?–you’ll want to try these recipes from Morgan Murphy’s new cookbook.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Bacon and Sweet Corn
“When tomato season hits, I make a reservation at Hot and Hot Fish Club. Digging into Chris Hastings’ famous tomato salad is as much a part of my summer as the twilight that lingers like friends after a dinner party.”—Morgan Murphy
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pure olive oil
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
12 (1/2-inch-thick) red tomato slices (2 large tomatoes)
12 (1/2-inch-thick) yellow heirloom tomato slices (2 large tomatoes)
12 (1/2-inch-thick) rainbow-colored heirloom tomato slices (2 large tomatoes)
1 (12-oz.) container cherry tomatoes
Field Peas and Corn
6 cooked applewood-smoked bacon slices
Makes 6 servings
Hands-on time: 47 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
1. Prepare marinated tomatoes: Stir together first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Reserve 3 tbsp. vinaigrette for later use. Place tomato slices in bowl with remaining vinaigrette, turning gently to coat. Cover and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
2. Assemble the salad: Alternately stack 2 each of red, gold, and rainbow marinated tomato slices on each of 6 plates. Place cherry tomatoes evenly around sliced tomatoes. Spoon Field Peas and Corn over tomato stack. Top each salad with 5 pieces Fried Okra and 1 cooked bacon slice. Drizzle 3 tbsp. Chive Aioli over each salad. Serve immediately.
Field Peas and Corn
Bring 6 oz. fresh field peas, 1/2 chopped onion, 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, 1 applewood-smoked
bacon slice, 2 cups water and 1 tsp. kosher salt to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 16 minutes or until tender. Drain, discarding bacon slice. Place peas in a medium bowl and let cool 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups water and 1 tsp. kosher salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 3 ears fresh yellow corn and boil 8 minutes or until tender; drain. Cut kernels from cobs. Discard cobs. Add corn and reserved 3 Tbsp. vinaigrette from tomatoes to peas, tossing to coat. Cover and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes.
Pour vegetable oil to depth of 2 inches into a Dutch oven; heat to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, trim stems from 9 oz. small, fresh whole okra (30 pods). Stir together okra and 1/4 cup buttermilk in a small bowl. Stir together 1/4 cup masa harina (corn flour), 1/4 cup plain yellow cornmeal, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper in a separate medium bowl. Remove okra from buttermilk, in batches, using a slotted spoon. Dredge in cornmeal mixture and place in a wire-mesh strainer. Shake off excess. Fry okra, in two batches, 1 minute and 30 seconds or until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt.
Place 3 tbsp. thinly sliced fresh chives, 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon), 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 large egg yolk and 1 large garlic clove, minced, in large bowl of a stand mixer. Beat at medium speed 8 minutes, gradually adding 1 cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream until thickened.
“Chef and fellow Navy man Clif Holt of Birmingham’s Little Savannah restaurant has contributed this killer recipe for bacon-wrapped filets topped by a bourbon peppercorn cream sauce.”—Morgan Murphy
6 peppered bacon slices
4 (8- to 9-oz.) beef tenderloin filets
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. bacon drippings
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup bourbon
1 rosemary sprig
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 tbsp. bourbon
Makes 4 servings
Hands-on time: 31 min.
Total time: 31 min.
1. Place bacon on several layers of paper towels on a large microwave-safe plate. Cover with a paper towel. Microwave at HIGH 2 minutes or just until bacon begins to brown. (Bacon will be partially cooked, not crisp.)
2. Wrap 1 ½ bacon slices around sides of each filet; secure with wooden picks. Sprinkle filets with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook sides of filets in hot bacon drippings in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, turning until bacon is browned. Cook filets 4 minutes on each side or to desired degree of doneness. Remove filets from skillet. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes.
3. Add shallots to skillet; cook, stirring often, 2 minutes or until golden. Add ½ cup bourbon and cook 2 minutes, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of skillet. Add rosemary and beef broth. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, 6 to 7 minutes or until reduced by half.
4. Remove and discard rosemary sprig. Stir in heavy cream and cracked pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in 1 tbsp. bourbon just before serving. Drizzle sauce over filets, or serve alongside.