Marcus Samuelsson’s “The Red Rooster Cookbook”

Listen 00:49:29

Hour 2

Guest: Marcus Samuelsson

Chef MARCUS SAMUELSSON has an unusual story for a celebrity chef.  Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple when he was just two years old.  From Sweden, he made his way to executive chef at one of Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive restaurants, Aquavit, which serves Nordic cuisine, and at 23 years old, was the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star rating from the New York Times.  Samuelsson owns a number of popular restaurants, most famously, the Red Rooster in Harlem, which serves eclectic comfort food, and has written a memoir and several cookbooks. His new cookbook is The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. Samuelsson stops by to talk with Marty about his global upbringing, his passion for food, and to share recipes from his new book, including Shrimp, Bird and Grits, Obama’s Short Ribs, and Mac and Greens.


Makes 1 (9-x-5-inch) Loaf

This is right up there with the Fried Yardbird as a core recipe at the Rooster. We even have someone dedicated to making all our corn bread. Charles Webb, a former Alvin Ailey dancer, is the keeper of our secrets.
I knew from the beginning how I wanted it to taste, but we continue to tinker and change the recipe. This version is very moist, almost custardy. It will keep for 4 days, but a better plan is to freeze individual slices.

1 cup cake flour
1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
¾ cup sugar
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons Aleppo pepper
1½ teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1¾ cups sour cream
1½ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed frozen)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray a 9-x-5-inch loaf pan with pan spray.
Whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, Aleppo pepper, and salt together in a bowl.
Whisk the sour cream, buttermilk, eggs, yolk, and melted butter together in another bowl until smooth.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until combined. Fold in the corn.
Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth out the top. Bake until the bread is browned and pulling away from the sides of the pan and a skewer poked into the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the sides and turn out the loaf. You can cut it now— the slices will be messy—or cool completely.

There are plenty of things to spread on corn bread—like either the Bird Funk or Chicken Liver Butter—but I do love the way sage honey butter melts into the bread when it’s warm: Beat 2 tablespoons honey and 12 ripped fresh sage leaves into 8 tablespoons (1 stick) softened unsalted butter. Check it for salt. Cover and refrigerate the honey butter for at least an hour to give the sage a chance to work its flavor into the butter, but take it out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.

Mac and Greens
Serves 10 to 12

Sometimes you put a dish on the menu to try it out, and it takes over. You find that out when you take it off the menu and there’s a chorus of disappointed voices. That dish has become a classic.
I wanted comfort food, but I knew I needed something to cut the richness. Collards give you something to chew on and a different kind of richness. Then I took another left turn and slipped in some cauliflower for another level of texture. Everybody agrees. Mac and Greens is yummy.

Cut the cauliflower into very small florets—the size of a fingernail.

For the Mac and Greens
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 quart) heavy cream
1 cup milk
1½ cups tiny cauliflower florets
½ cup crème fraîche
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (½ packed cup)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 pound orecchiette or other small, sturdy pasta, cooked until just tender
2 cups Killer Collards (recipe below), reheated

For the topping
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
¼ packed cup fresh parsley leaves
2 packed tablespoons fresh basil leaves
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (¼ packed cup)
¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

For the Mac and Greens
Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the broiler. Butter a 9-x-13-inch baking dish.
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring often, until turning golden, 9 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in half the cream and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens and comes to a simmer. Pour in the remaining cream, the milk, and the cauliflower and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils. Turn off the heat and add the crème fraîche and cheeses. Whisk until the cheeses melt. Whisk in the mustard, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta and collards and stir well. Pour into the baking dish.

For the topping
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the herbs are minced. Strew evenly over the mac and greens.
Broil until the topping is golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Leave this to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

Killer Collards
Serves 6 to 8

Everyone has a mom or aunty who knows “the best” way to make collards, so I knew we’d have controversy when I skipped the ham hock or salt pork and made them lush with a lot of spiced butter. I love it! That kind of argument makes for the liveliest dinner table conversation.

1 cup (8 ounces) Spiced Butter (recipe below)
1 onion, chopped
2 Thai bird chiles, minced, or ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 pounds collard greens, stemmed and chopped
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Coarse kosher salt

Melt the spiced butter in a large stockpot over medium- high heat. Add the onion and chiles and sauté until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add the collards and stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, and salt to taste and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer until the greens are very tender, about 1½ hours.
Serve hot or warm.

Spiced Butter
We use this butter as a flavor enhancer—you find it in a lot of recipes in the book. It has a hint of funk, like the funk of fermented foods, the new wave of flavor to follow umami.
There are a lot of versions of spiced butter in Ethiopia. My version is true to that made by my wife Maya’s tribe, the Gurage.
Melt 8 sticks (2 pounds) unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 minced shallots, a 2-inch piece ginger (peeled, sliced, and smashed), 1½ tablespoons coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, 1½ teaspoons fenugreek, 1½ teaspoons ajwain*, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon ground turmeric. Simmer very gently for 30 minutes to infuse the flavors. Keep an eye on this; you don’t want the milk solids to brown.
Skim off all the foam and any floating seeds and let the butter sit for about 10 minutes for the milk solids to settle on the bottom.
Carefully pour the spiced butter through a sieve lined with a few layers of cheesecloth into a container, leaving the solids behind. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. It will keepfor months.
This makes about 3 cups.

*Ajwain. Common in Indian cooking, this tiny pod has a complex, bitter flavor and smells like thyme. You can find it in Indian markets (or online from,, and

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