Review: Red Sage
Every weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
This week I wanted to review a cookbook based on a local DC restaurant that unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore, Red Sage. They closed their doors a few years ago after 15 awesome years of producing really great American cuisine. “Red Sage” by head chef Mark Miller presents a lot of the recipes from the restaurant and also some interesting facts and history about it.
Introduction and Background. At the beginning and throughout the book there are chunks devoted to explaining their idea behind Red Sage which some thought was kind of an odd restaurant for DC. It had a Western theme and served “Western American food.” Really good Western American food. Well, okay, I never actually had the chance to eat there, but I heard from many people that their food was great.
I really liked what Miller had to say about the food selection here in DC and after reading this I started to get a sense for why he wanted to bring a Western restaurant (one that you might think to find in Sante Fe), to Washington DC:
“I looked at all the restaurants in Washington, ate at most of them, and discovered, to my amazement, that every place served French or Italian food. Even the White House served French food! I thought that was strange because when I went to Rome, I had Italian food, and when I went to Paris, I had French food. I asked people why they didn’t take me to any American restaurants, and they said that American cuisine didn’t exist…”
Miller proved those people very, very, wrong.
Fish and Game from the Wild West. This is the first chapter of recipes in the book and Chef Miller jumps right in. The seafood runs the gambit from salmon to tuna and red snapper and halibut. As the chapter goes on he gets into some great preparations for rabbit, pheasant, and of course, buffalo.
One problem I do have with this chapter is that while the recipes look amazing, some of them require some difficult ingredients. I’m not sure where to buy buffalo short ribs, for example. And the resource that Chef Miller lists at the end of the book as his buffalo supplier doesn’t seem to have them anymore.
Assuming you can get the ingredients for these dishes, they look pretty amazing. And most people should probably be able to find at least the seafood. One of my favorites in the chapter was the dry-seared spiced tuna log. The spice rub sounded about perfect. And while the Sweet Yellow Pepper Sauce that accompanies the tuna has 15 ingredients, most of them are pretty easily available and the prep doesn’t look insurmountable.
Main Dishes from the Ranch House. Now this is where an at-home chef could really do some damage with this book. Some of the recipes are actually very easy, like the Smoked Cheddar-Jalapeno Ranch Meat Loaf. Some recipes are also very inventive like the barbecued beef quesadillas. I never would have thought of that combo, but I can see how it would be amazing.
One thing that I noticed from this chapter is that the American cooking Chef Miller is talking about is centered around one thing: Meat. In the first two chapters, which span over half the book, there isn’t a single vegetarian recipe. Now, there are a lot of interesting rubs and sauces that could be added to a vegetarian dish, but Chef Miller doesn’t take that step.
As a meat eater, I guess I don’t really have a problem with this, but it seems odd to me given that there are a lot vegetarians in America.
Sides and Desserts. The next two chapters are awesome. There are about 30 sides and a bunch of different breads and desserts presented. The sides were definitely my favorite. The sides chapter is also where a lot of vegetarian fare is presented. There’s even a vegetarian chili! There is also a black and white bean waffle that I can’t really imagine the taste of, but I want it.
There is also, by my count, 7 different kinds of salsa in this chapter. Nothing wrong with that.
Challenging dishes. The fact about this book that might be daunting is that the recipes are a bit challenging. There are no five page recipes like Zuni, but a lot of the dishes have odd ingredients. Peppers I’ve never heard of and meats and cheeses that you just don’t see every day. That doesn’t mean that this book isn’t excellent. Every dish looks fantastic and there are a number that are actually quick and easy.
Some of the most inventive recipes though seem to take some time which makes sense. You don’t get anything for free right?
If I were just learning to cook though this book would scare me. Some of the 20 and 30 ingredient recipes are just too daunting at first glance. However, even an intermediate cook I think could make these dishes. They might be challenging, but they would also be fun and you would end up with some really good food.
The Pantry and Techniques. This is an essential part of this book. Chef Miller goes into detail about some of the staples that they had around the kitchen and are also referenced throughout a bunch of other recipes. This includes how to make a number of stocks but also some really interesting things like posole and various barbecue sauces and salsas.
All in all I think I will find the pantry section of the book the most useful.
So, if you are looking for a really solid cookbook describing delicious meals and you are okay with the challenge of hunting down some possibly difficult ingredients, then this might just be the book for you.