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Soulful Delight: Elevating Breakfast with Jimmy Red Corn Grits and Sun-Kissed Egg Yolks

In the heart of Nashville, at Chef Sean Brock's Audrey, an Appalachian-inspired haven, a culinary marvel unfolds on plates – Jimmy Red corn grits adorned with sun-kissed, sorghum-cured egg yolks and a hint of bay laurel. This dish, now a signature at Audrey, tells a tale of revival, a resurrection from the brink of culinary extinction.

Jimmy Red, a deep red "dent" corn with a storied history dating back to the Appalachian Mountains, faced the threat of vanishing entirely, much like a forgotten legend. Once the secret ingredient of bootleggers crafting moonshine on South Carolina's James Island around 1900, the corn's survival hung in the balance when the last known bootlegger cultivating it passed away in the early 2000s.

Enter Sean Brock, not yet the acclaimed James Beard award-winning chef we know today, but a culinary maverick with a passion for preserving heritage. Brock's journey to rescue Jimmy Red began in 2007 at Blackberry Farm, where he attended a presentation on seed saving led by John Coykendall and Glenn Roberts. Inspired by their mission to reclaim the forgotten flavors of the Old South, Brock committed himself to the cause.

His dedication manifested in more than just culinary prowess; it became a permanent mark, a tattoo sleeve featuring Jimmy Red corn and other Southern heirloom vegetables. Like a Southern evangelist on a mission, Brock felt a calling to save not just flavors but seeds – a responsibility to a culinary heritage he was only beginning to explore.

Today, Jimmy Red stands triumphant, not just as a grain resurrected but as a symbol of the South's culinary resilience. Thanks to Sean Brock's vision, this once-endangered heirloom now thrives in fields tended by farmers and graces the tables of chefs and distilleries across the American South. As diners savor the creamy embrace of Jimmy Red grits and the richness of sorghum-cured egg yolks at Audrey, they indulge in more than a dish; they partake in a living testament to the power of culinary passion and preservation.

In the realm of culinary revival, Sean Brock's quest to resurrect the illustrious Jimmy Red corn reads like a chapter from a gastronomic epic. Guided by Glenn Roberts, a guardian of heritage seeds, Brock ventured to South Carolina, seeking the custodianship of a handful of withered Jimmy Red corn ears from fellow seed saver Ted Chewning. This exchange, more sacred than the trading of gold among seed preservers, marked the genesis of a flavorful renaissance.

With bated breath, Brock received Chewning's trust, akin to asking for a cherished hand in marriage. Planting the kernels the very next day, Brock became an obsessive guardian, monitoring the cornstalks' progress like a devoted custodian. The harvest became a jubilant celebration, with the aromatic allure and nutty-sweet essence transporting Brock back to the rustic table of his grandmother Audrey in rural Virginia. Audrey, a seed saver herself, introduced Brock to meals featuring heirloom corn varietals and other treasures not found in local grocery aisles.

Traditionally deemed a humble Southern staple, grits, under Brock's visionary touch, transcended their origins. At Audrey, the creamy porridge, sourced from the resurrected Jimmy Red corn, takes center stage, adorned with a sorghum-cured egg yolk. Brock's culinary genius refuses to be confined to the predictable, moving beyond tourist favorites like shrimp and grits that once defined his Charleston kitchens. Instead, diners at Audrey savor the culmination of years of dedication – breaking into the silky egg yolk, intertwining it with red-flecked grits, unlocking nuances of truffle and pine.

Beyond the grits, Brock crafts an exceptional Jimmy Red cornbread, a crusty revelation served with sour corn butter enriched with folded fermented corn, and cracklins of fried pork skin – a distinct departure from the commonplace. In Brock's words, the movement to contribute to the cuisine of ancestors is an "exciting, fulfilling, and delicious journey." Each bite at Audrey encapsulates this journey, a culmination of years of passion, preservation, and a relentless commitment to honoring the roots of Southern culinary heritage.

Indulge in the culinary symphony orchestrated by Chef Sean Brock as he unveils the secrets behind the revered Jimmy Red Corn Grits with Sorghum-Cured Egg, a masterpiece served at the esteemed Audrey. This modified recipe, crafted for the home cook, promises to transport you to the heart of Southern heritage with every decadent bite.

For the Sorghum-Cured Egg Yolks:

Ingredients:

1,000ml (4¼ cups) water1,000g (4 cups) sorghum syrup (see Note)200g (¾ cup) kosher salt8 whole egg yolksInstructions:

In a wide, shallow container, blend water, sorghum syrup, and salt, ensuring a harmonious mixture.Immerse the egg yolks in the brine and allow them to cure in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Flip and baste every few hours until the yolks develop a firm exterior and a lusciously thickened interior.For the Grits:

Ingredients:

2 cups ground corn grits, preferably heirloom or Jimmy Red (soaked overnight, skimmed, and water discarded)8 cups water1 fresh bay leafSaltGround white pepperLemon juiceHot sauce, preferably Red Clay3 tbsp unsalted butter2 tbsp cream cheeseInstructions:

In a large saucepan, combine soaked grits and water, slowly bringing them to a simmer.Skim off any rising chaff with a fine mesh tea strainer. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring diligently to prevent sticking.Introduce the bay leaf and continue simmering for another 45 minutes. Adjust thickness with water if necessary.Season the finished grits with salt, white pepper, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Incorporate butter and cream cheese, folding until luxuriously creamy.Serve:

Spoon the delectable grits into bowls, each crowned with a heavenly sorghum-cured egg yolk. Allow the symphony of flavors to dance on your palate, as you savor a dish meticulously crafted to pay homage to the rich tapestry of Southern culinary heritage.

Sorghum syrup can be found in gourmet and whole food groceries or online. BBC.com's World's Table invites you to break through culinary boundaries, transforming the way we perceive food across time, cultures, and the evolving gastronomic landscape.

In the tapestry of Southern culinary heritage, Chef Sean Brock's Jimmy Red Corn Grits with Sorghum-Cured Egg emerges as a masterpiece, inviting home cooks to partake in a sensory journey through time and tradition. As the grits simmer to perfection, infused with the essence of heirloom or Jimmy Red corn, and the sorghum-cured egg yolks add a layer of decadence, this recipe becomes a bridge between the past and present.

The careful orchestration of flavors — the nutty sweetness of sorghum, the earthy richness of bay laurel, and the unmistakable character of Jimmy Red corn — pays homage to the resilience of Southern ingredients. As diners spoon into bowls crowned with the jewel-like cured yolks, there's a palpable connection to a culinary legacy that almost slipped through the fingers of time.

Chef Sean Brock's dedication to preserving not just flavors but the stories woven into each ingredient is evident in this recipe. The grits, once considered a humble staple, are transformed into a canvas for heritage and innovation. The crackling crust of Jimmy Red cornbread, the infusion of sour corn butter, and the savory crunch of cracklins elevate the dining experience, offering a taste of Southern cuisine redefined.

This culinary alchemy, shared generously with home cooks, embodies the spirit of Sean Brock's mission — a commitment to contributing, reviving, and celebrating the gastronomic treasures of the past. As each dish is savored, it echoes the resilience of Jimmy Red corn, once on the brink of oblivion, now thriving as a symbol of culinary resurgence.

In every flavorful bite, the Jimmy Red Corn Grits with Sorghum-Cured Egg is more than a recipe; it's a celebration of heritage, a testament to the power of culinary storytelling, and an invitation to savor the rich, diverse flavors that define the Southern table.