Much like college football itself, John Currence’s new cookbook almost didn’t happen this year. Tailgreat: How to Crush It at Tailgating had already been announced when the coronavirus became a global pandemic in March.
“There’s not going to be any football,” Currence’s agent predicted at the time. “There’s not going to be any tailgating.” What was the point of publishing a book designed to be, as Currence puts it, “a road map to doing a tailgate that’s a little more adventurous,” if there weren’t tents and grills and batched cocktails in parking lots? In the end, however, Currence and his publisher, Ten Speed Press (the same house behind Aaron Franklin’s cookbooks and and Joe Yonan’s Cool Beans) decided that the cookbook worked with or without football season. Or maybe even better: while Tailgreat’s ambitious recipes were meant to travel and to feed a crowd, they’re also great—and perhaps even a little easier—at home, for just two or four or six.
Now there’s football after all—if not proper tailgating. A New Orleans native (and huge Saints fan), Currence lives in Oxford, Mississippi, home of the Ole Miss Rebels, where both the town and business at his four restaurants (City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, Snackbar, and Boure) are simply not the same without visiting fans from both in and out of state—including, of course, Texas Aggies—let alone the legendary tailgates of the Grove. “There was no Grove,” Currence says of the first Saturday home game. “There was some ‘Grove’ in my front yard. Which was fun, and provided us with a moment of normalcy.”
Currence remains a little sad that Texas A&M poached athletic director Ross Bjork, a friend, from Ole Miss in 2019, but is happy to have the Aggies in the SEC, and especially happy when they come to town, at least during normal times. “Bringing A&M in just made all the sense in the world from a competition standpoint” he says. “And I love playing Texas teams across the board, because y’all come to town, and you know how to spend to have a good time.”
Tailgreat includes plenty of Texas-accented eats, including bean dip, boudin kolaches, a Frito pie that’s literally a pie (with crushed Fritos as the crust), and the recipe we offer here: Huevos Rancheros Grits Casserole, which is sort of a Tex-Mex spin on shakshuka, with beans, cheesy grits, corn tortillas, salsa and eggs, which are cracked over the casserole and baked at the last minute. Pro tip from Currence—make sure the oven’s really hot, and get it out of there the minute the whites set. Then get it on the table just as fast. Nobody wants hard-boiled huevos.
Make it this weekend for Texas-OU and A&M-Florida, which both kick off in time for brunch (11 a.m. Central). And then maybe make it again on November 21, when Ole Miss visits Texas A&M.
Huevos Rancheros Grits Casserole
This recipe puts a Mexican twist on shakshuka, a dish I fell in love with during a trip to Israel in 2015. You can prepare most of it the night before and slam it in the oven thirty minutes before heading out the door, though it is definitely best put together at the last minute. Garnish once you’re at the tailgate. It is filling and flavorful, and you can add almost anything to it. Chorizo, roasted chicken, shrimp, roasted mushrooms, sautéed onions and peppers, and bacon all make excellent additions.
2 cups dried black beans
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup diced yellow onion
¼ cup diced jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 cups water
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 bay leaf
¼ cup sherry vinegar
Salt and black pepper
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup stone-ground grits
6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
3 (8-inch) flour or corn tortillas
Salt and black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Roasted tomato salsa, either homemade or your store-bought favorite, for serving
Hot sauce for serving (optional)
Make the Beans:
- Place the black beans in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 4 inches. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel or cover it loosely with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Soak the beans for at least 5 hours or up to overnight. Drain the beans, reserving ½ cup of the soaking water, and set aside.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Sauté the onion, jalapeño, and garlic until tender, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, and oregano and blend well. Add the beans, 4 cups water, lime juice, and bay leaf and cook over low heat until tender, about 1 ½ hours.
- In a small saucepan, cook the sherry vinegar over medium heat until reduced by half. Add the reserved soaking water and reduce by a third. Remove ½ cup of the beans and puree them in a food processor or blender. Return the pureed beans to the pot and blend well. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Cool and set aside.
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Make the Grits:
- Combine the milk and chicken stock in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and whisk in the grits. Cook, stirring constantly, until the grits are tender, about 20 minutes, depending on the grind (check the package directions; better quality grits will take longer to cook).
- Blend in the butter, cream, Parmesan, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Stir well to combine and pour the grits into a large cast-iron skillet.
Make the Tortilla Strips:
- Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet to 375 degrees. Roll the tortillas into a cylinder and cut them crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices. Carefully place tortilla strips in the hot oil and stir gently until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and drain. (Note: You can also purchase premade tortilla corn chips and crumble instead.)
- Spoon the grits into a large cast-iron skillet (one 14-inch or two smaller skillets) and roughly smooth the top.
- Spread the beans over the grits and use a large serving spoon to make eight divots in the black beans and grits.
- Crack an egg into each of the divots and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Bake until the whites of the eggs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top with the tortilla strips, cilantro, salsa, avocado, and hot sauce (if you like). Serve hot.
Reprinted from Tailgreat: How to Crush It at Tailgating. Copyright © 2020 by John Currence. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Peter Frank Edwards.