As Juneteenth is celebrated across the country, one chef is plating up a hearty serving of one of his family's traditions to mark the occasion.
African American executive chef and owner of Filé Gumbo Bar, Eric McCree, honors his grandfather's legacy at his New York City Cajun-Creole eatery and shared a dish that the pair would eat every Juneteenth since he was first able to help cook himself.
Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19 and commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.
Amid the pandemic, the audio engineer-turned-chef decided to trade in live arts from Broadway shows and concert tours for the culinary arts. He started working as a private chef before opening Filé, which is named for the iconic ingredient used to thicken and flavor gumbo.
From there, McCree's vision to "take the diner on an exploration of Louisiana food" came to life as he plated up the nuanced flavors and ingredients from the state's various regions, creating a cuisine influenced by different cultures with a focus on serving customizable gumbos.
"I grew up eating most of this food with my grandfather," he said of his larger-than-life inspiration, Aubrey "Tiny" Gaines. "It was something that I just knew and already loved -- that's the memory that I wanted to bring throughout the concept -- this food is all about that, it's about being in the kitchen and seeing and hearing the stories" about how different families make the rich and historic dishes of Louisiana.
This weekend, McCree said "we're pushing the idea that Juneteenth is a celebration of what the foundation of America is based on, of freeing everyone and being able to allow everyone of different cultures be able to experience what America has to offer."
The restaurant's menu also features fried chicken with red beans and rice, which he said he remembers "from the past Juneteenth celebrations with my grandfather."
"We would do fried chicken and then wrap it up in paper bags and bring it out to the park and eat it," McCree said. "I wanted to do a recipe to share how we make the chicken in house that my grandfather taught me."
Growing up in Boise, Idaho, McCree said he developed an early love of cooking with his grandfather, who would prep and grill mass quantities of dry-rubbed ribs and barbecue chicken for their church picnic on Juneteenth.
His grandfather's larger than life personality has been an integral part of his restaurant's concept. "I tried to make everything large, southern style portions -- and that was a play off of my grandfather, Tiny. It looks big, but the titles on the menu make it seem small or dainty."
McCree shared his full recipe below for their family's Juneteenth fried chicken, which he advised is most delicious at a picnic served room temperature.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
32 ounces - Buttermilk
15 grams - Cajun Seasoning
10 grams - Crushed Red Pepper flakes
20 grams - Kosher Mortons Salt
25 grams - Hot Sauce
1 Whole Chicken cut into pieces
150 grams - All Purpose Flour
17 grams - Cajun Seasoning
23 grams - Kosher Mortons Salt
Combine all buttermilk bath ingredients into a large bowl.
Add chicken pieces into bath, fully submerged for 24 hours.
Preheat oil in a dutch oven to 300 degrees. Remove chicken from bath and toss in a brown paper bag filled with floor dredge and shake. Shake off excess flour and add chicken into oil.
Fry until chicken floats to the surface of the oil and reaches an internal temperature 165 degrees with a meat thermometer.
Take out chicken and season immediately with Cajun seasoning.