How Sean Brock Makes Pimento Cheese

The James Beard Award–winning chef shares a recipe from his new cookbook

When Sean Brock talks about pimento cheese, people tend to pay attention. The chef at McCrady’s and Husk, in Charleston, South Carolina, and Husk Nashville has been one of the driving forces behind the recent revival of Southern food, with a frequently cited library of vintage cookbooks and a passion for heirloom ingredients that he—literally—wears on his sleeve, in the form of colorful vegetable tattoos. In his cookbook, Heritage, Brock spills years of recipes and stories, including his signature recipe for pimento cheese, one of the South’s most cherished—and debated—staples. Check it out below.


Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards

Pimento Cheese
Makes 2½ to 3 cups

I’ve seen people almost get into fistfights over who has a better pimento cheese recipe. Southerners don’t mess around when it comes to their cherished “pâté de Sud.” We slather the stuff on everything from celery stalks to saltine crackers, and some people won’t even consider eating a hamburger without a half-inch layer of pimento cheese in the stack.

Everyone has his or her own way of making pimento cheese, but the biggest debate always revolves around what kind of mayo is used. I prefer Duke’s; it happens to be my favorite. But you can use your favorite brand—that’s what making a signature pimento cheese is all about. Of course this is best made with pimento peppers you roast yourself, but if you can’t get the fresh peppers, substitute 12 ounces jarred whole pimentos, drained and diced (don’t use jarred chopped pimentos—they have no flavor).

3 large pimento peppers (about 12 oz.)
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s
½ tsp. vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. sugar
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
⅛ tsp. freshly ground white pepper
⅛ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus ½ cup of the brine (if you can't find ramps, you can substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine)
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater 

1. Roast the peppers over an open flame on a gas stovetop, one pepper at a time, on the prongs of a carving fork. Or place on a baking sheet and roast under a hot broiler. In either case, turn the peppers to blister all sides. Then transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside to let the peppers steam until cool enough to handle.

2. Carefully peel the blackened skin off each pepper. Cut the peppers lengthwise in half, open out flat on a cutting board, and carefully scrape away all the seeds and membrane. Dice the peppers. 

3. Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until softened. Add the mayonnaise and mix well. Add the hot sauce, salt, sugar, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and smoked paprika and stir to blend. Add the pickles, brine, and cheddar cheese and stir again. Fold in the diced pimentos. 

4. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Tightly covered, the pimento cheese will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. 

Note
For creamier pimento cheese, combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.

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