Food & Drink

Vivian Howard’s Baked Pimento Cheese and Sausage

The star of A Chef’s Life shares her simple yet refined sausage and pimento dip

photo: Rex Miller


“Just after I happened into making blueberry barbecue sauce and found my voice, I started thinking about appetizers that spoke of the region. Pimento cheese and crackers came to mind. And although other chefs have done pimento cheese to accolades, I just didn’t think it fully reflected the dip culture Down East. Then I thought of the artery cement my sister Leraine serves on Christmas Eve. Cream cheese, sausage, and Ro-Tel heated in a crockpot till somebody spoons it into a Frito Scoop. (I can’t believe I just wrote Frito Scoop in my book.)

Since its debut at Chef and the Farmer, baked pimento cheese and sausage has never gone away. We’ve taken it off the menu, but those in the know have always ordered it, and we’ve obliged them. Now its home is at the Boiler Room, where it’s their number-one seller. They serve the cheese with our homemade saltines.” —Vivian Howard

Note: Using high-quality cheese makes a big difference here. At the very least, do not use pre-shredded cheese food from a bag. That stuff is often coated with a powdery substance that keeps it from clumping, but it also keeps it from tasting like cheese.


Ingredients

    • 3 cups pimento cheese (recipe below)

    • 1 pound fresh sausage, cooked and crumbled

    • 2/3 cup panko bread crumbs

  • Pimento Cheese

    • 2 cups grated sharp yellow cheddar (about 10 ounces)

    • 2 cups grated aged white cheddar (about 10 ounces)

    • ½ cup finely diced roasted red peppers or pimentos

    • 1/3 cup crushed canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes pulsed in a food processor

    • ¼ cup of your favorite mayonnaise

    • 2 tablespoons sour cream

    • ¼ teaspoon hot sauce

    • ½ teaspoon salt (optional)


Preparation

  1. For the pimento cheese:
    Combine all pimento cheese ingredients (minus the salt) in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Process for about 30 seconds on low till you have a slightly creamy cheese spread. Taste, add the salt if you wish, and paddle 10 seconds more. Chill till you’re ready to use.

  2. For the baked pimento cheese and sausage:
    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Stir together the cold pimento cheese and the cooked, very well drained, and cooled sausage.

  3. Press it down into a 1-quart baking dish or 8-inch cast-iron skillet and top with the panko crumbs. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. The bread crumbs will not necessarily brown; they are there more to provide texture and to soak up some of the grease that rises to the top. When the baked cheese is done, it will be bubbling around all the edges.

  4. Serve this with saltines, Ritz crackers, or toast. I like some pickles on the side.

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Recipe, text, and photos reprinted with permission from Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes From My Corner of the South © 2016, by Vivian Howard.


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