Schermer @ Home: Amy Mills, 17th Street Barbecue, Murphysboro, I
By Stephanie Burt, The Southern Fork
Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad is a classic cafe pairing these days. It’s beautiful, easy, and of course, delicious, but when Amy Mills developed a version for the 17th Street Barbecue catering menu, it sold out so much that she declined to give out the salad’s secret twist for years -- that is, until she and her father published Praise the Lard cookbook in 2017.
“There’s something special about the dressing that people can’t identify, and it makes the dressing special,” she says. That element is brown sugar, the sugar with a depth of molasses flavor, and as a barbecue expert, an ingredient with which she is exceptionally familiar.
Brown sugar gives many a BBQ sauce its sweet depth, and using it in the classic salad helps tie the toasty crunch of pecans into the mix of creamy cheese and fresh fruit. “Making sure to use toasted pecans is also essential because that toasting adds to a toothy bite, and you need that to balance the other soft elements of the dish.”
Mills is used to noticing the details of something classic and making that classic even better. Born with the legacy of BBQ in her veins, she has learned all parts of the family business, from the cooking to marketing to how best to adapt her business during the current uncertainty of dine in restaurants, and she still has time (from time to time) to participate in television shows including Chopped (where she had a guest judge stint), Food Network’s BBQ Brawl, and Best In Smoke. She is adept at being adaptable, and so she suggests that you can adapt this salad to the seasons as well.
“We’re in the heartland, so our fruit is bar none, and right now, I’m getting strawberries from Flamm’s in Cobdon, Illinois and Double Star Farms in Benton,” she says, “but you can make this salad in the winter using apples. And also, feel free to sub out any other soft cheese you’d like, from brie to blue.”
But don’t forget the brown sugar in the dressing or the pecans. Those two elements bring the classic combo of fruit and cheese to life. And we promise you don’t have to give away the secret unless you just want to. We won’t tell!
Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad
from Praise the Lard: Recipes and Revelations from a Legendary Life in Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
1 c. mayonnaise (we use Hellmann’s)
½ c. packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
8 c. field greens, washed and dried
1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
½ c. creamy goat cheese (one 4-ounce package)
½ c. toasted pecans
For the dressing
Combine the mayonnaise, sugar, and vinegar in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a small bit of water to thin as desired. Decant into a squeeze bottle.
Add the greens and strawberries to a large bowl. Using a fork, break up the goat cheese and sprinkle over the greens. Just before serving, drizzle the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle with the pecans. Serve family-style on a big platter or individual portions on chilled plates.