At Millers All Day, the dedication to Lowcountry culinary heritage is evident in an old mill that sits in a storefront. It was restored by Michael Johnsman, co-owner of downtown Charleston’s restaurant and founder of Edisto Island’s famous Marsh Hen Mill. So, of course, there’s oatmeal on the menu at Millers. In one dish, oatmeal is paired with okra and tomatoes – two vegetables that have also become synonymous with the region’s food scene.
Okra and tomatoes are staple ingredients throughout the South, thanks to both vegetables being in season during the summer, and the tartness of the tomatoes perfectly complements the earthy character of okra. At Millers All Day, executive chef Jeff Allen puts his own spin on the regional stalwart by braising vegetables and pairing them with oatmeal, creating a dish that can be eaten all day.
“It’s great fun for me to put a twist on these traditional dishes,” said Allen, who grew up in Connecticut and moved to Charleston in 2014. was expecting.”
The braising process, which involves the food being only partially submerged in liquid — as opposed to stewing, which requires full immersion — brings out the full flavor of the vegetables, Allen said. It starts by searing the okra to get the right texture, while the benne seeds are roasted to bring out their depth. Then he deglazes the pan with the tomatoes, then braises everything for about 45 minutes.
The okra comes from locally-operated Limehouse Produce, while the Alta Cucina canned Italian tomatoes come from Italy and add just the right amount of sweetness. Benne seeds, which come from Marsh Hen Mill, provide a nutty kick, while fresh cilantro brightens the dish and adds a hint of complexity to the flavor profile.
The beans used in the dish are Marsh Hen Mill’s “unicorn” variety, known for its periwinkle color. “The unicorn oatmeal adds a great, rich flavor with a hint of citrus, while adding a lovely purple color that makes the dish stand out,” Allen said. “Pairing those grains with the braised vegetables really brings the whole dish together.”
Building Blocks of Charleston Cuisine is a series that celebrates the connection between the Lowcountry and its vibrant food scene. Each week features a dish, restaurant or chef that has played a role in preserving the region’s culinary history.