Black History Month Spotlight: Chef Hercules Posey
Black History Month gives us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the achievements of Black Americans from all segments of society and culture -– entertainment, science, art, education, music…and culinary.
Today, we honor the legacy of Chef Hercules Posey, who was a member of the Mount Vernon enslaved community and whose talents in culinary art gained the attention of George Washington. President Washington brought Chef Hercules from Virginia to the President’s residence in Philadelphia, where, according to Mount Vernon records, the chef was known to be “as highly accomplished a proficient in the culinary art as could be found in the United States."
Chef Hercules kept a meticulous kitchen and sold kitchen scraps to earn about $200 a year, which was equivalent to the annual salary of a hired cook. Because of his station in the presidential household, Chef Hercules was allowed some small benefits, like being permitted to bring one of his children with him to Philadelphia and the freedom to move around without an escort.
Reports vary about Chef Hercules’ escape from enslavement, though scholars now believe he fled the president’s residence in Mount Vernon on the day of George Washington’s 65th birthday celebration in late February 1797. When a Mount Vernon visitor asked Hercules’ 6-year-old daughter whether she was "deeply upset that she would never see her father again," she replied, "Oh! sir, I am very glad, because he is free now."
Our dish honoring Chef Hercules was selected by Chef Michael Lemon, Corporate Division Chef and Entrepreneurial Council member, who concentrated on ingredients indigenous to Mount Vernon.
“Just like other historical accounts traditionally recorded by white colonizers, we don’t have enough direct narratives from Chef Hercules about how he came to be so proficient or what his signature dish might have been,” said Chef Lemon about his process of selecting this week’s dish. “But we do know what foods were indigenous to the area, and we can make an educated guess about the ingredients he might have used.”
Chef’s menu is based on locally farmed or wild ingredients like lemons and mustard greens. He chose trout because it would have been caught in the nearby Potomac River and concentrated the remaining items on cooking methods at the time, like preparing cornbread in cast iron.
Lemon Herb Trout, Cornbread Sage Dressing, Braised Mustard Greens
Inspired by Chef Hercules Posey and developed by FLIK Hospitality's Chef Michael Lemon, this dish is inspired by indigenous ingredients likely found near Mount Vernon.
|FOR THE LEMON HERB TROUT:|
|2 tsp. lemon zest|
|1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped|
|1 tsbp., 1 tsp. olive oil|
|3/4 tsp. salt|
|1 lb. trout|
|1 3/4 c. canola oil|
|2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice|
|FOR THE CORNBREAD SAGE DRESSING:|
|3 c. fresh cornbread, homemade or store-bought|
|1/2 c. chicken broth|
|1 tbsp. fresh sage|
|1 yellow onion, diced|
|1 celery stalk, diced|
|1 tbsp. butter, unsalted|
|Salt & pepper to taste|
|FOR THE BRAISED MUSTARD GREENS:|
|1 lb. fresh mustard greens|
|1 large yellow onion, diced|
|2/3 c. water|
|1 tbsp.. canola oil|
|1/4 tsp. salt|
|1 1/8 tsp. ground pepper|
For the Lemon Herb Trout:
- Stir the parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice into olive oil. Set aside.
- Portion trout into 4, 4 oz raw fillets.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the salt evenly over fish fillets. For every piece of fish add 1 tsp oil to the saute pan.
- Carefully place the fish, flesh side down, in the saute pan and allow to sear for at least two minutes, until the flesh has color. Turn over and sear the other side the same way.
- If the fish has not yet reached an internal temperature of 145F degrees, place on a sheet pan and finish cooking in a 350F degree oven.
- Drizzle reserved herb oil on top of each fillet and serve.
For the Cornbread Sage Dressing:
- Prepare cornbread according to the recipe, if using a homemade recipe. Cool & crumble. For store-bought cornbread, crumble into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large pot, saute onions and celery with butter until translucent. Add sage and pepper. Add broth and simmer to blend flavors.
- Add in crumbled cornbread and toss until evenly coated.
- Layer stuffing mixture onto a large baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until toasted and golden brown.
For the Braised Mustard Greens:
- Trim the stems from the mustard greens and wash well. Chop coarsely.
- Heat oil in a pan, add onions, and saute until translucent.
- Add in greens, salt, pepper, and water. Braise until the mustard greens are soft.
Interested in reading more about FLIK's celebration of Black History Month? Check out related posts here:
- A birthday shock from Washington's chef, The Philadelphia Enquirer
- Hercules, Mount Vernon Digital Library
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