Regina Charboneau, chef de cuisine, making blackberry jam for American Queen Steamboat Co. // © 2014 American Queen Steamboat Co.
From PBS’ show “The Meaning of Food” to Massimo Montanari’s book Food is Culture, the message is clear: The connection between food and the region that produces it is inseparable. One of the best ways travelers can feel a part of the cultures they visit is by sharing the food and drink that shapes local life. Dining aboard the ships that sail American rivers draws heavily on local specialties and traditional recipes to give their passengers a taste of each region.
Here are some favorite dishes.
Chef de Cuisine Regina Charboneau’s Southern Biscuits appear – or disappear - on the Mississippi aboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen. The seventh generation of a Natchez, Miss., family, Charboneau trained in France — Julia Child once gave her a standing ovation — and she has combined traditional Southern biscuits with croissant texture to produce buttery biscuits that would float off the plate if they were they not consumed so fast. It’s one of the dishes featured in her new book Mississippi Current Cookbook: A Culinary Journey Down America’s Greatest River.
Pacific Cold Smoked Salmon utilizes a smoking process that does not cook the thin slices of fish, leaving a more delicate texture. The dish is part of the regional culinary program on American Empress, which started service in April in the Pacific Northwest. For this dish, the salmon is smoked in applewood, and served with cream cheese, capers, thin slices of local sweet red onion, hard cooked eggs and crostini.
Another dish on the American Empress is the Oregon Trail Brisket Sandwich, served on a roll with a rich horseradish sauce. The sandwich is beyond delicious, but the most historic and poignant ingredient is the sidedish: Trail Beans. These shiny black beans were carried by the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, the forced march west in the mid-1800s.
Queen of the West
Guests on American Cruise Line’s Queen of the West rave about a meal crammed with local Northwest ingredients and a favorite of corporate executive chef Thomas F. Leonard. The Pacific Northwest Rosemary King Salmon Burger is served with a slaw made from sweet and juicy Walla Walla onions, honey-Dijon sauce and micro cress salad. For the uninitiated, micro cress is developed from seeds and has the nutritional value of sprouts, but with a more robust flavor. The Pacific Northwest also inspires a Lavender Wildflower Honey Cake with Ginger Anglaise served onboard as well.
Queen of the Mississippi
Guests of American Cruise Lines who cruise the Mississippi onboard Queen of the Mississippi also absorb local culture with their dining. On the company’s Queen of the Mississippi, Southern cooking is well represented by dishes such as Pan-Seared Gulf Red Snapper With Wild Georgian Shrimp, Sweet Potato Hash and Cilantro Oil.
Un-Cruises, which offers authentic, unusual cruises on the Pacific Northwest rivers, continues this philosophy at the table as well. Dinners feature local, freshly caught seafood, such as Dungenous Crab Cakes and fresh King Salmon With Herb Oil and Sea Salt. And guests who want something off the menu can ask for it; if the ingredients are onboard they will try to accommodate requests.
Typical Northwest ingredients are transformed into dishes such as Brown Sugar Dill Rubbed Sockeye Salmon with Roasted Yellow Pepper Buerre Blanc, served with Oven Roasted Brocolini and Smashed Red Jacketed Potatoes.
All the cruise lines that sail the rivers of North America are very aware that food is a direct connection to the culture and the life of a region.
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are,” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote in 1825.
Some things never change.