Who Was Stephen Decatur?

Stephen Decatur, one of the great naval heroes in American history, was born on this date in 1779. He first uttered the phrase “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”

At the beginning of the 1800’s, rulers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa demanded tributes from merchant ships to ensure safe passage through the Mediterranean. Their pirates captured the ships’s bounty and ransomed their crews to fill the royal coffers. In 1803, USS Philadelphia was captured off the coast of Tripoli.

Decatur led seventy men in a harrowing mission to burn the captured frigate so that the Tripolitans could not repair her and add her to their pirate fleet. His crew, disguised as Arab sailors so as not to attract attention, boarded the ship and twenty minutes later, the Philadelphia was a barely floating inferno. British Admiral Horatio Nelson called Decatur’s mission “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

During the War of 1812, Decatur captured HMS Macedonian and sailed her victoriously into Newport Harbor to national acclaim. The painting (below) of the battle between Decatur’s USS United States and HMS Macedonian hung in the Oval Office of President John F. Kennedy.

Decatur died in 1802 at 41, killed in a duel by Commodore James Barron who was outraged over Decatur’s refusal to have Barron reinstated after his suspension for surrendering the USS Chesapeake to the British in 1807.

And what does this have to do with garlic? Not much really, but as I’m working on a Decatur project, I couldn’t resist. So, here’s a recipe for Romesco Sauce (a Spanish pesto-like sauce made with tomatoes, red peppers, roasted garlic, and nuts) that Chef Drew Belline served at his restaurant No. 426 in (wait for it, Paul) Decatur, Georgia.

Belline serves it with skirt steak but Romesco sauce is also good on seafood, chicken, vegetables or even crackers.

Romesco Sauce

4 Roma tomatoes, quartered

3 medium red peppers

¾ cup plus 2½ T. olive oil

1 head garlic

½ c. almonds

½ c. hazelnuts

1 c. cubed day-old bread, toasted in olive oil

Red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300°. Season the tomatoes and peppers with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Slice the top of the head of garlic off, leaving the root intact. Season with salt, pepper and ½ tablespoon of olive oil. Wrap the garlic in foil and bake, along with the tomatoes and the peppers, until the garlic is soft, the tomatoes have begun to caramelize and the peppers are tender and beginning to blister, about 1 hour.

Remove from the oven, cover the peppers with foil and set aside for 10 minutes, then peel the skin and remove the seeds and veins from the peppers.

In a small skillet set over medium heat, toast the almonds and hazelnuts with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and salt.

Remove the garlic cloves from their skins. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, toasted nuts and bread. Slowly drizzle in the remaining ¾ cup of olive oil until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Season with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and set aside.

The Romesco Sauce photo above is from Simply Recipes. (There will be a link as soon as I can figure out how to insert it — I promise, Elise.)


One response to “Who Was Stephen Decatur?

  1. Carolyn Comella

    Brilliant tie-in!

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