I don’t know if it’s that my British spousal visa is almost up and I have to apply for settlement or if it’s just that I’m missing home, but recently I’ve had nothing but Southern food, especially the dishes made with buttermilk, on my mind.
Buttermilk. Cleopatra bathed in it. Scarlett O’Hara used it to lighten freckles. Rich in lactic acid, buttermilk gently exfoliates without drying. It also softens. This is why buttermilk is a magic ingredient. Even though the cultured buttermilk you find at the grocery store isn’t the same as the 19th century liquid that remained in the bucket after butter was churned, it’s still one of the finest ingredients around. My favorite cakes, pies, biscuits and fried chicken are all made with it. Don’t worry if you can’t find any at the store. You can easily substitute plain yogurt. The tangier the better as part of buttermilk’s appeal is its sourness. Do not substitute with any flavored yogurt, not even vanilla. This will ruin your recipe. Speaking of recipes, below are two of my old standbys. They never fail me. My hope is that they don’t you either.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon thick cream for brushing the biscuits
Method: Place a rack in the middle of your oven then preheat it to 425°F/220°C/Gas 7. Now sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the butter and using only your fingertips, rub the mixture together until it resembles coarse meal. Then pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until just blended. The mixture will be sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Cut out your biscuits and arrange them on a baking tray. Depending on the size of your biscuit cutter, this recipe will yield somewhere between 6 and 9 biscuits. Brush the tops of your biscuits with cream. Bake them for 12-15 minutes.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Ingredients for the spiced buttermilk bath:
4 lbs chicken pieces (I use thighs and legs)
2 cups buttermilk
1 thinly sliced onion
fresh thyme, chopped
flat leaf parsley, chopped
the juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon celery salt
Method for marinating: Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl then add the chicken pieces. Be sure to coat everything evenly. In Tennessee Williams’ play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Brick asks Maggie what exactly is the victory for a cat on a hot tin roof. “Just stayin’ on it, I guess. Long as she can.” It’s the same when it comes to soaking chicken pieces in buttermilk. The longer the better. It proves your dedication. I’ve seen recipes that insist the chicken marinate for a full 24 hours. I’ve seen some that say just overnight or 8 hours. And my husband swears he’s seen one that says 30 minutes will do. I don’t buy that. Obviously the longer the chicken has to soak up the salt and flavor of the buttermilk bath, the better it will taste. So marinate as long as you can. When it’s ready, take the pieces and dredge them through a spiced flour mixture.
Ingredients for the flour mixture for dredging:
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 lite vegetable oil (I prefer peanut)
Method for frying: In a large cast iron pot, bring at least 2 inches of oil to about 340°F over medium-high heat. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t worry. Test the oil by dropping a pinch of flour into it. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Just be sure you don’t get it so hot it starts smoking. Because that’s too hot. Now, mix all the dry ingredients together in a shallow tray. Pick up a piece of chicken and shake off the excess buttermilk mixture. Dredge the piece through the flour and set it aside to dry. When all the pieces have been dredged, carefully put a few into the oil. Fry one side for a about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Turn the pieces over and fry for another 10 minutes or so. If you like, place the fried pieces on a rack in the oven and keep them warm on a low temperature. When all the chicken’s done, arrange on a platter and serve with your favorite hot sauce. Mine is Red Rooster. If it’s good enough to be the house sauce at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, then it’s good enough for me. Seriously, this fried chicken recipe is too good to be ruined with something like Tabasco. Be sure you’ve got a good hot sauce on hand or don’t bother.
Oh. I’d also recommend making a side of greens. It’ll make you feel better about this almost all buttermilk meal. Also, they just taste nice.