My computer died-ish the other morning, which is why I made a lot of promises about upcoming posts I didn’t end up keeping (and you know from experience I’d never do that otherwise). But it turns out there’s an only slightly limiting WordPress app for my phone. And I just had to share these with you, even if it means eternal thumb cramps. I care about you way too much for my own good.
Ok, imagine you are eating the fluffiest, most buttery biscuit in the whole world. And imagine if it was a perfect marriage of blissfully sweet and decadently cheesy. And imagine that even though you made it from a mix (secret recipe!) it still sort of required enough culinary steps for you to tell your friends and family you made it. If that doesn’t sound like heaven food to you, then stop paying attention to me, try Jim n Nick’s Cheese Biscuits and come up with a better description yourself. Odds are you can’t- they render most people speechless. They’re incredible. We ate them alongside fried eggs, sausage and orange juice but they’re meant to be eaten by the millions with whipped butter and a side of barbecue. Or just alone. In all seriousness my roommate ate nine.
Make them with mild cheddar, not sharp, and remember that cutting in butter means rubbing it into the flour with your hands. Now you know everything you need to know. If you don’t live with anyone from Alabama, you can, and should, order a bag here.
I’ve traveled to France, the Mecca of haute cuisine, many times and I didn’t think there could never be another regional food that would ever satisfy me as much as a perfectly cooked steak au poivre and a good glass of Bordeaux wine. Our road food trip to the Deep South was probably one of the last places I thought my stubborn belief system would be rattled, but I’ve been humbled.
French cuisine is still of course dear to me, but now I know how utterly fantastic, and complicated, real southern food is. Down-to-earth Southern fried chicken is not simple at all: we’re still perfecting the art of duplicating the texture, taste, and even the color. In fact, we could cook a le creuset filled with beef bourguignon faster. The same goes for so many other southern treasures we sampled. The biscuits from The Loveless Café in Nashville, TN are so buttery, rich and yet airy, they rival the best croissants anywhere. We’re not sure they can be replicated, although we’ll let you know if we succeed.
Clockwise from top left: Fried Okra, Nashville, TN; Sign at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, Lynchburg, TN; Basket of cornbread, Lynchburg, TN.
On our southern food odyssey, we also learned that barbeque ribs and pulled pork as we previously knew them, are oversimplified. The variations and interpretation of great barbecue are almost endless. Some places even offer barbecue nachos. Even in the epicenter of barbeque, they are still reinventing it every year at the annual Memphis in May barbeque world championship. The same is true for Cajun cooking; the possibilities and interpretations of local favorites – etoufee, gumbo, bisque and the countless versions of “blonde” and “dark” rouxs – would stun your taste buds.
Clockwise from top left: Crawfish pie, Breaux Bridge, LA; Bicycle street scene, New Orleans, LA; Beignet Machine at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA; Francesca enjoying a beignet, New Orleans, LA.
Non-natives usually think of chicken and pork dishes first, but the variety of southern seafood dishes also blew us away. The catfish from the Mississippi Delta is succulently sweet and juicy, but our favorite local seafood specialty turned out to be oysters; we had oysters fried, raw and even, charbroiled. Oysters Rockefeller was invented it the Deep South but you haven’t had an oyster, really, until you’ve had one on the grill.
It is hard to figure out just what make southern food so mouth-watering and addictive, but one thing I noticed is that Southern cooks are not afraid of abundant flavor and seasoning. We never needed the salt and pepper shakers. There were unexpected ingredients along the way too, like Jack Daniels in fudge pie or copious amounts of turmeric in some of the ribs. But whatever the surprising ingredient was, it was always perfectly balanced.
Clockwise from top left: Rice at Rendezvous, Memphis, TN; Barbeque sauce at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN; Ribs at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN.
For the next few posts, prepare yourself a nice glass of sweet tea – we’re going to chronicle our travels, and along the way, we will give you the recipes to create some of these southern gems for yourself!