I know this first technique may sound unrelated to Southern Cooking , but you will see the connection as we proceed. Here’s the first tip, which should be applied to all your recipes, not just Southern Cooking.
The Chinese figured this out long ago. Combine sweet and sour in your cooking. That is, in a dish that is intended to be sweet (deserts), add a pinch of salt, vinegar or hot spice. In a dish that is intended to be sour (not sweet), such as vegetables, chili, meats, add sweet. I prefer syrup or molasses rather than regular sugar to add sweetness.
As an example, in Southern Recipes, I add a teaspoon of molasses to greens (turnip, collards, mustard), green beans and breakfast gravy. One exception to the adding sweet to sour is in cornbread. If you want real Southern cornbread, never put sugar in it. Sorry, that’s not cornbread, it’s cake (or Yankee cornbread.) I also add a teaspoon of regular sugar to my cole slaw and chili.
Likewise, in all deserts I cook I add a pinch of salt. You are probably aware that most desert recipes call for this anyway.
I have discussed the next technique at length in my other articles and on my websites, but it is so important I want to repeat it here. You must use cast iron cookware for most Southern dishes, especially cornbread. First, it is the traditional way to cook Southern. Additionally, the cast iron transfers heat unlike any other material, making it uniquely suited for Southern dishes. So, please use cast iron.
This next technique is employed in many Southern recipes. Southerners use cornmeal in many fried dishes to coat the food. This produces a crunchy texture and adds flavor. When frying chicken, coat (batter) the chicken in flour, but add cornmeal to the flour mix at a 3 to 1 ration. In other words 1/4 cup cornmeal to 1 cup flour. Also, fried okra should be coated in a pure cornmeal mix (with salt and pepper, no flour.) Here’s the point…experiment a little. When a recipe calls for flour or just because you have always cooked it that way, try substituting cornmeal for flour.
Here’s something I remember from my grandmother’s kitchen. She was a great cook of traditional Southern food. She made the best biscuits I ever tasted. At first, I thought it was her recipe, until I found out there was nothing unusual about it (I think she got it off a bag of flour.) It wasn’t the ingredients that made them so good. It was the size of the biscuits. I always knew she made bigger biscuits than I was use to but I didn’t make the connection until after I found out her secret was not the ingredients. Larger biscuits will have more of the soft insides and a larger area outside for the brown crust. They are especially good with gravy or anytime you will be using a sauce. Here’s what she did. She rolled out the biscuit dough to about 3/4 inch thickness. Then she used a biscuit cutter that was a little over 3 inches in diameter (who knows where she got it…it was probably a hundred years old.) A word of caution if you use this technique for your biscuits, do not make the dough over 3/4 inch thick. You may think that if 3/4 inch is good, then 1 1/2 inches should be better. Not so. The 3/4 inch rule seems to be the optimum for Fat Biscuits. If you make them much thicker the tops will crack and they will have a doughy flour taste. So, if you are one that has always made slim 2 inch biscuits, give these a try. And, try out the other techniques mentioned for real Southern Cooking.
Ken Miller is a free lance writer and webmaster for itzalgud.com Southern Cooking – Southern Recipes, where you can get free recipes for authenic Southern favorites.
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