The concept of casual dining doesn’t exist in the South. Every dish on the table inspires deep reverence, and mealtimes are nothing short of sacred occasions.
Southern flavors trace back to tough times and self-preservation. Native Americans taught hungry African slaves to fry foods before they spoiled. The slaves came up with seasoning and smoking meats to make them last longer and taste better.
When cooks brought crispy fried chicken and steaming gumbo into the big house, plantation owners from the old country couldn’t ditch their boiled potatoes fast enough. Even with the ravages of the Civil War behind them, they clung to the pork ribs, dumplings and black-eyed peas they had eaten in survival mode.
The cookbook business relies heavily on Southern cuisine, and there is no shortage of recipes. However, if you’re trying your hand for the first time, you’d also do well to cozy up to an elderly woman in a Southern grocery store. She’ll teach you everything you need to know, from how to season your skillet to which dab of this or that goes into into which pot. Below are five down home classics to get you started, along with a few bits of advice:
Don’t Skimp When You Shrimp
The possibilities for this seafood staple are endless, but a bowlful of shrimp and grits smothered in crab meat gravy is hard to top. Worcestershire, cayenne, sage and thyme give the tomato sauce its kick. Don’t use instant grits or reduce the butter – just don’t.
A big pot of collard greens served with hot, buttered cornbread is a feast unto itself. Once the greens are simmering on the stove, forget about them until the aroma has you salivating. Every cook has his or her own voodoo, adding bacon, a ham bone or turkey wings for taste. Garlic, onion, cider vinegar and Tabasco are other flavor boosters.
Rock Your BLT With Fried Green Tomatoes
Using fried green tomatoes and adding homemade pimiento cheese results in a Southern-style BLT on steroids. Since you’re already cheating on your diet, you may as well use toasted white bread. It’s just better in this case.
Don’t Mess With Texas
Steakhouses all over the country try to get cute with chicken-fried steak, and that’s a travesty. Save the rib eye for another meal; native Texans use cubed round steak and a plain flour breading with a criminal amount of salt and pepper. Serving it without mashed potatoes and cream gravy is just begging for a fight.
No decent Southerner would dream of serving strawberry shortcake on the spongy little cake cups sold in grocery stores. Use flaky homemade biscuits instead, and top the strawberries with whipped cream made from scratch. Life doesn’t get much sweeter.