(or—some thoughts on Southern cooking)
I’m not sure why he popped into my mind today, but I suddenly thought of Lewis Grizzard. I’ve read 8 or 9 of his books, and treasure his recipe for Grits Billy Bob.
First don’t fool with no instant grits. The idiot who invented instant grits also thought of frozen fried chicken, and they ought to lock him up before he tries to freeze dry collards. Get yourself some home ground grits. Cook ‘em slow and stir every chance you get, otherwise you’ll have lumps and you don’t want lumps. Salt and pepper and stir in enough butter to choke a goat. Fry some bacon and sausage on the side and crumble that in, and then come on top of that with all the cheese the law will allow. Grits Billy Bob ought not to run out of the pot. They ought to crawl. Serve hot. Cold Grits Billy Bob are harder than a steel belted radial.
I don’t eat them very often, but once in a long while I get the urge for some Grits Billy Bob. So I call the incomparable Izzybella and get her to come over, and we feast. Although I must point out we don’t do bacon and sausage, just bacon. Grits, butter, salt & pepper, crispy bacon, and all the cheese the law will allow. And you have to soak the dishes for a few minutes before you wash them. That part about cold grits being harder than steel belted radial? He wasn’t joking.
Thinking of that got me to thinking about cornbread. I married a Yankee, who thinks cornbread is supposed to be kind of like a cake, smooth and sweet. Cornbread is not supposed to be sweet. It’s not supposed to have a cake-like texture. Good Southern-style cornbread is kind of gritty, definitely not sweet, and very flavourful. The best way to eat Southern-style cornbread? Hot out of the oven, split, buttered, in a bowl, with cold milk poured over it. You’d think you’d died and gone to heaven.
And collard greens. When I was in 7th grade, the guy I had a not-so-secret crush on dubbed me “Collard Greens.” But see, I like collard greens. Not the nasty canned ones–they’re as awful as canned spinach. But fresh collard greens, cooked until they’re just wilted, a little salt & pepper and hot pepper sauce–oh my! I like any kinds of greens, though. Spinach, collards, beet greens, Swiss chard. It’s all good.
I haven’t made it in years, but homemade fried chicken is awesome, too. You could oven-fry it, and still get the same results. Make some seasoned flour (flour, salt, lots of pepper, a little seasoned salt if you like), and prepare an egg wash. Rinse off the chicken with salt water; dip in the flour; dip in the egg wash; dip in the flour again; and fry. Or, like I said, if you wanted to oven-fry it, do that.
Mashed potatoes. I finally learned the secrets to making stellar mashed potatoes. You have to watch carefully while they’re cooking–you don’t want them to cook so long they get mushy. When they’re soft enough to mash with a fork, but not so soft all you can taste is starch water, drain off the water. Put the potatoes back into the pot and put the pot on the still-hot burner, and let the rest of the water sizzle out. Then put in enough butter to choke a goat, just a wee bit of milk, seasoned salt, and pepper. The seasoned salt is very important–it won’t taste just perfect if you use regular salt. Get your masher and start pounding away. If you’ve timed the potatoes right, you’ll get this wonderful glutinous mass of potatoey goodness. You have to use a masher, though. Don’t get out your electric mixer; that’ll beat so much air into the potatoes that you won’t have any lumps, and that gluey texture will be lost. Always make 3 times as much as you think you’ll need, because (a) they’re so good everyone will go back for seconds–my step-aunt’s sister eats them instead of pie for dessert at Christmas dinner, and (b) trust me when I say you’ll want leftovers. Just remember to cover the leftovers with plastic wrap, not foil, because the foil and potatoes have a chemical reaction that will leave little puddles of melted foil on top of your potatoes, little puddles that you’ll have to scoop out, making you waste your delectable left-overs.