“You’d be hard-pressed to find a more traditional Deep South meal than barbecue, corn and tomatoes.iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Got a hankering for buttermilk biscuits and sweet tea? Pondering which barbecue meat and sauce combo is best? Sounds like you’re in the mood for some Deep South cuisine, but don’t worry. Even if you’re up in the wilds of Vermont or way out west in the Nevada desert, you can bring a little piece of the South to your kitchen with just a few key ingredients.
So, get ready for a culinary adventure as we take you on a tour of five essentials for easy Deep South dinners.
- Fish and Seafood
- Fresh Vegetables
“Fried chicken is a staple of picnics, potlucks and Sunday dinners.Comstock/Thinkstock
There are two meats essential to Deep South cooking, and chicken is one of them. Fried chicken has certainly earned a place as an iconic Southern dish. Though there are some differences of opinion on how best to prepare the bird (buttermilk or brine marinade, single- or double-floured, deep-fried or shallow-fried), Southerners definitely love it. And, while it doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a quick and easy recipe, marinating the chicken overnight, preparing the breading ahead of time and then oven-frying the chicken will save you from feeling crunched when it’s dinner.
But chickens aren’t just for frying! Various regions in the Deep South have their own chicken specialties, including Country Captain Chicken, a popular stew in the low-country region of South Carolina, and Chicken Gumbo, which comes from the Cajun and creole flavors of Louisiana, can be easily adapted to be a slow-cooker dish. Chicken and dumplings is another popular meal, and though this recipe starts with roasting your own bird, make things easier on yourself by using a precooked rotisserie chicken and canned biscuits for the dumplings.
Next up, the other white meat.
Pork is arguably the centerpiece of Deep South cooking, and barbecue is where pork shines. Each region has a particular sauce — mustard-based in central South Carolina, a white sauce in Alabama and endless variations of tomato-based sauces everywhere in between. The cuts of pork, blend of spices, secret ingredients, marinating and cooking styles all add up to more kinds of barbecue than you could ever hope to eat. However, there is a catch with traditional Southern barbecue — it’s time-consuming. Smokers and grills both require patience and vigilance to make sure the meat turns out just right. Fortunately, there is a workaround for when you just don’t have the time: a slow-cooker. This Barbecued Pulled Pork recipe lets you prepare the meat well in advance, and it cooks low and slow for 8 to 10 hours so dinner will be waiting on you when you get home.
The pork fun doesn’t stop at barbecue. Bacon and ham are key components in these Collard Greens, which also can be prepared in a slow cooker, and ham is starring ingredient in Hopping John, which you can throw together in minutes by using canned black-eyed peas and quick-cooking rice. Pork chops are another staple of traditional Southern meals, and these tips will walk you through several speedy cooking methods.
Did You Know?
The word "barbecue" is likely derived from the Spanish term "barbacoa," which New World explorers from Spain used to describe how Caribbean natives slow-cooked meat on a wooden platform.
“Now that’s good eats!iStockphoto/Thinkstock
Corn is a favorite ingredient in Deep South cuisine. Sometimes it goes right from the stalk and into the pot for corn on the cob; at other times, it takes a bit more work to get to the finished product. No matter your preference, you can find a corn recipe that will work for whatever meal you’re preparing. Succotash is a quick and nutritious dish that features not one, but two types of corn — kernel corn and hominy. Cornmeal provides the basis for a number of Southern classics, including cornbread, corn pudding (sometimes called spoonbread) and hush puppies, all of which can be stirred together in minutes.
Perhaps the most popular Deep South dish made from corn is, of course, grits, which is coarsely ground corn that’s simmered in water for about 15 minutes until thick and creamy. Cheese, garlic and shrimp are popular additions, but it’s hard to beat the simple deliciousness of grits with just salt, pepper and butter. And for those non-Southerners who aren’t familiar with grits but might want to try the dish, it’s literally impossible to "just have one" grit.
2. Fish and Seafood
“If you like fried catfish, try it blackened with Cajun seasoning.Hemera/Thinkstock
Fish and seafood are a key part of the Southern diet. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast and all the lakes and rivers in between, fishermen bring home the catch of the day for a first-rate dinner. In coastal areas, shrimp is a must; it can be boiled, steamed, fried, grilled, baked or sautéed, and Gumbo, Jambalaya and po’ boys are classic dishes that let the sweet, briny flavor of shrimp shine through. Scallops are another popular seafood that’s delicious grilled or sautéed with simple seasonings, as are oysters. And even though they’re a well-known source of potential foodborne illness, many Southerners love to eat raw oysters.
Perhaps the most iconically Southern of all fish is catfish, a freshwater fish that lives in many of the rivers and streams of the Deep South. The classic preparation method of catfish is breaded and fried to a golden brown before taking center stage at the dinner table. Our Southern Breaded Catfish recipe is an easy, lower-fat alternative to the standard dish, while still retaining its old-fashioned kick.
Our last stop on the food tour gets us out of the water and back on dry land.
1. Fresh Vegetables
Garden-fresh veggies are the glue that holds Deep South cuisine together. Whether they’re served by themselves straight from the garden or added to a recipe, vegetables bring great color and taste to your dish, and several (including the previously-mentioned corn) have become iconic symbols of southern cooking.
Okra, for example, isn’t common in other regions of the United States, but it’s a must in the Deep South. First cultivated by the Egyptians thousands of years ago, okra likely came to the Southern states in the 18th century from West Africa during the slave trade. You can sauté it, fry it, pickle it or use it to thicken soups, and it’s a key component of gumbo. If you’ve never sampled okra, try this slow-cooker recipe for Creole Chicken and Vegetables, but definitely use fresh okra when it’s in season in place of the frozen okra in the ingredients list.
Tomatoes are popular in the Deep South, both in their ripened red form and when they’re still green. Fried green tomatoes are one of the most recognizable Southern dishes, made especially famous through Alabama native Fannie Flagg’s novel (and subsequent movie) "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café." They’re easy to make and are a great accompaniment for some of the recipes we’ve highlighted here. Many other veggies grace Southern tables, too, including cucumbers, squash, zucchini, turnip and collard greens and runner beans.
Now y’all get cookin’!
Did You Know?
The Chinese were fermenting vegetables as early as the 3rd century B.C.
Lots More Information
- Top 5 Influences on Regional Cooking
- 10 Low-budget Uses for Corn
- Types of Tomatoes
- Ultimate Guide to Southern Food
- What’s the difference between wet and dry barbecue?
- Amazing Ribs. "A taxonomy of American barbecue sauces." (Nov. 1, 2011) http://www.amazingribs.com/recipes/BBQ_sauces/
- ElBoghdady, Dina. "Raw oysters still a health threat, GAO report finds." Washington Post. Oct. 14, 2011. (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/raw-oysters-still-a-health-threat-gao-report-finds/2011/10/14/gIQAh7SskL_story.html
- Food Reference. "Okra – Food Facts & History." (Oct. 29, 2011) http://www.foodreference.com/html/artokra.html
- Raab, C.A. "Pickling Vegetables." Pacific Northwest Extension. June 2008. (Oct. 31, 2011) http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/pnw/pnw355.pdf
- Suddath, Claire. "A Brief History of Barbecue." Time. July 3, 2009. (Oct. 30, 2011) http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1908513,00.html