What do Italians and Southerners have in common? They’re all crazy passionate about their food. Probably the most Southern food item is the noble biscuit. Back in the day, every Southern family’s grandma had her own recipe for the world’s best biscuits. The mere hint of whose were best spurred young lads to fisticuffs, and old men to argue with all the fit and fervor of a political debate.
Biscuits in the South are held with the same notable esteem … dare I say it? … as pasta is held in Italy. To a non-Southerner, this may sound like crazy talk, but as usual, I’m totally right about this.
Because I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area (land of transients) and my mother was Pennsylvanian, we really didn’t have a regional culinary tradition. There was absolutely no theme or cultural heritage to the 1960s-style food I grew up eating.
My first real experience with regional cuisine was during vacations in the South. These were the days before fast-food vomitoriums were at every highway exit, so for a meal, you’d have to go into a small town and find a restaurant. Looking back, these were the salad days of highway travel. These places offered true Southern cuisine. What a treat to experience food with soul!
I remember being both intrigued and grossed-out by some of the offerings, such as black-eyed peas, chitins and, yes, even grits! Yet I instantly fell in love with the biscuits. I’d never in my life experienced a real Southern biscuit. I’ve been hooked ever since.
To make a great biscuit is actually quite simple. Like all good cooking, making biscuits requires outright adherence to proper technique. Biscuit dough is very similar to basic pie dough—it demands a disciplined hand. The expression “she has a biscuit hand” was a hard-won and cherished compliment for only a very few Southern ladies.
One important thing to remember in biscuit production: Make sure your fat is extremely cold. I choose unsalted butter for my biscuits, though leaf lard is a great option. Avoid shortening. Another tip: DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH!
Try my Southern biscuit recipe on for size; it’ll cure what ails ya!
Chef Bill’s Buttermilk Biscuits
- 4 Cups all-purpose flour
- 4 Tsp. baking powder
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tsp. baking soda
- 8 Oz. butter, medium dice
- 4 Tbsp. chopped herbs
- 2 Oz. finely ground parmesan
- 1-1/2 Cups buttermilk
- Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. Place in a robot coup and pulse in the butter to form small pellets. Do not over-process.
- Place the dough in a large bowl and stir in the herbs and parmesan. Slowly stir in the buttermilk.
- Turn the dough out on a floured table and knead several times. Do not overwork like a shoemaker!
- Gently roll out to a thickness of 1-inch to 1-1/2-inch and cut with a small round cutter.
- Place on a sheet pan and bake at 425°F until lightly browned. Brush with melted butter and finish baking to a golden brown.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!