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Southern Food: The World’s “Comfort” Food

Jul. 3, 2013

By Matthew Raiford, Chef and Farmer

Twenty-eight years ago I left Brunswick, Georgia and my family’s land. I found myself in the U.S. Army at my first duty station in Schweinfurt, Germany. As I walked up to the barracks someone hollered from a window, “Where are you from, private?” I shouted back, “Georgia!” From the other windows I heard people screaming, “We got us a Georgia boy. I haven’t had any good home cooking in a long time.”

Matthew RaifordEven though I was not a cook in the military, over the next nine-and-a-half years, I found myself cooking meals and reminiscing on family dishes with other soldiers.

After leaving the military, I ended up at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where I learned so much more about comfort food. There I learned how to make Coq Au Vin, Asparagus with Sorrel Butter, Lamb Tagine and Peach Crepes with Crème Fraiche – all different from the kinds of comfort foods I had been cooking.

Throughout my culinary career, I have been asked often for my best Fried Chicken recipe (see below). As a classically trained chef, I found it offensive that people would presume that my repertoire would be mostly Southern recipes learned from my family’s matriarchs. Just a few weeks ago, a guest said to me, “This is the best fried chicken I ever had. Your grandma must have taught you this.” Years ago, I would have been incensed at this assumption. Now, my response is, “Funny you say that; I didn’t really know how to cook great fried chicken until about five years ago.” The shocked look I get is priceless to me.

The history of Southern food is more complicated than just “food influenced and cooked by African American slaves.” No one group of people can hold the entirety of Southern food – what everyone was eating depended on the slave labor in the kitchen. It was the Native/Indigenous people, French, Spanish and West African, among others, that heavily influence Southern food. Many of these foods were created out of seasonality and necessity with readily available spices, vegetables, fresh caught fish and wild game.

I don’t have all of the answers about Southern food. However, I do know that Southern food is what the world considers comfort food. No matter where I go, people get extremely nostalgic and homesick once we start talking about buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken and potato salad.

As a chef and a farmer, I enjoy being able to raise and slaughter my own chickens, then marinate the meat in buttermilk and spices, deep fry and eat this meal with friends and family. Thankfully, that’s not the end of our meal – we have added Potato and Carrot Au Gratin, Zucchini Sauteed with Shiitake Mushrooms and, even, Peach Crepes with Crème Fraiche.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

By CheFarmer, Matthew Raiford
Yield: 8 Servings

Chicken, fresh and cleaned
4 chicken thighs
4 chicken breasts
4 chicken legs
4 chicken wings

Marinade
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup granulated garlic
¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup smoked paprika
8 cups buttermilk

Chicken Coating
8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup freshly ground black pepper
1 cup granulated garlic
1 cup smoked paprika
1 cup dried oregano

Fry Oil (Enough for frying chicken)

Place all chicken in a large bowl. In separate bowl mix ½ cup kosher salt, ¼ cup granulated garlic, ¼ cup black pepper, ¼ cup smoked paprika. Sprinkle this seasoning mix over chicken and toss to coat. Pour buttermilk over seasoned chicken and mix again. Cover chicken and place in refrigerator to marinate for 3-12 hours. In a larger separate bowl, mix flour with remaining spices. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, after chicken has marinated for desired amount of time. Remove chicken from buttermilk; separating white meat from dark meat (do not throw out buttermilk) and place chicken on lined sheet pan. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes, remove and let cool to room temperature.

Warm oil in a skillet to 350 degrees. Place chicken in seasoned flour mixture to coat, then dredge into buttermilk, and then back into seasoned flour for a second coating. Fry the chicken in batches and cook until golden brown. Place golden brown chicken on clean lined sheet pan and return to oven to cook for 12-15 minutes. Check chicken for doneness with a thermometer for an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from oven and enjoy.

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