Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Down-home Warming Dishes: Chicken and Biscuits January 14, 2009

Filed under: Recipe,Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 2:13 pm
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No Egrets and I just came back from Nashville, among other places. Culinary highlights include Dee’s Barbque (where we met Dee in the bargain), the Loveless Cafe, and Swett’s famous meat and three. We ate biscuits, biscuits, and the best fried chicken ever. I find myself back in the North Shore in a southern frame of mind: So here is my version of Foster’s Market’s chicken and biscuits.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. It’s cold outside, your roommates won’t mind if you turn on the oven a couple hours early.

Boil your local chicken in a pot with onions, garlic, bay leaf, and olive oil.

While the chicken is boiling, start making the biscuits. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, 2 ts. of baking powder (make sure the baking powder is recent, or your biscuits will be like hockey pucks, not that I’ve learned that from experience or anything), 1 ts. baking soda, 1 ts. salt. Cut in 2 sticks of cold unsalted butter. (This is best done with a pastry cutter or even a food processor. However it can be done with two knives, it just takes a while. The goal of this step is to make sure each particle of flour is bonded to a particle of butter. Cut the butter in until a) you’re exhausted or b) until it has the consistency of coarse cornmeal.) Add 1 1/4 cup of milk (buttermilk is better) and mix until the dough just barely sticks together. DO NOT OVERHANDLE BISCUIT DOUGH. If the dough seems dry, add more milk, 1 Tb. at a time. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it extremely gently about four times, or until the dough resembles a ball. Again, err on the side of underhandling. Pat out the dough until it is 3/4-inch thick. Cut out with biscuit cutters or a glass. Put it aside and get back to the chicken.

Remove the cooked chicken from the bone and keep some of the broth from its cooking.

Melt butter and/or olive oil in a skillet and fry up some pot-pie vegetables. I like onions, pepper, and corn. No egrets prefers peas. You can also add mushrooms, carrots, celery, turnips, etc.

When the vegetables have reached the appropriate level of mushiness, add 1/4 cup of flour or arrowroot starch. Whisk in the broth and bring to a low boil. Don’t stop whisking until it starts to thicken or  you get homicidal, whichever comes first.

Add sage and/or parsley and pepper, along with any of the veggies you’d like to be crisper. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chicken and put mixture into a casserole dish.

Top with the uncooked biscuits. Brush the biscuits with an egg wash (1 egg + 2 Tb. milk). This will make the biscuits turn a pretty brown color. Cook for 25 to 30 min. and then dig in and enjoy.




The Demise of Southern Biscuits? June 20, 2008

Filed under: Regional food — blueheronlocal @ 1:17 pm
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There’s nothing better than biscuits straight from the oven. I’ve been known to drive 600 miles for a good biscuit (and, I suppose, some family time). Southerners love to argue about what makes a good biscuit. Bill Neal is one authority (Thanks, prospero’s kitchen!) and here is another. However, most agree that the secret to exceptional biscuits is flour, and more specifically, White Lily flour, which has been milled in Knoxville, Tennessee, since 1883.


white lily flourBad news for biscuit lovers everywhere. Last year, Smuckers bought White Lily and decided to move milling operations to Illinois. Bakers, southern and otherwise, noticed a difference between the Knoxville-milled flour and the Midwest-milled flour right away. From the New York Times:

Zoellyn Smith, who worked in both quality control and research and development at the Knoxville plant, accurately identified the new product before she began to bake. Sample A, the new product, had “a grayish color” and made a “dense and chewy” cake, while Sample B, the old, made for silky, rather than stiff, dough and a “light and airy” cake.


(photo from NYT)


There are a few things that make White Lily flour different from other flours. One is, as Fred Sauceman says below, terroir, or loosely, the importance of place.


No test was necessary for Fred W. Sauceman, author of a series of books called “The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, From Bright Hope to Frog Level,” who said White Lily should stay in Knoxville. “It’s kind of like the use of the word terroir when you’re talking about wine,” he said. “It means something to have been made in the exact same spot for 125 years, and it’s unconscionable not to respect that.” 

Traditionally southern flour was made from the soft red winter wheat that grew in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. This wheat is low in protein, which means it absorbs less liquid than higher-protein northern wheat. This makes the biscuits light and fluffy.


I love that we can use the word terroir when discussing flour. If, as the New York Times article suggests, the South became famous for its biscuits and pies rather than yeasted breads because of the soft red winter wheat, then terroir is a strong factor. White Lily flour is culturally, physically, and economically tied to Knoxville and the South.


 It may be cheaper for Smuckers to mill White Lily flour in its own northern mills, but along with cheapening production, Smuckers is cheapening the product. Fight for good biscuits. Respect the terroir of your food. Preserve your local food traditions. If you are new to an area, learn its local cuisine, but don’t forget where you come from either.


Learn about the food culture around you. Then tell your friends, or better yet, cook for them.