Article: 30 Classic Southern Dishes Everyone Should Know How to Make (or Try at Least Once): HowStuffWorks
30 Classic Southern Dishes Everyone Should Know How to Make (or Try at Least Once)
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About This Article
The U.S. is often called a melting pot of people and cultures, but this is especially true when it comes to the cooking and cuisine of the southern states. Early colonists from England brought their own cooking style, which merged over time with techniques used by the Native Americans. The arrival of French, Spanish and French-Canadian settlers brought even more food options, notably the Cajun and Creole cuisine that is so popular in modern-day Louisiana. And of course, there is the African influence brought about by the slave trade, as millions of people from West Africa brought the flavors and cooking methods of their home countries across the Atlantic.
If you haven't spent much time down South, you might not even know about about the classic dishes you're missing out on, but that doesn't mean you'll never get the chance to settle down to a glass of sweet tea or a steaming plate of jambalaya. While there's nothing like chowing down on fried green tomatoes at a small-town cafe in Alabama, or scooping up flavorful shrimp and grits in Charleston, you'd be surprised how easy it is to make many of these recipes for yourself, no matter where you live. Ready to explore the very best dishes from the American south? Feast your eyes on these southern specialties — no reservations required!
Don't miss this low country fav.
Made from finely ground white corn flavored with shrimp, smoky andouille sausage and seasoned veggies, shrimp and grits is the crowning glory of the low country cuisine that defines the South Carolina coast. While grits alone are typically served as a breakfast side, shrimp and grits can be found on menus at almost any time of day.
Not all catfishing is a bad thing.
Mississippi and surrounding states produce more farmed catfish than any other region of the U.S. That means plenty of this fish ends up being eaten in the area, and most of it is rolled in batter and deep-fried. Traditionally, southern fried catfish comes served with fries and hush puppies, plus ketchup, tartar sauce and a generous amount of lemon for a citrus squeeze.
Of course marshmallows are a food group ...
Sweet potatoes are a staple of holiday feasts, but folks down South stop at nothing to make sure any dishes made using these taters are bursting with sweetness. That means mashing up the sweet potatoes with sugar, butter and cinnamon, covering them with a layer of mini marshmallows and sticking the whole thing in the oven to make a casserole that's as much of a dessert as it is a beloved Thanksgiving side.
Get hoppin' with black-eyed peas.
Black-eyed peas were a staple in the diet of African slaves in the early 1800s, but these nutritious and delicious legumes live on today as the main ingredient in Hoppin' John. Traditionally eaten on New Year's Day to bring good luck throughout the year, this down-home dish consists of seasoned black-eyed peas, rice and onion, plus ham or bacon for extra flavor. Serve it as a side or add greens and cornbread for a complete southern feast.
Cornbread is the Southerner's homeskillet.
There's nothing like cornbread to sop up all that gumbo sauce or serve as a sweet side to a platter of ribs or pulled pork. To make this southern classic, coat a cast iron skillet with plenty of bacon fat before pouring in cornmeal, milk and other ingredients. The heavy skillet will give you cornbread that's moist on the inside with a delicious crispy crust on the outside.
The official state cuisine of Louisiana is ...
Gumbo! In a state known for some of America's best food, you're pretty much guaranteed that a dish named as the official state cuisine is going to be a real flavor explosion. Next time you head to the Big Easy, stop at almost any dinner spot to try this stew-like Creole concoction made with seafood and sausage, complex seasonings and the Holy Trinity of southern cooking — celery, peppers and onions.
Yes, it's normal for your teeth to hurt.
If you don't feel a slight ache in your teeth when downing a glass of southern sweet tea, it's probably time to add a few more scoops of sugar. Way down South, sweet tea is a calorie-laden treat made from black tea, sugar or syrup, lemon and plenty of ice to keep you cool during these southern scorchers.
Today's Whistle Stop Cafe special ...
Fried green tomatoes are such a southern tradition that Hollywood made a movie about them, starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy as a pair of Alabama ladies who lunch. To make this dish, start with unripened tomatoes, cut them into thin slices and coat in batter before frying to a golden brown. For the perfect finish, serve with a side of remoulade sauce for dippin'.
Cheese with a kick of southern spice
Down South we don't just do cheese on crackers; we take things to the next level by swapping boring processed slices for pimento cheese. Made from freshly shredded cheddar, mayo and red pimentos, this tangy spread is delicious smeared on toast or crackers, but also adds tons of flavor to muffins, grits or even a plate of french fries.
Meat me by the smoker
Whether in the form of pulled pork, finger-lickin' ribs or smokey brisket, there's certainly no shortage of epic BBQ in the southern states. While you might not think that smoked meat can differ all that much, cities and states in the American south beg to differ, making their BBQ stand out with the dry rubs of Memphis, vinegar and mustard sauces of the Carolinas, low and slow cooking style of Texas, or the thick, sweet salt Kansas City is known for.
Yes, you can add Bourbon ...
Native to Georgia and surrounding states., the pecan is packed full of nutrients from potassium to zinc, but it's more famous for its role in satisfying the southern sweet tooth. To make a pecan pie, chefs fill a pie crust with butter, brown sugar and a whole bunch of shelled pecans, then bake it to a golden brown. If you want to make this dish your own, spice things up with a generous splash of Bourbon, or just add chocolate chunks to up the sweetness factor.
Chicken and dumplings for the southern soul
When you need something more soothing than the standard chicken soup, try chicken and dumplings for a classic and filling comfort food. It's basically a creamy, thickened chicken stew with the addition of dumplings made from biscuit dough, which can be rolled into neat balls or simply dropped by the spoonful into the bubbling hot chicken mixture as you cook.
Pie as mighty as the Mississippi ...
Southerners don't shy away from desserts, but true chocolate lovers pass over cobblers and cakes for the fudgy wonderland that is the Mississippi Mud Pie. Formed over a chocolate crust — of course — this sweet treat features a thick layer of chocolate custard or cream cheese topped with a generous heap of whipped cream or meringue.
Nothing fowl about this steak ...
Let's get something straight ... despite its name, there is absolutely no chicken in the chicken fried steak. Made from a tenderized cube steak pounded flat, it gets its name from the fact that the meat is then breaded and fried using the same techniques used for making fried chicken. Oh, and any Southerner worth his salt knows that it ain't a chicken fried steak unless it's smothered in creamy peppered gravy.
Down here, we call 'em Po' Boys.
All those arguments over whether a stuffed sandwich should be called a hoagie, sub or grinder disappear when you head to the deep South. Down here, that type of cuisine is a Po' Boy, and is named for the out-of-work streetcar drivers living in New Orleans during a strike in the 1920s. Once stuffed almost exclusively with roast beef, it's now commonly filled with seafood, including shrimp, oysters or crawfish.
Things down South are just peachy.
Long known for its peach production, Georgia is nicknamed the Peach State, even though neighbor South Carolina produces way more peaches. Of course, all that fresh, juicy fruit just begs to be transformed into a sweet treat. One classic option is the peach cobbler, made by adding sugared peaches to a thick golden crust and serving with a scoop of ice cream. Now that's one way to beat the heat!
Yup, pie for supper is a thing.
The word pie might make you think of dessert, but the chicken pot pie of the south is actually a main dish rather than a sweet treat. And despite its name, chicken isn't actually the star of this recipe. In fact, it often plays second fiddle to the buttery, flaky pie crust that makes up the outside of the dish, concealing the thick chicken and veggie stew within.
Does it count as a veggie if it's fried?
Yes, Southern chefs have continued their deep frying traditions by dipping okra in breading and tossing it in oil to give it a crispy coating. This cooking technique gives a whole new twist to the classic vegetable, which has long been a staple in gumbo and other recipes. Spice things up by pairing a bowl of fried okra with some creamy remoulade or a splash of hot sauce.
How Creoles do fried rice
Think of jambalaya as a flavorful southern version of that shrimp fried rice from your local Chinese carryout. Rather than soy sauce and sesame oil, this rice-based dish is flavored with onions, celery, peppers and tomatoes. It often has andouille sausage added in to lend a smoky flavor, and may be topped with shrimp, chicken or other meats and seafood.
You're going to have to trust us on this one.
No southern church picnic is complete without at least one ambrosia salad. This classic dish takes fruit salad to the next level, combining canned pineapple and citrus slices with a variety of other fresh or canned fruit. A generous helping or marshmallows and coconut are added in to create a sweet, tropical flavor. Every Southern lady has her own version of this dish, which may include whipped cream, cottage cheese, yogurt or any other number of variations.
No cobs required.
No matter what part of the country you're in, corn is a U.S. diet staple. Down South they shave those kernels off the cob, partially puree them, and mix them with a bit of water or milk to make creamed corn. This beloved side dish can be eaten plain, or mixed with sugar, cream cheese or other ingredients for thickness and added flavor.
Win the school bake sale with this classic cake.
Deceptively simple to make, caramel cakes bring back fond memories for anyone who was once a child in the south. To make this treat, add brown sugar to a standard yellow cake mix to give it a caramel color and flavor. For the frosting, mix evaporated milk and plenty of butter with caramelized brown sugar, letting it cool and thicken before whipping it into a thick and gooey paste.
Don't watch the Derby without this drink ...
New Yorkers love their cosmos and martinis, but Southerners are all about the mint julep. Traditionally associated with the Kentucky Derby, this drink can be enjoyed anytime by those willing to muddle some mint into a glass with simple syrup, Bourbon and crushed ice. Serve it old-school with a silver or pewter cup, or make it modern with a regular highball glass ... your guests won't care as long as you keep 'em flowing.
Where soul food meets comfort food
If your only mac and cheese experience comes out of a blue box, it's time to check out some southern macaroni and cheese recipes that will totally change the way you think about this dish. Keep it simple with milk, cream and cheddar, or combine cheeses like Gruyere, pepper jack and Parmesan to take things to a whole new level. Make this southern classic yours with add-ins ranging from beef crumbles to bacon or jalapenos for extra kick.
No, the cookies aren't optional.
Southerners know that banana pudding has tons of crunch, which may surprise those who think of pudding as smooth and creamy. This classic dessert gets its crunch factor from vanilla wafers or lady fingers, simple packaged cookies which are layered with pudding, whipped cream and sliced bananas to create a dessert that's one of a kind.
Southerners don't do dry biscuits.
Flaky, buttery biscuits are a staple of southern cooking, but real Southerners know that the best way to enjoy these delicious clouds of dough is when they're completely smothered in black pepper gravy. This creamy white gravy, which is often jam-packed with bits of sausage for flavor, ensures you'll never need to ask for jelly or jam to accompany your breakfast.
Greens that taste good!
OK, so not everything on the menu in the South is deep--fried, as evidenced by the popularity of collard greens. These deep green leafy vegetables are naturally bitter, but slow-cooking them with ham or bacon and plenty of spices transforms them into a delicious and nutritious side dish that goes perfectly with everything from fried chicken to Hoppin' John.
For perfect etouffee, just add crawfish.
It can be intimidating for outsiders to come across a bowl of boiled crawfish; after all, how in the world are you supposed to eat that thing? To make this southern seafood more accessible, chefs remove it from the shell, add veggies and a thick sauce and pour over rice to create crawfish etouffee. The name means "smothered," which is a perfect representation of what this flavor-packed southern dish does to the rice.
This dish will leave you licking your fingers ...
Sure, you've had chicken baked, broiled and roasted, but if you're from the south, you know that fried chicken reigns supreme. Soaked in brine then coated in herbs, spices and bread crumbs (or battered), the chicken is then tossed in an oil-filled pan or fryer. When it comes out, the breading will be golden brown and crispy, while the perfectly-cooked chicken inside will still be moist and juicy. Toss over waffles and coat with syrup for a sweet and salty twist on this classic dish.
Oh, hush ...
If you've never tried one, you might not grasp the deliciousness of the hush puppy, but it'll only take one bite of these deep-fried balls of cornmeal, flour, onions and spices to make you a believer. The traditional accompaniment to BBQ, fried fish and many other southern dishes, hush puppies can also be eaten alone with a side of remoulade or spicy mayo sauce for dipping.
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