Five Essential Southern Food Recipes

five must try southern food recipes

We’re gearing up soon for a visit back home in Charleston, South Carolina. The kids have been making all sorts of lists. Lists of which friends they want to make time to see. Lists of what foods they want their Gong Gong (grandpa) to cook them. List of what restaurants we have to visit. Their excitement is so infectious that I dug into my archives and pulled out the five Southern food recipes you absolutely have to make. Click through to see!

1. Buttermilk Fried Chicken

buttermilk fried chicken

There’s nothing more Southern than a hot, crispy batch of fried chicken that’s been soaking in buttermilk all night. That’s why you must have this buttermilk fried chicken recipe in your Southern food arsenal. The batter is perfectly crunchy but not too thick, and the chicken turns out chin-dribbling juicy.

If you’re put off by the grease that your kitchen might get coated in by deep-frying, move the whole operation outdoors and do it on your grill, like I did. But be forewarned — intrepid neighbors may smell the intoxicating aroma of real, Southern fried chicken and you might find yourself with the company of unexpected dinner guests making their way to your backyard.

Pair this buttermilk fried chicken with a crunchy Asian red cabbage slaw with miso dressing for an unexpected side dish.

2. Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits is a Southern dish that’s unique to the Lowcountry (the southern part of South Carolina on the coastline). Sauteed white shrimp, usually large and plump, get added to a “gravy” or sauce with a bacon base. Traditionally, shrimp and grits were served with a brown, roux-based gravy similar to a Cajun etoufee or gumbo.

My version is a riff on the classic version found at Hominy Grill, a no-frills but excellent Southern restaurant in Charleston, SC. The shrimp are sauteed with bacon, mushrooms and fresh chopped tomatoes, then finished with chopped scallions. Spoon a little of this savory, briny delight on top of creamy grits, and you’ve got yourself a match made in heaven.

3. Cornmeal Fried Catfish

cornmeal fried catfish

At the end of a hot summer day in the South, fish is often what’s for dinner. This cornmeal fried catfish is as Southern as it gets. Its batter brings a gritty texture that provides a nice contrast to the delicate, tender flesh of the catfish. Traditionally, cornmeal fried catfish is served with hush puppies (cornmeal fritters), but you can try it with creamed spinach or collard greens just so that not everything on your plate is deep-fried (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course).

4. Mac and Cheese

mac and cheese

Mac and cheese is so common these days that it’s hard to find an American menu without some pumped-up, truffle or baconized version of this Southern classic on it. But mac and cheese really had its roots in Southern cuisine, making its first appearance at a state dinner by former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.  Since the rebirth of the popularity of comfort foods in America, mac and cheese is now a must-have for a classic Southern dinner.

This creamy version of mac and cheese is made with shredded Gruyere (Swiss) cheese and sharp white cheddar cheese, which makes for a creamy, satisfyingly savory sauce. The whole dish is covered in buttered bread crumbs and baked until the top is crispy and browned.

5. Pimento Cheese

pimento cheese

I’ll admit that I didn’t really “get” the appeal of pimento cheese as a kid. Back then, all pimento cheese I encountered was a mayonnaise-based, slimy amalgamation of canned pimento peppers and mild cheddar cheese. Then, thanks to Matt and Ted Lee, also known as the Lee Brothers and the publication of their cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, my eyes were opened to the creamy, tangy goodness that pimento cheese can be. Their modifications — using sharp cheddar and a freshly-roasted red bell pepper — turned what used to be the stuff of lunchroom nightmares into pure cheesy gold.

My version is an interpretation of their reinvented recipe, with suggestions on how to add additional ingredients (um, hello, bacon) to make your pimento cheese even more other-worldly.

So, what are you waiting for, y’all? Get crackin’ on that cookin’!

five must try southern food recipes

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About me

I’m Ann, a mom / wife / lawyer / certified culinary enthusiast. I share recipes, travel guides and home life tips while living overseas. Currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.

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