Deen Does 'Southern' Fare ... With A Stick Of Butter

Originally published on January 6, 2012 7:05 pm

Food Network star Paula Deen loves seasoning, bacon and, of course, a bit of butter.

She also loves Southern cooking, which why her latest cookbook, Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible, explores the regional variations of Southern food.

Deen tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that she first discovered some of those variations in her home state of Georgia.

"I spent my first 40 years, Steve, in Albany, Ga., near the Alabama and Florida lines," she says. "And then about 24 years ago, it was 1987, I was relocated by my children's father to Savannah, Ga., and that is now, and always will be, home."

She says that even moving between cities in the same state called for certain culinary adjustments.

"I found that when I went from Albany to Savannah, that I needed to put that white rice away, and I needed to turn that into Savannah red rice because they were big into that sausage, tomato-y, bell pepper-y rice mixture," she says.

Grits, Greens, Bacon And Butter

Deen says there are still a couple things all Southern cooking has in common. One is a love of seasoning. ("Southerners have never been afraid of seasoning," she says. "It's kind of the other way around; our seasoning is afraid of us.") Another is a love of vegetables.

"There's nowhere in [the U.S.] that eats more vegetables than us Southern folks," she says. "We love our fresh green beans and new potatoes and fresh butter beans."

In that spirit, Deen's new books includes recipes like Best Braised Southern Greens, which has a lot more than just greens in it — it's also got bacon, hot sauce and, naturally, a stick of butter.

"I figure it's almost like a balance," Deen says. "We're eating these wonderful collard greens and turnip greens which are so medicinally good for you and, OK, so what if it has a little ham hock in it?"

After all, is it still Southern cooking without the bacon and the butter?

"Maybe a cheatin' version," she says.

Just as important as bacon and butter is that classic Southern staple, grits. Deen has her Cheese Grits recipe down to a science; she's got a handful of tips for expertly executing the dish.

The first is to make sure you salt the water before you add the grits. She also advises putting some butter in the water, "just like when you cook your pasta you put a little olive oil in your water so it won't get gummy and stick together." Lastly, she says you should whisk the grits for about two minutes in boiling water. ("If you turn your back and don't stir them, then you got a pot of golf balls," she says.) Then it's time for some final touches.

"You got to add a little milk at the end of your cooking time. And sometimes I will accidentally trip when I'm walking across the kitchen with a block of cream cheese, and it falls in there," she jokes. "You just have to go with it and say, 'Oops!'"

The Meaning Behind Chicken And Dumplin's

Deen has spent so much of her life in the kitchen that it seems inevitable that she would associate certain foods with certain people, like her grandmother.

"My grandmother would fry the best fish roe and serve it to us in the morning with scrambled eggs and grits," Deen recalls.

Another classic family dish is Chicken and Dumplin's. The recipe isn't hard, Deen says, but it is physically tiring.

"Grandma taught me that you have to make a tough dumpling. You want to be able to cut it with your fork, and in order to do that you have to mix your flour and your salt along slowly with ice water," she says. "That's a hard ball that you're having to work with, and it probably takes me 30 minutes to roll out that hard ball but I know when I do that that I've got them right."

The work's worth it because of what the dish means to Deen, who lost her father when she was just 19.

"My daddy's favorite meal was Chicken and Dumplin's," she says.

When he died, Deen went to her grandmother with an important request.

"I said, 'Grandmama, I've got to learn how to make your Chicken and Dumplin's,'" Deen recalls, "'just in case this is a bad dream and my daddy comes back.'"


Recipe: Best Southern Braised Greens

As far as I'm concerned, in order to cook good greens, you have to grease 'em a little with bacon or butter, or — y'all know me — both! I love how after a nice braise, this traditional mess o' greens gives you that delicious pot liquor — the tastiest, healthiest broth at the bottom of the braising pot. You can serve that broth with corn bread or hoecakes to soak it up, or just slurp it up in the kitchen all by itself in a cup. I had an elderly gentleman who came into the restaurant regularly and never needed to order. I would just bring him a coffee mug full of pot liquor. It'll cure whatever ails you.

Serves 4 to 6

8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, thinly sliced
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
2 pounds collard greens, stems removed and leaves cut into 1/2-inch strips
Salt
Hot sauce

1. In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and butter and cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes longer.

2. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the collard greens and cook, uncovered, until very soft, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and hot sauce to taste. Place the greens in a pretty serving bowl along with the pot liquor and set out on the table.

Green Is Good

Like most Southerners, I cannot get enough of hearty greens like collards, turnip greens and mustard greens. Here's a quick way to prep 'em. First, use this trick to trim out the thick stem (sometimes called a rib) in the center of the leaves: Fold the leaves in half and, starting from the top, at its thinner end, pull the stem away from the leaf. Or lay the leaves down flat on a cutting board, make a cut down either side of the stem, and cut out the stem. Roll the leaves up (the long way) like a cigar and then slice them crosswise to create strips.

Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible by Paula Deen with Melissa Clark.Copyright 2011 by Paula Deen.


Recipe: Paula's Chicken and Dumplin's

I never saw a dumplin' I didn't like. And I especially love chicken and dumplin's because it was my daddy's favorite dish. When he passed and I asked my grandmama for the recipe, she taught me how to do rolled dumplin's like these. To make them correctly, you mix your dough with ice water, then roll it out real thin on the kitchen table. It takes some elbow grease: What you want is a dough that puts up a little bit of a fight, so you end up with a real thin, tough dumplin' you have to cut with a fork. That gives you a nice chew, and it's the secret to this recipe.

Serves 4 to 6

Chicken

1 whole chicken (2 1/2 pounds), rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 8 pieces
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 teaspoon Paula Deen's House Seasoning (page 435)
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) condensed cream of celery or cream of chicken soup

Dumplings

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ice water

1. To prepare the chicken: In a large pot, combine the chicken, celery, onion, bay leaves, bouillon cubes, House Seasoning, and 16 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the chicken is tender and the thigh juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and discard the bay leaves. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick the meat off the bones, discarding the bones and skin. Return the chicken meat to the pot. Add the canned soup to the pot and simmer gently over medium-low heat.

2. To make the dumplings: In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the salt and mound together. Beginning at the center of the mound, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of ice water over the flour. Using your fingers, and moving from the center to the sides of the bowl, gradually drizzle the flour with about 3/4 cup ice water and incorporate. Knead the dough and form it into a ball.

3. Dust a small handful of flour onto a work surface. Roll out the dough (it will be firm), working from the center, until it is 1/8 inch thick. Let the dough relax for several minutes.

4. Once the dough is nice and relaxed, cut it into 1-inch squares. Pull each piece in half and drop the halves into the simmering soup. Do not stir the pot once the dumplings have been added or they may break apart. Instead, gently move the pot in a circular motion so the dumplings become submerged and cook evenly. Cook until the dumplings float and are no longer doughy, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. To serve, ladle the chicken, gravy and dumplings into warm bowls.

Thick And Thin

If the chicken stew is too thin, it can be thickened up before the dumplings are added. Simply mix together 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 cup water, then whisk this mixture into the stew and cook until it reaches the desired consistency.

Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible by Paula Deen with Melissa Clark.Copyright 2011 by Paula Deen.


Recipe: South Georgia 'Caviar'

In the South we laughingly call this redneck caviar, because a lot of poor folks couldn't afford caviar spread to set out with their crackers and we just thought black-eyed peas would make a perfectly good substitute. And do you know what? I think they're even better! For one thing, fish eggs taste pretty awful on tortilla chips. But this mix of beans, spicy Ro*Tel tomatoes (a Southern staple that I am seeing more and more in supermarkets across the country), and Italian dressing makes for a dip that is classy in its own special way.

Serves 12 to 15

2 cans (15 ounces each) black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) corn kernels, drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) spicy diced tomatoes, such as Ro*tel
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 bottle (8 ounces) Italian dressing
1 jar (4 ounces) chopped pimientos, drained
Tortilla chips or crackers, for dipping

1. In a large serving bowl, mix together the black-eyed peas, corn, tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, onion, Italian dressing and pimientos. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight to let the flavors come out. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers for dipping.

Don't Feel The Burn

If you're chopping fresh chilies, you want to have some respect for those little seeds and white veins inside, because that's where all the spice is, and it will burn your hand just like it burns your mouth. To play it safe, wear latex gloves to chop the chilies, then wash your knife and board right away. If you want it real hot, chop the whole chili, seeds and all; but to tone it down, first scrape the seeds and white veins away and discard them, and then chop the chili.

Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible by Paula Deen with Melissa Clark.Copyright 2011 by Paula Deen.


Recipe: Cheese Grits

I enjoy plain old grits so much, I might neglect to make these delicious cheesy baked grits. But cheese makes these simple grits so luxurious and silky, I could eat the whole mess if I didn't have to share 'em. Stone-ground grits are wonderful, but because they take so long to cook, I usually go with quick cooking grits — which I also love. But I never make the instant kind — some things a Southerner just won't do!

Serves 6

1 cup quick-cooking grits
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut up
1 1/2 cups shredded combined Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese (6 ounces total), plus extra for topping
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Dash of cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits and salt. Whisk constantly for 1 minute. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, or until the grits are thick and creamy.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Take about 1 tablespoon of the hot cooked grits and whisk it into the eggs. Stir the warmed eggs back into the pan of grits and stir well to combine. Stir in the butter, cheese, garlic, and cayenne pepper.

4. Spoon the mixture into a 2-quart baking dish. Bake for 45 minutes. And go ahead and top the casserole with some extra grated cheese in the last 5 minutes of baking, because you just can't get enough of a good thing.

Temper, Temper

I tell you, eggs are a temperamental food! They have a nasty habit of scrambling on you when you're adding them to something that's hot. In order to avoid that mess, you need to "temper" them before adding them to a hot food. That's what you're doing in this recipe when you add that tablespoon of hot grits to the eggs before pouring the eggs into the pan. You're just bringing the temperature of the eggs closer to the temperature of the hot food. Then, when you add the "tempered" eggs to the pan of hot grits, be sure to stir well and constantly so the eggs can get used to the hotter temperature.

Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible by Paula Deen with Melissa Clark.Copyright 2011 by Paula Deen.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Television cook Paula Deen is famous for enriching her recipes with a pat of butter and then a few pats more.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PAULA'S HOME COOKING")

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Many people on YouTube have watched Paula Deen make her Donut Burger. She calls her latest cookbook "Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible." She writes that Southern food varies from place to place. New Orleans cuisine is different from Savannah cuisine, which in turn is different than in her hometown.

: I spent my first 40 years, Steve, in Albany, Georgia, near the Alabama and Florida lines. And then about 24 years ago, it was 1987, I was relocated by my children's father to Savannah, Georgia, and that is now, and always will be, home.

INSKEEP: You say you were relocated by him, as if he put you on a hand truck and carted you up the...

: And that's just about the way it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: It's just about the way it was. I was devastated.

INSKEEP: Well, now, if you just go from Albany, Georgia to Savannah, Georgia, which is after all, from one corner of one state to another corner, does the cuisine change even in that amount of space?

: You know, it really does. I found that when I went from Albany to Savannah, you know, that I needed to put that white rice away. And I needed to turn that into Savannah red rice because they were big into that sausage, tomatoey, bell peppery rice mixture.

INSKEEP: Now, you have a recipe here for what you call the Best Braised Southern Greens. I think maybe people who don't eat greens don't get what it is about greens. Maybe you can explain, although you include the words bacon and butter in here - maybe that begins to explain the attraction.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Well, you know, Southerners have never been afraid of seasoning. It's kind of the other way around; our seasoning is afraid of us.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: You know, and I think sometimes the South gets a bad rap. But I found over the last 10 years that in all my travels, you know, there's nowhere in this U.S. that eats more vegetables than us Southern folks. We love our fresh green beans and new potatoes and fresh butter beans.

So I figure that it's almost like a balance, you know? We're eating these wonderful collard greens and turnip greens, which are so medicinally good for you. And okay, so what if it has a little ham hock in it?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask. Is it Southern cooking without the bacon and the butter?

: Hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I think I've stumped you.

: Maybe a cheating version, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Okay, so it's important. You got to have it. Maybe this is a good moment to ask what makes cheese grits - because you have them in here - a good cheese grits as opposed to not-so-good cheese grits?

: Oh my, gosh. The one secret to making good grits is you've got to salt that water before you add your grits, otherwise you can put a box of salt in it and it won't be salty enough. So that is a secret. There's a couple of secrets to cooking good grits. One of them is making sure that water is good and salty; making it's got some butter in it.

Just like, you know, when you cook your pasta you put a little olive oil in your water so it won't get gummy and stick together. And you want to make sure you use a whisk, and whisk those grits for about two minutes in that boiling water. You want to make sure that all those grains of ground corn are all completely wet - because if you turn your back and don't stir them, then you've got a pot of golf balls.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I can picture that now. I think I've had it at some point.

: And you got to add a little milk at the end of your cooking time. And sometimes I'll accidentally trip when I'm walking across the kitchen with a block of cream cheese and it falls in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I hate it when that happens.

: Hate it when that happens.

INSKEEP: And you've just got to go with it, you know?

: You just have to go with it and say, oops. Then, you know, people ask me all the time, Steve, do you and your family eat like this every day? Well, no we don't. Of course we don't.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one more thing and take you back to Albany, Georgia here...

: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: ...because you include a recipe for what is described - this is your term - South Georgia caviar or redneck caviar, what is that?

: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: That's black-eyed peas.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Okay.

: You know, we didn't eat much caviar in the South.

INSKEEP: Not yet.

: Although my grandmother would fry the best fish roe and serve it to us in the morning, with scrambled eggs and grits. So we ate our caviar in that form.

INSKEEP: You know, because you mentioned your grandmother, I want to ask you one more thing.

: Yes.

INSKEEP: Does the smell of certain foods in the kitchen remind you of certain people?

: Yes.

INSKEEP: Your grandmother would be one of them, I bet.

: Yes, and my mother and my father. I lost my mother and daddy when they were very young. And my daddy's favorite meal was chicken and dumplings. And I was 19 when he died and he was just 40 years old. And I got in the kitchen with my grandmother after my daddy died. And I said, Grandmamma, I've got to learn how to make your chicken and dumplings, just in case this is a bad dream and my daddy comes back.

INSKEEP: And she showed you.

: And she taught me how. And it's not hard but it's physically tiring because Grandma taught me that you have to make a tough dumpling. You want to be able to cut it with your fork, and in order to do that you have to mix your flour and your salt along slowly with ice water.

Well, I mean that's a hard ball, you know, that you're having to work with, and it probably takes me 30 minutes to roll out that hard ball. But I know when I do that that I've got them right. So it's work but certainly worth it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: "Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible" is out now. Recipes are at NPR.org and you'll find a link to that video of her Donut Burger in my Twitter feed @nprinskeep.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.