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Fig Travels: Nashville and Fried Chicken

You haven’t been to Nashville if you can’t come home raving about your favorite “meat ‘n’ three” spot. The hometown of Country Music is also the birthplace and epicenter of this heavenly rich comfort food package. A meat ‘n’ three consists of one meat, fish or poultry dish and three “vegetables,” (i.e. baked beans, cole slaw, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fried okra and, yes, macaroni and cheese). Nothing in the world is more comforting or more delicious and as for calories, with food this good, honestly, who’s counting?

 

Ask 20 Nashvillians their favorite place to have this uniquely southern meal, and you’ll get just as many different answers, but The Loveless Café was, hands down, our favorite. The biscuits served with all natural homemade jam, and fried chicken that blew us away. You have to taste it to believe it, and fortunately, we’ve included our own perfected version of their fried chicken below so you can!

 

Locals and tourists have been coming to Loveless from miles around for more than 50 years, ever since Annie Loveless first started serving her unusually light and tasty biscuits. An anointed “keeper,” most recently Carol Fay Ellison who sadly passed away in April, guards the secret recipe. No biscuit comes close to being as flavorful and airy as a Loveless Biscuit, and our (perhaps impossible) dream is to one day recreate the taste in our own test kitchen. And after devouring our little pieces of heaven with peach and blackberry jam, our immense platter of golden fried-to-perfection chicken arived. Thank goodness we ordered it family style because we just couldn’t stop eating.

Here is our version of this classic southern comfort food inspired by the Loveless Café’s own cookbook. But first, please keep in mind that there are some essential ingredients and tools that are important to assemble if you want to make your chicken truly special. We are just as health conscious as many of our readers, but we believe in cultural food immersion, and that means eating like the locals. After the jump you’ll find a breakdown of what you may need to make these and many other first-rate southern dishes.

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Fig Travels: The Deep South

I’ve traveled to France, the Mecca of haute cuisine, many times and I didn’t think there could never be another regional food that would ever satisfy me as much as a perfectly cooked steak au poivre and a good glass of Bordeaux wine. Our road food trip to the Deep South was probably one of the last places I thought my stubborn belief system would be rattled, but I’ve been humbled.

French cuisine is still of course dear to me, but now I know how utterly fantastic, and complicated, real southern food is. Down-to-earth Southern fried chicken is not simple at all: we’re still perfecting the art of duplicating the texture, taste, and even the color. In fact, we could cook a le creuset filled with beef bourguignon faster. The same goes for so many other southern treasures we sampled. The biscuits from The Loveless Café in Nashville, TN are so buttery, rich and yet airy, they rival the best croissants anywhere. We’re not sure they can be replicated, although we’ll let you know if we succeed.

Clockwise from top left: Fried Okra, Nashville, TN; Sign at Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House, Lynchburg, TN; Basket of cornbread, Lynchburg, TN.

 

On our southern food odyssey, we also learned that barbeque ribs and pulled pork as we previously knew them, are oversimplified. The variations and interpretation of great barbecue are almost endless. Some places even offer barbecue nachos. Even in the epicenter of barbeque, they are still reinventing it every year at the annual Memphis in May barbeque world championship. The same is true for Cajun cooking; the possibilities and interpretations of local favorites – etoufee, gumbo, bisque and the countless versions of “blonde” and “dark” rouxs – would stun your taste buds.

Clockwise from top left: Crawfish pie, Breaux Bridge, LA; Bicycle street scene, New Orleans, LA; Beignet Machine at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA; Francesca enjoying a beignet, New Orleans, LA.

Non-natives usually think of chicken and pork dishes first, but the variety of southern seafood dishes also blew us away. The catfish from the Mississippi Delta is succulently sweet and juicy, but our favorite local seafood specialty turned out to be oysters; we had oysters fried, raw and even, charbroiled. Oysters Rockefeller was invented it the Deep South but you haven’t had an oyster, really, until you’ve had one on the grill.

It is hard to figure out just what make southern food so mouth-watering and addictive, but one thing I noticed is that Southern cooks are not afraid of abundant flavor and seasoning. We never needed the salt and pepper shakers. There were unexpected ingredients along the way too, like Jack Daniels in fudge pie or copious amounts of turmeric in some of the ribs. But whatever the surprising ingredient was, it was always perfectly balanced.

Clockwise from top left: Rice at Rendezvous, Memphis, TN; Barbeque sauce at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN; Ribs at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN.

 

For the next few posts, prepare yourself a nice glass of sweet tea – we’re going to chronicle our travels, and along the way, we will give you the recipes to create some of these southern gems for yourself.

Sweet Tea

6-7 Bags Orange Pekoe Tea (If you can find Luzianne brand at your grocery store, use that. It’s a perfect blend of Orange Pekoe and Black Pekoe. Here in New England it’s hard to find, so we use Twinings’s which is delicious too.)
3/4 Cup Sugar
11 1/2 cups of water
Ice

  1. Put 1 1/2 cups of water in a small pan and bring to boil
  2. With water still boiling add tea bags and let gently boil for 1 minute
  3. Turn off stove and remove tea from heat
  4. Add sugar to a large pitcher
  5. Pour one cup of water into tea concentrate to cool it down slightly (otherwise the sugar will burn)
  6. Pour tea into pitcher over sugar and stir until all sugar is dissolved
  7. Add remaining 9 cups of water and stir well.
  8. Put ice in glasses, pour in tea and enjoy.
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