Southern Stories
Sep 06/13

Got Buttermilk? The Old Kitchen Stand-by Returns Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments

Everything old is new again. How else can you explain the reappearance of leg warmers and neon crop-tops that we thought we’d left in the ‘80s? While some things, like nouvelle cuisine’s Lilliputian portions deserve to be left behind, buttermilk is one culinary treasure that merits another look.

Buttermilk is en vogue again. Chefs from all over are rediscovering the magic in this epicurean workhorse. The Wall Street Journal’s Off Duty section recently showcased buttermilk in use in high-end kitchens; to be sure, it is an ingredient useful in far more than just airy biscuits. As Vermont-based farmer and author Diane St. Clair discusses in her book, The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook, there is great folklore that accompanies buttermilk. There are historical home remedies using buttermilk to cure everything from canker sores to colitis, heat stroke to parasites. Of course, if you ask Earl Cruze, patriarch of Cruze Farm outside Knoxville, Tenn., he’ll tell you that if a man regularly drinks enough buttermilk, he’ll no longer have the need for Viagra. I’ll just take his word on that one.

That said, not all buttermilks are created equal. The first time I was presented with a large glass of chilled Cruze Farm buttermilk, I wrinkled my nose as I accepted the farmer’s gift. Up to that point, my only exposure had been to the mass-produced stuff found in big-box grocery stores. Having tasted REAL buttermilk, I’ve realized the supermarket stuff is a mere imposter. It is one-dimensional and puny. Real buttermilk is rich and zingy, tastes alive and full-bodied. Drink some from a glass and you’ll let it coat your top lip, just so you can swipe your tongue across for one last sip.

And yet, the true beauty of buttermilk is that she assumes the supporting role so well. No diva, buttermilk plays well with others in everything from salad dressings, soups, marinades and desserts. Diane St. Clair has several salad dressing recipes in her book, but I love the one using Tunisian spice paste harissa. The cool acid of the buttermilk lets the smoky heat of the spices shine, without searing your tastebuds. Fabulous on butter lettuce or Romaine, the dressing would be equally at home as a dip for crudité (think radishes, endive, jicama).

James Beard-award winning chef Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm enjoys the luxury of being in close proximity to Cruze Farm and features their elixirs in all kinds of dishes. I first tasted his buttermilk consommé a couple years ago at a Southern Food Writing Conference dinner at The Barn. Featuring almost nothing more than fresh local trout, it was ethereal. Chef Lenn has graciously agreed to share this recipe here. I promise you the results will be worth your efforts. Share photos of your results with us on Pinterest or Instagram.

Dessert. Nowhere else is buttermilk more at home than in dessert. Her zip is what keeps a dish grounded when sugar wants to make it float away. In Donald Link’s book, Real Cajun, he makes a buttermilk ice cream that is so beautiful in its simplicity – a blank canvas for whatever seasonal special you want to show off: summer berries, warm dulce de leche, autumn pies, fancy artisanal salts. The possibilities are limitless. Just promise you’ll leave those legwarmers back in the closet.

Harissa Buttermilk Dressing
Reprinted from the book The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook by Diane St. Clair. Copyright © 2013 Andrews McNeel Publishing
Makes ¾ cup

½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 small shallot, finely minced, about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon harissa*
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
* available on-line or at local Middle Eastern markets


Chef Joseph Lenn’s Sunburst Rainbow Trout with Cruze Farm Buttermilk Consommé, Watercress and Shaved Radishes
Serves 2, easily doubled

for the buttermilk consommé
½ gallon buttermilk
3 ½ sheets gelatin (bloomed)
5 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
5 parsley stems

Buttermilk consommé directions:
1) In a medium sauce pan, bring buttermilk and herbs to a simmer. Once curd forms, turn heat off and allow herbs to steep for 15 minutes.
2) Next strain the buttermilk into a freezer-safe bowl, and then fold in the bloomed gelatin.
3) Freeze the buttermilk in the bowl. Once frozen, remove the buttermilk and place it fin a cheesecloth-lined colander, set over another bowl, to catch buttermilk as it thaws. Place in refrigerator and reserve thawed buttermilk.

For the trout
2 Sunburst Trout Fillets (7-9oz) each cut in half
2 tablespoons canola oil
salt, to taste

Trout directions:
1) In a cast iron skillet, over medium high heat, heat oil until shimmering.
2) Place seasoned trout fillets skin side down in the skillet. Cook until skin is golden and crispy, turn fish and continue to cook on flesh side.

To serve
1) In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, bring reserved buttermilk to a simmer. Season the broth with salt.
2) Divide buttermilk consommé into four bowls. Place fish in bowl with consommé and garnish with 1 bunch watercress (washed and tough stems removed) and ½ cup radishes (shaved on mandolin)


Buttermilk Ice Cream
Reprinted from the book Real Cajun by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe. Copyright © 2009 by Donald Link. Photographs © 2009 by Chris Granger. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.
makes about 1 quart

1 quart well-shaken buttermilk
1 pink heavy cream
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt

1) Combine the ingredients in a large bowl or pitcher and chill for at least 30 minutes.
2) Following the manufacturer’s instructions, transfer the ingredients to an ice cream machine and process until the mixture begins to thicken and set up.
3) Transfer the ice cream to a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze for a few more hours before serving.


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Southern food and lifestyle writer Christiana Roussel lives in Birmingham, AL. When not enjoying the occasional biscuit festival or bourbon tasting, there are four chickens, three dogs, two children and one husband who keep her very busy. You can follow her culinary adventures on-line at Christiana’s Kitchen.



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