My mama’s mama (all the grandkids called her “Munnie”) was a prolific and prodigious cook, and when I visited, she’d make me anything I wanted for supper. This example of extreme spoiling sometimes resulted in pretty odd combinations like spaghetti with her homemade meat sauce (which was nothing like Italian meat sauce—it was thin with just a hint of tomato, heavy on beef, onion, and bell peppers instead), hot biscuits and big butterbeans on the side, and caramel cake for dessert.
She and my grandfather usually ate light in the evenings, so she’d make all that just for me. I can remember shoveling the soft pasta (I begged her to cook it to mush), the runny sauce clinging to it, into my mouth, while Munnie was across the table with a tall green glass. She’d stick her spoon in, rhythmically move it up and down, and then scoop up a bite of the creamy, lumpy concoction and eat it. Watching her was almost enough to make me lose the food I’d just inhaled. “That’s so gross!” I’d say. “I like it,” she’d reply, her smile elevating her plump, pink cheeks. She never chastised me for being rude, and she obviously didn’t care what I thought of her day-old-cornbread-crumbled-into-buttermilk meal. I loved cornbread but thought buttermilk was disgusting.
My tastes have changed a lot since then, and though I still haven’t gotten to a point where Munnie’s cornbread-buttermilk mixture sounds good to me, I can now at least appreciate buttermilk for the important role it plays in so many delicious Southern dishes. Biscuits, fried chicken, cornbread—you can make them all without buttermilk, but only buttermilk pushes them to be their best. The acid in buttermilk reacts with baking soda to fluff up and soften the baked goods. When chicken is soaked in buttermilk before being floured and fried, the acid acts as a tenderizer. Of course, buttermilk also adds its distinct tang to anything you put it in or on.
My fridge is rarely without a quart or two of buttermilk (and not that non-fat stuff—go full fat or just don’t bother), and I’m always looking for tasty new ways to use it. I made a new dish I’ve dubbed Pork Chops in Buttermilk Gravy a few weeks ago, and it’s quickly become a favorite. Here’s how you do it.
PORK CHOPS IN BUTTERMILK GRAVY
4 small boneless pork chops, butterflied and/or pounded to ½ inch thick OR 8 slices of pork tenderloin pounded to ½ inch thick
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 cup flour (for dredging)
2 tablespoons flour (for gravy making)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste
Salt and pepper your pork and dredge in flour.
Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of your chops to the skillet and brown both sides, cooking for about 3 minutes total. Remove the chops to a plate and do the same with your remaining chops. Remove them to the plate.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic to the skillet. Cook for about 30 seconds and be careful not to burn the garlic. Pick the pan up off the heat if you need to.
As soon as the garlic is fragrant and just beginning to brown, add the 2 tablespoons of flour and stir quickly to incorporate it into the fat in the pan. Let it cook for 1 minute and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and stir constantly as it thickens. Add the buttermilk and let it come back to a boil before turning the heat down to a slight simmer.
Add the thyme and put the chops back in the skillet along with any juices on the plate. Let it all cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the gravy reaches the consistency you like, taste to see if additional salt and pepper are needed (I actually like lots of fresh-ground black pepper in this gravy) and then serve with rice.
SEE ALL OF JENNIFER KORNEGAY’S “PORK CHOPS IN BUTTERMILK GRAVY” PHOTOS HERE