8 Southern Cooking Myths Debunked
From fried chicken and cornbread to collard greens and casseroles, it’s the comfort dishes we crave the most that we seem to know the least about. To challenge some common perceptions and stereotypes of classic Southern cuisine, we’ve tasked North Carolina native and award-winning chef Adam Hayes (Lonesome Valley’s Canyon Kitchen) with debunking eight popular cooking myths. Click through and get to learnin’, y’all.
Myth #1: Fried chicken tastes best when placed in an oven to crisp.
False. No need to get fancy schmancy. “I don’t think it has to go in the oven at all," says Hayes. “I set it up on an oven shelf and let it just hang out, not over-stacked and in a single layer.” The beauty is also in the brine, and Hayes shines with a tried-and-true duo of buttermilk and hot sauce.
Myth #2: Sweet tea is just iced tea with a lot of sugar.
Kind of true. “It depends on where you get it from,” says Hayes. Charlotte-based fast food chain Bojangles’ is notorious for its overly-sweet tea (which many locals dub as the authority), but chefs can adjust sugar levels by brewing the Southern staple with an easily customizable simple syrup.
Myth #3: Adding sugar to cornbread is blasphemous.
It depends on who you ask. “My grandmother would always put a little sugar in everything, even green beans,” Hayes reveals. And while many Southern chefs may scoff at the idea, Hayes argues that it depends entirely on the type of corn. “If it’s a sweeter corn, you don’t necessarily need any extra sugar. I know people who do it, but we don’t. We do it the old-fashioned way and leave it out.”
Myth #4: Collard greens are difficult to prepare.
True, and the cooking process can be quite stinky and time-consuming. If you’ve got a few hours to spare, you may have found your new favorite vegetable side dish. “It literally takes three, four hours to cook collard greens,” Hayes laments. But the process is totally worth it. His secret? “I caramelize bacon with onion first and let the fat do its thing. I then add brown sugar and turn it into a caramel sauce with the bacon fat, de-glazed with apple cider vinegar. I put the collards on top of that and then you have to have pork stock or ham hocks.” While many chefs heedlessly toss in hocks for their salty bite, Hayes kicks things up a notch with a full pork stock using hocks, neck, bones and feet. “Every chef in the South will say they make the best collard greens. I make the best collard greens.”
Myth #5: Maintaining a cast iron skillet is not worth the time and effort.
False: “They’re a pain in the butt, but they’re so awesome,” Hayes explains. For those intimidated by the upkeep, Hayes advises amateur cooks to start with one that will feed the number of people in your house. “A 10-inch is a good standard size.” As far as the cleaning process is concerned, you never want to soak and water the pan or the fat comes off. “The best way to clean one is kosher salt because it acts as a scouring pad. You can just do it with a towel. Then you always rub it back down with a fat. In my house, it’s bacon fat. There’s no wasting of the bacon fat.”
Myth #6: It is impossible to cook okra without it being slimy.
False. While it is certainly difficult, it’s not impossible. “Fried is clearly the best way,” claims Hayes, who serves a thinly-sliced variety at Canyon Kitchen (re-opening April 13). “We just flash fry them and they get super crispy. We use it as a garnish every week.”
Myth #7: Proteins like alligator, possum, raccoon, squirrel, frog legs and armadillo taste like chicken.
True for the most part. “Absolutely. It all tastes like chicken,” Hayes jokes. “It’s easy to say everything tastes like chicken and people will eat it, but I try to stay away from anything that crosses into rodent territory.” The meat that probably won’t end up at your next community potluck? Possum. “I’ve heard possum is the only one that tastes like what it is and they’re just gross-looking.” No offense to the world’s possum population, but we’d have to wholeheartedly agree.
Myth #8: Paula Deen is an accurate representation of typical butter consumption.
False. “I can’t agree with that. I’m a big fan of butter and it pretty much goes into anything we do, but that’s not typical,” Hayes claims. “A little bit of butter can go a long way. I don’t think I need to finish something with a whole pound of butter.”