A Southern kitchen runs smoothly when the pantry and fridge are stocked with staple ingredients for making soul food meals with ease. Here are the essentials your kitchen needs:
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“Praise the lard, pass the biscuits,” as the Southern saying goes. Made from the rendered fat of a pig, it is used in both cooking and baking. With a long shelf life, the richness compared to other fats contributes to fluffier biscuits and flakier pie crusts. To substitute lard for butter in a baking recipe, reduce the amount by one-fourth.
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Because of the copious frying needs of the soul food kitchen, canola oil needs to be on hand at all times. Canola oil, made from the rapeseed, is a superior choice to other oils due to its lower amount of saturated fat and its high smoking point. Since deep frying requires a very high heat, it’s important to use an oil like canola that won’t break down under the extreme temperature demands.
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Finely ground corn, available in both yellow and white (and sometimes blue, as a rare find), cornmeal comes in different consistencies like fine, medium and coarse. Consistency is usually a personal preference. Cornmeal is the main component in cornbread or hush puppies. It can also be used on its own to coat catfish or okra, or mixed with flour for the crust on fried green tomatoes.
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Notice that grits and cornmeal are in two separate categories because for Southerners, these are two important, but separate, entities. Grits are ground from hominy, the dried kernel of the corn. Grits are simmered in milk or water and liberally dosed with butter and salt for a common soul food breakfast.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Self-rising flour is merely all-purpose flour with the addition of salt and baking powder. For Southerners, self-rising flour is a magical component to add a little oomph to many dishes, from peach cobbler to the crust of fried chicken. Easily made at home, just add 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt per 1 cup of all-purpose flour.
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A dressing made from egg yolks, vegetable oil, and lemon juice, mayo is the glue that binds many Southern gems together like pimento cheese, egg salad, and potato salad—the list goes on and on. In North Carolina, Duke’s is a popular brand choice, while Hellmann’s rules in other parts of the South. It’s also a necessary component of the summertime tomato sandwich—thick homegrown slices of tomatoes with mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.
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It’s not soul food without the flavoring of pork, which can come in a variety of forms. Bacon, cured and smoked pork belly, is a common indulgent. The grease rendered from the bacon while cooking is commonly stored and used at a later point as a cooking fat or flavoring. Pig’s feet, which require a long, slow stint of cooking, release tons of porky flavor, as well as gelatin. Pig’s feet and the flavorful jowl are also used to make a broth for cooking greens or other vegetables.
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Add a little Cajun love to a meal with a shake of a seasoning blend, used for blackening rubs or to give a Creole flair to dishes. Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning has a worship-like following in the South. Just beware that most store-bought Cajun blends have a high salt level. An easy solution is to make it yourself, which allows you to control the spiciness and saltiness to your liking. For a homemade Cajun spice blend, just combine equal parts of chili powder, oregano,... dried thyme, sweet paprika, salt, cayenne powder, garlic powder and onion powder.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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A mixture of whole milk and sugar, sweetened condensed milk is a component of many Southern desserts like banana pudding. Unsweetened condensed milk also goes by the name of evaporated milk and is a worthy addition to a creamy mac and cheese.
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Hot Pepper Sauce
Pickled Tabasco peppers packed in vinegar is an absolute must to add a spicy punch to collards or turnip greens. The hot sauce should also be dashed onto cornbread. When the vinegary hot sauce is drained clean, just refill with more vinegar. Store for a couple weeks until the leftover Tabasco peppers have flavored the vinegar and use again.