Typically, the leftovers of food production are nothing to speak of, but when it comes to butter, that is hardly the case. As milk is churned, solid butter begins to form. Buttermilk, the fermented liquid left behind after milk has been churned into butter, is kitchen gold. Despite its name, buttermilk contains no actual butter. Naturally, buttermilk is low in fat and was originally fermented to prolong its shelf life. As the process of making butter has become industrialized, true buttermilk is harder and harder to find. Instead, most buttermilk products on grocery store shelves are actually milk with live cultures introduced to recreate its distinct flavor and chemical properties.
Though it may be a byproduct leftover from the butter-making process, that doesn’t mean this tangy, creamy mixture should be thrown out. An excellent base for salad dressings, like ranch or blue cheese, buttermilk provides a richness that is an excellent contrast to fresh vegetables. True buttermilk not only has a unique flavor, but its chemical components also make it an excellent ingredient in the kitchen. That distinctive tang, primarily lactic acid, is why buttermilk is ideal for baking products that need a good rise. When making the buttermilk biscuits or the pound cake below, notice the ingredients with which buttermilk is paired: baking soda and baking powder. The basic rising agent in baking soda and powder is activated by the acid in the buttermilk, creating carbon dioxide bubbles that give those biscuits their mile-high status and the pound cake a tender texture.
Buttermilk is also known to tenderize meat, making it the perfect brine for a chicken. Again, this is due to the acid in the milk breaking down the meat before cooking. When brining, adding in some favorite flavors infuses the meat, and you will be reaching for the buttermilk every time you prepare chicken.
2 pounds chicken
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Stir buttermilk with spices to combine. Pour the mixture over 2 pounds of chicken. Leave the chicken to brine at room temperature for 1 hour or in the refrigerator overnight. Once the chicken has soaked, remove from buttermilk mixture and allow excess buttermilk to drip off before proceeding to cook in the desired method. Chicken brined this way is excellent on the grill, fried, or baked.
Buttermilk Pound Cake
2 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk, divided into thirds
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided into thirds
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Move the egg whites to a clean bowl and set aside. After cleaning the mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Alternate between adding two egg yolks, 1 cup of flour, and 1/3 cup buttermilk to the butter mixture. To the last third of the buttermilk, stir in the baking soda and add to the mixture. Add whipped egg whites to the batter and mix on low until they are incorporated.
Pour the batter into a buttered and floured pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 2 hours or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup buttermilk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Sift the flour and salt to mix and get rid of any lumps. Cut in lard and 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter until they are pea-sized and the flour has a sand-like texture. Wait until the oven is fully preheated before beginning the next steps.
Stir the baking powder and baking soda into the buttermilk. The buttermilk will foam. Fold that foam into the flour until a stiff dough forms. If the dough is too soft, sprinkle in a bit more flour. If the flour is not completely absorbed, add a splash of buttermilk. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 to 7 times. Shape the dough into a 10 by 10-inch square, about 1/2 inch high. Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter and cut nine biscuits. Nestle the biscuits together on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Melt the remaining butter and brush over the tops. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until tops are golden brown.