BY DANIEL NEMAN

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/TNS

The historian and scholar John Hope Franklin used to tell the story about the end of segregation in the South.

Blacks in his town were excited by the prospect: At last, they would get to see what the White folks ate. But their first trips to previously all-White restaurants quickly turned to disappointment.

Southern Whites were eating ham hocks, cornbread and collard greens. They were eating the same things we were, he would say.

The Black version of the food, of course, came to be known as soul food. And like other folk cuisines, in recent years it has split in two directions.

Most soul food is still the old-fashioned, down-home food that has been feeding families for generations. But there has also been a surge in upscale, gentrified soul food — soul food with a modern touch. We’re talking collard greens pesto, charred okra and blueberry sweet-tea-brined chicken thighs.

Give me the down-home soul food any day. You know, the soul food with soul.

From pork chops to oxtails

Much soul food falls into three main preparations: fried, smothered with gravy and cooked at a low temperature for a long time. The dishes I made fell neatly into all three categories.

I began, naturally, with smothered pork chops. It just isn’t Sunday dinner if there aren’t pork chops smothered in a gravy with plenty of onions.

In the category of fried foods, I made fried catfish, although fried chicken would have been equally traditional

Instead of making a typical, average mac and cheese, I made a recipe we ran in the Post -Dispatch several years ago for Sweetie Pie’s Macaroni and Cheese.

Cornbread is almost as constant a fixture at Sunday dinner as macaroni and cheese. There are three basic ways to make cornbread — plain, sweet and spicy — and I made mine the soul food way: sweet.

Naturally, I also made collard greens, which is one of those dishes that needs to be cooked slowly at a low temperature.

Finally, I made another standard soul food dish, oxtails. These became part of soul food because they were so inexpensive, but like so many other cheap-but-great cuts of meat that have been discovered they have suddenly become much more expensive.

FRIED CATFISH

FRIED CATFISH

FRIED CATFISH

Yield: 4 servings

  • Oil for frying
  • 1 cup buttermilk or milk
  • 4 catfish fillets
  • 3/4 cup fine cornmeal (not coarsely ground)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • Salt
  • Hot sauce, optional

If cooking more than 2 fillets, place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and preheat oven to 200 degrees.

In a heavy frying pan, preferably cast iron, pour in enough oil to come 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Heat on medium-high.

Pour buttermilk or milk into an elongated dish or bowl. Put catfish in dish to soak.

Mix together the cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, pepper, paprika, cayenne and celery seed, and place in a shallow dish for dredging.

Allow the oil to reach 350 degrees (if you do not have a cooking thermometer, flick a little of the dredging mixture into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.)

Season the catfish with salt and dredge 1 fillet in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off the excess and gently lay the fish in the oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Use a metal spatula to gently turn the fish over and fry on the other side for another 2 to 4 minutes.

Remove to a platter if cooking 1 or 2 fillets, or to the rack-covered baking sheet if cooking more than 2. Place the baking sheet in the oven to keep cooked fish warm and crispy while cooking the rest of the fish.

Repeat with the rest of the fillets. Keep an eye on the oil temperature; cast iron retains heat, so you may have to lower the heat on the burner. The oil should be kept around 350 degrees.

Serve with hot sauce, if desired. Slightly adapted from simplyrecipes.com

Southern Smothered Oxtails

Southern Smothered Oxtails, Southern Collard Greens and Easy Buttermilk Cornbread PHOTOS BY COLTER PETERSON/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH/TNS

SOUTHERN SMOTHERED OXTAILS

Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef oxtails
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups beef broth or water
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

Season the oxtails with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce and toss until coated. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the flour and toss to coat.

Heat the oil in a large pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Place the oxtails in a single layer with plenty of space between them (you will have to do this in batches) and brown on both sides. Remove to a slow cooker. If you are not using a slow cooker, place in a Dutch oven.

If there are burnt pieces in the pan, strain out the oil, clean the pan and return the strained oil to the pan.

Whisking constantly, add the remaining 1 cup of flour to the pan a little bit at a time. When the flour is about the color and texture of peanut butter, slowly add the broth or water, still whisking all the time. Whisk until the mixture is smooth with no lumps.

Raise the temperature to high and bring the gravy to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic.

Add the gravy to the slow cooker or Dutch oven. If using a slow cooker, cook on high temperature for 4 hours or low temperature for 6 hours. If using a Dutch oven, cover and cook at a very slow simmer for 3 to 4 hours, stirring once an hour. The oxtails are done when they are fork tender and nearly falling off the bone.

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Per serving: 1,230 calories; 94 g fat; 44 g saturated fat; 70 mg cholesterol; 59 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,618 mg sodium; 35 mg calcium

EASY BUTTERMILK CORNBREAD

Yield: 10 servings

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (preferably corn oil)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pan or cast-iron skillet. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in buttermilk, honey, oil and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened (do not overmix).

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown and wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (an 8-inch skillet will take 25 to 30 minutes). Serve warm.

Per serving: 152 calories; 2 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 21 mg cholesterol; 4 g protein; 33 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 155 mg sodium; 121 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by Quaker Oats

SOUTHERN COLLARD GREENS

Yield: 8 servings

  • 6 small bunches or 2 large bunches collard greens
  • 1 extra-large and meaty smoked ham hock, see note
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or less if desired
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped

Note: If you cannot find ham hocks, use another piece of smoked pork or smoked turkey.

Place the greens in a clean sink and rinse them thoroughly to remove all grit, sand and debris. Rinse under cold water until the water runs clear.

Pull and tear greens away from tough stems. Roll up a handful of greens and cut the roll crosswise into small pieces.

Rinse the ham hock and add to a large pot with enough water to fully submerge it. Cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes until the meat is nearly tender.

Add the greens and enough water to barely cover them. Add the sugar, bacon grease, seasoned salt, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, red pepper, garlic powder, paprika and onion.

Cook at a low simmer until completely tender, at least 2 hours. There should always be enough liquid to cover the greens; if the liquid evaporates below the top of the greens, add more water and cover for the rest of the cooking.

When you are done cooking, you can save and refrigerate the liquid — called pot likker —and use to make soups, stews, gravy or to cook dried beans.

Per serving: 160 calories; 7 g fat; 3 g saturated fat; 55 mg cholesterol; 18 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 929 mg sodium; 60 mg calcium

Slightly adapted from grandbaby-cakes.com 

SWEETIE PIE’S MACARONI AND CHEESE

Yield: 10 servings

  • 8 to 10 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 pound Velveeta, cut into small chunks
  • 8 ounces Colby-Jack cheese (or 4 ounces Colby and 4 ounces Monterey Jack), shredded
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup shredded American or mild cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; cook pasta according to package directions, just until al dente. (Do not overcook.) Drain well; place in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In the pasta pot, combine whole milk, evaporated milk and eggs; whisk in salt to taste, pepper and sugar, mixing until thoroughly combined. Pour milk mixture over macaroni.

Add butter, Velveeta, Colby-Jack and sharp cheddar cheeses. Stir well. Sprinkle the top with American or mild cheddar cheese.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Per serving: 510 calories; 34 g fat; 21 g saturated fat; 140 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 28 g carbohydrate; 8 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 670 mg sodium; 440 mg calcium.

Recipe from Sweetie Pie’s restaurants adapted for home kitchens by the Post-Dispatch.

SMOTHERED PORK CHOPS

Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 bone-in pork chops
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk or heavy cream
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels to remove any moisture. Season with onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, seasoning salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons of the olive oil.

Dredge each chop in the flour; shake off the excess and keep the remaining flour.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet or pan over medium heat. When hot, fry the pork chops in a single layer on each side until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes per side (if using boneless pork chops, cook 2 minutes per side). Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the pan and heat over medium heat. Add sliced onions and a pinch of salt. Cook while stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. (Add 1 tablespoon of the chicken broth if the pan becomes too dry.)

Add the garlic and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour to the pan. Mix the flour into the onions and cook to dissolve, about 2 minutes.

Pour in the chicken broth, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the liquid reduce and thicken slightly, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the buttermilk or cream and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes until thick and creamy.

Return the pork chops to the pan. Coat them in the sauce and let simmer until the pork is completely cooked through, about 5 minutes. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cooks; if it becomes too thick, add a little cream or broth to thin it out to your desired consistency.

Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with the chopped parsley before serving. Serve warm.

Per serving: 430 calories; 27 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 121 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; 20 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 781 mg sodium; 78 mg calcium

Slightly adapted from a recipe from cafedelites.com

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.