Supermarket Score: Buttermilk
“Supermarket Score!” is all about taking a look at the great deals and delicious meals that are hidden in commonly found supermarket items.
I’d be willing to bet that when you hear “buttermilk”, you probably think of either (A) pancakes, (B) biscuits, or (C) that mystery carton of dairy in the back of the fridge that only makes an appearance for Sunday morning pancakes and biscuits.
Buttermilk often finds its way into our baked goods because the culturing process it goes through renders it full of lactic acid, which reacts with leavening agents like baking soda to create a higher rise and more tender product. So carry on with your light & fluffy pancaking ways, Saturday morning champions!
Why let all the fun stop there, though? Buttermilk’s abilities can lend a helping hand of deliciousness to your meals any day of the week. Take these ideas for instance:
You may have noticed that some recipes like fried chicken and sometimes the Indian classic Tandoori chicken start by marinating the meat overnight in buttermilk. The cultures and lactic acid in the milk tenderize the meat and help it to hold onto its moisture when cooking, yielding the juicy product we all know and love. Next time you’re frying chicken – or getting ready to grill it for that matter – add in a few hours or even overnight soak in some buttermilk to keep sad, dry chicken out of this summer’s backyard barbecues.
LIGHTER MAC & CHEESE
There are a couple of different, great tricks out there to lighten up mac & cheese, so consider this one more notch in your culinary tool belt. Most buttermilks you’ll find in supermarkets are made from lowfat or fat free milk – it’s the culturing process that thickens them to a place much creamier than where they started. Swap a bit of the milk in your next cheese sauce with buttermilk to lower the fat and up the creaminess…and also make room for some bacon.
One word of caution, though – be sure to add the buttermilk AFTER the sauce has thickened up on the stovetop. Don’t boil it with the milk or you’ll curdle the mixture (keep on reading for that one).
FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE
Speaking of boiling milk with an acid, that’s exactly how ricotta cheese is made – and what a culinary genius your house will think you to be when you show up with your own, homemade fresh ricotta cheese! Trust me, it’s incredibly easy and a truly impressive way to finish off a small amount of buttermilk in the bottom of a container.
Place a large pot over medium heat with 4 cups whole milk, 1 cup heavy cream, and 1 cup buttermilk. Gently bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. As it comes to a boil you’ll see curds start forming in the milk. As this happens, reduce the heat to low and simmer the mixture for 2-3 minutes (don’t stir it too much, you don’t want to break up the curds). Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside to cool, undisturbed, for 1 hour (the curds will keep forming during this time). After 1 hour, line a strainer with cheesecloth and, using a slotted spoon, gently lift the curds out of the whey and into the strainer. Let the curds drain in the cheesecloth for 15 to 45 minutes, depending on how dry you want them. The ricotta is now ready to be used or stored in the refrigerator for up to three days (makes about 2 cups).
What to do with the whey you may be asking? Save it and boil up your next batch of mashed potatoes in it. Oh buddy…
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.