Kitchen Hack: Buttermilk

Sixty Second Kitchen Hack: Buttermilk

Today’s Kitchen Hack is making your own buttermilk. Before we get to the hack, let’s chat a little bit about this exciting ingredient.  I don’t know about you, but this happens to me a lot.  I find a great recipe, only it requires buttermilk. Do you have buttermilk in your fridge?  I don’t.  Not now, not ever.  Buttermilk has always been a foreign dairy product to me. It’s probably because my Mom didn’t use it. I wasn’t raised with it being in the kitchen. It may have been a Northern thing. When I moved to Florida, I discovered that buttermilk is all the rage in the South. I also have been amazed that so many cooking shows assume that everyone has buttermilk on hand.  (Have you ever noticed, on TV, it’s always in a glass pitcher?  I’ve never seen it in the grocery store in a glass pitcher. Just sayin’.)  Anyway, I didn’t grow up knowing what it was or why you needed it.

Well, as far as what buttermilk is, let me tell you what I’ve learned.  First, there is no butter in buttermilk.  Weird, right? The origin of buttermilk dates back to the days of churning butter. It’s the leftover liquid in the butter churn. This fluid is a low-fat and high-protein substance that ferments to the point of tartness. Yep, buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink. Today’s commercial buttermilk involves injecting enzymes into low-fat milk in dairy processing plants. 

Regarding why you need it, buttermilk adds tang and richness to all sorts of dishes, both sweet and savory. It’s great in salad dressings, dips, custards, and even mashed potatoes. In baking, it adds tenderness and lightens the batter while it powers the leavening process. Just as impressive is its ability to tenderize meat. Used as a marinade, the high acidity  (thanks to the lactic acid) helps retain moisture. It allows added flavors to permeate chicken, pork, fish, and seafood.  I once asked a restaurant as to their secret for such tender calamari. The answer was soaking it in buttermilk.  Many southern cooks won’t even consider frying chicken without brining it buttermilk. It’s responsible for that crispy, crunchy outside and moist and juicy meat on the inside.

Okay, this explains why so many recipes include buttermilk as a required ingredient.  Now, what do I do if I don’t have it in my refrigerator? Yay, we’re finally talking about the hack!  Making your own buttermilk is as simple as adding one tablespoon of either vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of milk. Gently stir and let stand at room temperature for at least 5 minutes.  Presto-chango: BUTTERMILK!  This hack makes one cup of buttermilk. It can be halved, doubled, or tripled as needed. My experience is that any kind of milk will work, including fat-fee and 1% milk.

Now that you know how simple it is to make buttermilk for your recipes let’s get to it!  If you’re looking for some ideas, there’s a couple of great cookbooks dedicated to buttermilk. Check them out!

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