The Sharecropper is one of the most interesting members of my community. He shows up in the dark of night to build fires and cook dinners for large gatherings. No one knows where he lives or when they will see him next; he just appears, ready to lend a hand and drink a glass. And bake biscuits. Sometimes he’s gone for weeks on end, only to resurface with a new tattoo, driving a strange new vehicle (or motorcycle) we’ve never seen before, and we may never see again. He has a magically never-ending beard and a huge heart. And the best biscuit-making skills in the region.
The first time I had his biscuits, he pulled the freshly made dough out of a compartment on his black motorcycle, strode into the kitchen in all leather and asked politely for a rolling pin. They were buttery, flaky and layered with just the right amount of density and lightness. They were perfect.
Here are some of his biscuit flavor combinations:
- Cracked pepper and sea salt
- Smoked Andouille sausage and Cotswold cheese
- Parmesan and herb
- Bacon, green chile and sharp cheddar
- Duck fat, Parmesan and capers
- Prosciutto and smoked Gruyère
But, if you’re gonna make traditional southern biscuits, here are some guidelines…or more accurately — closely guarded biscuit secrets — to follow:
- you have to use real buttermilk, no substitutes allowed
- the butter should be full-fat, unsalted, herbed and frozen
- self-rising flour is best, but you can use whole-wheat and other flours (but then you have to use more butter, in fact, mad amounts)
- getting the ratio of liquid to flour to butter is key, and takes practice — not something you can get from a recipe
- you must exercise patience, using just the right amount of rolling, resting, flattening and folding (and sometimes back again) to coax the right result out of the dough — much like the attentions paid to a woman.
Well, I don’t have the Sharecropper’s secret recipe, his dough-coaxing skills or any tattoos, but I know I’ll see his leather-clad tribal-decorated self soon, and he’ll be bearing his gift: the best southern-style buttermilk biscuits I’ve ever had.