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Buttermilk Biscuits

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Biscuits are a fine art—one that I am capable of saying I have not mastered. My biscuits usually come out good, sometimes great. But my chef de cuisine at Woodfire Grill, E.J. Hodgkinson, has mastered biscuit making. It’s difficult to admit this because E.J. is not from the South; he’s from California. This is his recipe, and it comes out the same every single time. The recipe is based on weight, not volume, though I have included both measurements here. Biscuits are often erratic because people measure by ingredient volume, which changes with the weather. When it’s humid, flour absorbs moisture from the air and increases in volume. For consistency, it helps to measure by weight whenever you’re baking. But what really makes this recipe unique is how the fat is incorporated into the flour. In any biscuit, the fat needs to be mixed into the dry ingredients as quickly as possible so that the butter doesn’t melt. Most recipes call for cutting the butter into small pieces, then cutting them into even smaller pieces in the flour with a handheld pastry blender. To simplify the process, E.J. freezes the butter hard as a brick, then grates it like cheese on a box grater directly into the dry ingredients. This method quickly incorporates the butter without overworking the gluten in the dough, which is what toughens biscuits. His recipe makes a sturdy, layered, fluffy biscuit. It’s not the softest biscuit on the planet. But the method is bulletproof and not finicky at all. As soon as the biscuits rest for a couple minutes out of the oven, I like to split them in half and spread them with peach butter.

Low-Country Oyster Roast

DIFFICULTY: 2 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina, sits about 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Georgia. It’s one of the largest waterfront properties on the East Coast, full of nature preserves and walking trails, and with a swanky inn and spa that overlooks the May River. It’s a classy place, and every year they celebrate the region’s food and culture at the Music to Your Mouth culinary festival. After the event is done on Saturday, the organizers put on this supercool party for the visiting chefs as a sort of thank-you. They swing these massive cast-iron griddles out over a giant bonfire on the riverbank. They load up the griddles with May River oysters and roast ’em until they pop open. They dump the roasted oysters on a picnic table and you stand elbow to elbow with other guests, squeezing lemon juice or hot sauce onto the juiciest, sweetest, saltiest roasted oysters you’ve ever tasted. I love it. Every year, I spend the entire party time standing at the table. I feel like I’m knocking back a grotesque amount of oysters. One year, I came back from the event and apparently hadn’t gotten my fill because I developed this recipe to satisfy a need. I made a spicy emulsified butter sauce to spoon into the warm oysters. At first, I worried about serving this dish. People never have two minds about oysters: They either love them or hate them. I’ve since served these oysters hundreds of times, and all of six people have refused to try them. That’s a pretty good percentage. I should also mention that an exponentially large number of people ate this dish simply because it was put in front of them. And they ended up loving it!

Slow-Smoked Pork Loin with Bitter Greens

DIFFICULTY: 2 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Think of this as an American take on classic steak carpaccio. But the meat is pork and it’s cooked with smoke. You thinly slice the smoked pork loin, lay it on a plate, and then top it with greens dressed with a simple anchovy vinaigrette. The smoked pork tastes almost like Canadian bacon but without the curing. To get a jump on things, you can smoke the loin up to a week ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. For that matter, you can make the vinaigrette ahead too. Keep those elements in the fridge, and this dish is the perfect last-minute lunch or light supper.

CHICKEN-FRIED PORK STEAK

DIFFICULTY: 2 of 5 (5 being hardest)

This is a crazy idea turned into a recipe. Chicken-fried steak is normally made with beef eye of round, a lean, dense, inexpensive cut from the back ass of the animal. I always wanted to make it with pork because it just sounded awesome. I use the same cut from the pig—the ham—and cut it into fillets like beef tenderloin. You could serve these pork steaks with anything and they’d be delicious. Some people have chicken-fried steak for dinner. Some for breakfast. My personal favorite is with a bowl of spicy turnip greens. Or enjoy it with Fatback Fried Corn and Basic Cabbage Slaw.

Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken with Farro and Brussels Sprouts

DIFFICULTY: 3 of 5 (5 being hardest)

Everyone likes the taste of fried chicken but maybe not the extra fat. I wanted to get the crispy skin of fried chicken without the frying. It took me a few years to figure out that roasting the chicken pieces in a cast-iron pan gives you a similar result. It’s a simple technique that can easily become standard in your repertoire. Just make sure the surface of the chicken is really dry so that the skin crisps up when it hits the pan. You pan-roast the chicken pieces almost exclusively on the skin side, then transfer the pan to the oven to cook the meat all the way through. To switch things up, I pair the chicken with Middle Eastern flavors. Farro is a form of wheat berry brought to the Southern United States from Europe; it’s prepared much like bulgur wheat is prepared in Lebanese cuisine. I give it a crunchy texture similar to fried rice by toasting the farro grains in the rendered chicken fat. They puff up and take on a glossy sheen, sort of like Honey Smacks cereal. Then I mix in some lemon juice and Brussels sprout leaves for a crisp, bright flavor. A traditional Lebanese tahini sauce rounds out the flavors with some bitterness. When these flavors stand alone, the chicken might taste too salty, the farro too sour, or the tahini too bitter. But when tasted together, they strike a balance. It’s a very satisfying take on a traditional Southern favorite.