Travel correspondent Jordan Whitley interviews Southern food blogger Nealey Dozier in her Chamblee test kitchen to find out where to shop, what to buy, and how to mind your please and thank yous.
Nealey Dozier has a following that stems from more than dressed-up casseroles and cobbler. Inspired to meld the traditional recipes of her grandmother’s generation with the farm-to-table savvy of her California compatriots, Nealey came back home to the Heart of Dixie, where she’s visiting farmers markets and cooking up the best of what Atlanta has to offer.
How would you describe the cuisine of the South?
The cuisine of the South has deep roots in agriculture. Before the industrial revolution brought canned “cream of” soups, southerners were eating by the seasons. “Local” food came directly from your backyard!
There has definitely been a resurgence in that attitude. Farmers, backyard gardens and specialty food purveyors are popping up everywhere.
Traditional southern food is still quite prominent—meat and three, roadside barbecue joints, community potluck—but there is a new global element infusing the cuisine of the South. Think refried black-eyed peas or pork belly steamed buns. Classic ingredients are getting used in modern ways. It’s all very exciting!
What are the definitive ingredients in southern food?
Artisan grits and cornmeal are a pantry staple. I can’t survive without buttermilk. I could seriously incorporate sweet potatoes into every recipe. Black-eyed peas are a mainstay for my signature “Dixie Caviar.” [see recipe below] And pork. Southerners are crazy for all things pig.
What place in Atlanta inspires you most?
I love driving through Atlanta’s many distinct neighborhoods, whether it be Virginia Highlands or Buckhead. There are so many beautiful historic cottages, houses, and mansions here. I really just love the history of it all. I’d love to live in an old plantation home one day.
Tell us about the local markets, where to visit for the best produce, fish, meat, etc …
My local market is the Dekalb Farmers Market. It’s truly incredible. Talk about a global melting point.
The produce section includes fruits and veggies from around the globe. They have one of the largest selections of meat and fish in Atlanta.
And then there are the spices. Oh my. Give yourself a few hours to slowly wander the vast space and to fight the crowds. It gets busy.
Also, go to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Saturdays. If you want to get to know the local food scene, this is the place to be. Music and demonstrations from local chefs only add to the fun.
Where are the best specialty food shops to visit?
Star Provisions on the West Side has an amazing selection of cheeses, house-cured meats, and fresh-baked goods. Their cheese-monger is among the best in the South. You can purchase locally roasted coffee, fair-trade chocolate, boutique wines, and high-end housewares.
They even have a “farm stand” out front where you can buy fresh eggs and local produce! It’s pricey, but definitely worth the splurge.
Is there anything we should keep in mind when dining in the South?
Remember your please and thank yous. Southerners take pride in their manners. Whether it’s your server at a restaurant or the host of a dinner party, respect for others will take you far down here.
Nealey Dozier’s Southern Chicken & Dumplings Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
For the chicken
1 large fryer chicken, neck and gizzards removed
1 onion, cut in half and peeled
3 carrots, cut into large pieces
3 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Place the chicken, onions, carrots, and celery in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so water maintains a gentle simmer. Cook chicken for approximately 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through (approximately 165 degrees).
Once chicken is cooked, remove from the broth and allow to cool. Remove chicken from the bone and shred into medium-sized pieces, discarding bones and skin for another use. Pour the chicken broth through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth, discarding vegetables. Reserve 6 cups of the broth for the dumplings (the rest can be used for another time).
For the dumplings
3 cups White Lily all-purpose flour or cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
4 1/2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk (or just enough to make the dough stick together)
Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Cut shortening into flour mixture with fingertips until it resembles small peas. Add milk—1/4 cup at a time—and stir until a ball of dough just begins to form, being careful not to over-mix. Roll out the dough onto floured surface, about ¼ inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into rectangles or squares. Place strips on wax paper and allow to harden up a little, approximately 30 minutes.
Over medium-low heat, bring broth to a gentle simmer and drop in dumplings. Cover and allow to cook for 6-7 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add chicken. Allow to cook until thickened, approximately 15-20 minutes, or longer. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Recipe by Nealey Dozier of www.dixiecaviar.com.
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By Jordan Whitley for PeterGreenberg.com. Jordan Whitley is a seasoned adventure traveler, photographer and action sports host currently based in Birmingham, Alabama. Visit her on the Web at www.jordanwhitley.com or at www.jordanwhitleycanvas.carbonmade.com.
Nealey Dozier is a home cook and Southern food blogger, contributor to CookingChannelTV.com, and Saveur magazine’s nominee for Best Regional Cuisine blog. Visit her on the Web at www.dixiecaviar.com or www.thekitchn.com.