Being a region with so many cultural and historical influences – as well as one with a long history of agriculture and farming – it’s no surprise that the Southern United States has such a rich and varied cuisine. Incorporating traditions from Cajun, Creole and Caribbean food, as well as spices from Africa and various indigenous American staple foods, it’s no wonder that the food of the Southern United States has gained followers and fanatics from across America and around the world. Of course, the American South is a vast area (and is not always precisely defined), so there are tons of regional specialties that are specific to certain states, from swamp cabbage in Florida to Virginia crab or Texas barbecue.
Some more of the beloved, traditional dishes of the American South include grits, buttermilk biscuits, fried catfish, and macaroni and cheese, as well southern spins on okra, beans, and collard greens. You could easily write a book (or several volumes) on the many specialties from the Southern United States that have won over foodies across the country and beyond, so here we’ll be focusing on one particular ingredient: chicken. Widely available and highly versatile, chicken dishes are a cornerstone of regional cuisine across the American south. Here are seven of the most popular chicken dishes from the Southern United States.
A hearty comfort food hailing from South Carolina - one of the United States’ top rice-producing states - Chicken Bog is a rice-based dish that includes generous pieces of shredded boiled chicken and smoked sausage, with a texture that is not unlike that of a risotto. The traditional way of making a chicken bog is to boil chicken and onions to create a rich broth, before adding the rice and sausage and letting the liquid get completely absorbed. Some say the “bog” part of the name comes from its rather wet and soft consistency, but that’s also what makes it a great accompaniment to veggie-based side dishes, and also a great dish to add your own favourite cocktail of herbs and spices.
Bringing together heaps of chicken, herbs and vegetables into a rich tomato sauce, Chicken Creole is a widely beloved dish that is popular from Texas to Virginia. It also has a relatively low degree of difficulty, since you can use a single pan to fry up the chicken, then the vegetables and tomato paste along with bay leaves, oregano, thyme, marjoram, and basil. The mix is then left to simmer and thicken. Chicken creole is also a perfect vehicle for spicy flavours, so feel free to add serrano or jalapeño peppers, if your spice tolerance allows for it. The dish is usually served on rice, along with some hot sauce, bread and extra peppers.
Ah yes, the granddaddy of all southern chicken dishes simply has to be fried chicken. The ultimate comfort food of the American South, and arguably the most popular dish in the entire canon of southern cuisine, the fried chicken recipes we know and love today are the product of traditional Scottish recipes adapted to seasonings and spices introduced by African slaves. The defining characteristic of excellent fried chicken is that perfect crispy exterior; it takes a bit of extra love and care, but you can definitely achieve that ideal golden brown crunch at home. If you want a few more ideas on how to perfect your fried chicken recipe, check out some of these tips offered up by top chefs from around the world.
A variation on classic southern fried chicken is the Chicken Maryland, which combines fried chicken with a cream gravy, although the same name is used to refer to several different dishes around the world. In the state of Maryland, the key difference that sets Chicken Maryland apart is that it is pan fried and covered instead of simply being deep fried, which means that the meat is steamed and doesn’t take on quite as much oil. The trademark gravy comes from milk or cream being added to the pan and simmered to create a thick, satisfying sauce. One of the top authorities on traditional food from Maryland has to be chef Jared Howard of Honey Bunny’s Chicken in New York City, so look no further for some excellent insights on the classic cuisine from his home state.
Chicken and Dumplings
Another chicken specialty popular across several southern states is chicken and dumplings, a dish that has its roots in the toughest days of the Great Depression, when families did their best to turn a small amount of chicken or a plate of leftovers into a tasty and filling meal. The dish is essentially a soup consisting of a simple chicken broth served with dumplings made of the same dough traditionally used for biscuits. Vegetables such as celery and carrots are added to the broth, while the biscuits can also be spiced with herbs such as dill or thyme.
Nashville, Tennessee's signature dish, Hot Chicken is said to have originated in the 1930s when a frustrated girlfriend tried to exact revenge on her unfaithful boyfriend by preparing a meal so spicy he would recoil in pain and learn his lesson. Instead, the cayenne pepper marinade proved so delicious, it quickly became a popular specialty in the city and beyond. While similar to traditional fried chicken, Hot Chicken features a water-based blend of spices, with cayenne pepper playing the key role and giving the dish its typical deep red colour. To help with the heat, hot chicken is often served with a slice of plain white bread, pickles and coleslaw.
Last but not least, Country Captain is a dish that might remind you more of an Indian curry dish than a classic of the American South. Country captain is said to have been introduced to locals along the coast of Georgia by a British sea captain, who had learned of the recipe while posted in India. The dish is a chicken stew flavoured with curry powder and onions, although tomatoes and peppers are frequently included as well. Country captain is traditionally topped with a sprinkling of raisins, currants or almonds for added sweetness and texture, and served on a bed of white rice – a staple food in India as well as the Southern United States.