Cathead buttermilk biscuits
Cathead biscuits are a feature of the Mississippi Delta. The name comes from the size of these biscuits – the size of a cat’s head.
If classic Southern buttermilk biscuits are country music, cathead biscuits are the blues. Not Hank Williams, but Howlin’ Wolf. Not Sunday go-to-meeting food, but the manna of hardworking folks using whatever they can lay their hands on to fill the belly.Skip to next paragraph
The Runaway Spoon
Perre Magness has studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France has broadened her own culinary skill and palate. The kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.
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Cathead biscuits are a feature of the Mississippi Delta. The name comes, apparently, from the size of these biscuits – the size of a cat’s head – and that they are often misshapen and rough. You’ll find them in soul food joints and meat-and-three restaurants, places where the waitress calls you hon’, and you’re glad you’re can’t see into the kitchen. The places you are drawn to by the smell of frying chicken, and leave saturated with that smell yourself. Catheads are not precious, but big and raggedy. Not passed in a napkin-lined basket, but dropped on the table on a big plate. Maybe served with rich, creamy, sausage-flecked gravy. A meal for a champion eater. Or maybe they come with eggs fried in bacon grease, the crispy strips of smoky bacon and a side of grits. Or later in the day with fried chicken, greens and field peas.
The recipe for these is different from my classic buttermilk biscuits only in the use of lard, and the method is the same. All lard, and whole buttermilk if you please. This makes them rich and flaky and full of flavor. Lard is really the classic fat in biscuits, but shortening and butter have largely replaced it. But you’ve got to eat a real lard biscuit at least once. You may never go back again. I luckily find fantastic delicious lard from a local pork farmer and suggest you be on the lookout locally as well, but it is readily available in the grocery baking aisle. Check out my biscuit primer for some detailed advice on making biscuits.
Makes about 12 biscuits
4 cups flour all-purpose soft wheat flour (I use White Lily)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold lard
1 to 1-1/2 cups cold well-shaken buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a baking pan (about 13-x-9 inches with 1-inch sides) with parchment paper or grease it well with shortening.
Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl that gives you lots of room to work. Mix gently with a fork to combine and aerate the flour.