Mr. Henry does not leave well enough alone. Even with well-established recipes, he tinkers.
Last month, to provide a colonial-era touch of sourness to cornbread, a Mr. Henry favorite that can easily become too sweet, he bought a quart of buttermilk. Later that week he poured a goodly portion of buttermilk into pancake batter. In both cases results were splendid. Buttermilk in baking always yields extra fluffiness. Indeed, when using buttermilk, because of its acidity you may decrease your baking powder.
But ultra-pasteurized buttermilk just lasts and lasts. Not wishing to simply throw away perfectly good buttermilk but eager to free up refrigerator space, from time to time he spirited a dollop of the antique sour and creamy liquid – a poor people’s leftover from the preparation of heavenly butter – into other menu items not born with buttermilk in mind.
To grated celery root remoulade made with an entire bunch of chopped dill he decided that a healthy splash of buttermilk might add an appropriate hint of creaminess without overpowering what in essence remains a light, crunchy, winter salad.
Without permission from Little Henry, master of the vinaigrette, he added a dollop there, too, a bright foil to an acidic Italian red wine vinegar. Flush with success, the next night he let the buttermilk dominate the salad dressing, masked slightly by a final addition of grated parmesan to the finished salad, and no one complained.
Tonight he plans a bolder stroke. Because chicken is such a boring bird, Mr. Henry invariably marinates it before cooking. What will happen to chicken steeped for hours in buttermilk? Mr. Henry recalls southern fried chicken from his youth that carried magical aromas possibly attributable to buttermilk, though tonight he will add curry to the marinade and bake it tandoori-style. And with chicken, without question he will make buttermilk biscuits.
Mr. Henry is thankful for the recurrence in New York of a first-class winter storm. Cold weather grants him special sanction to eat with wild abandon. Rules, after all, are meant to be broken.