Buttermilk

25 Tangy, Tasty Buttermilk Recipes (That Aren't Just Sweets)

It'll add tang and depth to salad dressings, roast chickens, and—most importantly—desserts of all kinds.

May  8, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Growing up in a South Indian home, we had a big container of buttermilk in our fridge at all times. We'd mix it into fluffy white rice with spices and aachar, simmer it in a thick, coconut-and turmeric-inflected stew, or, more often than not, pour it into a glass and drink it straight, maybe with a pinch of salt and pungent asafetida.

See, in my family, buttermilk was traditionally always a digestive aid and a flavor booster. It never once went into a baked good; in fact, I didn't know you could use it for baking until I took a trip to Huntsville, Alabama for Space Camp in the eighth grade, and tasted my first buttermilk biscuit. I recall the biscuit being noticeably tangy, fluffy, and tender as heck, and I immediately had to know why. The answer, as it turns out, was under my nose (well, in our fridge back at home).

As I soon learned, buttermilk adds a characteristic tangy flavor to recipes, sure. But it also lends a softer, more tender texture to gluten-rich foods, and even helps with leavening (thanks, acidity!). It's also much more versatile than I could've ever imagined (salad dressings! frostings! meat and vegetable brines!). So if you recently picked up a container of buttermilk for a recipe and are stumped about how to finish it up—or, if you're like my family, and already have some hanging out in the fridge—here are 25 recipes to make great use of it.


Breakfast Breads

1. The Kitchn's Lofty Buttermilk Pancakes

These pancakes are sky-high and fluffy as can be—and you don't even need to whip egg whites to get there. Acidic buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to give the pancakes their lofty lift.

2. Brown Butter Bourbon Banana Bread

You might be thinking about making banana bread in the near future (who isn't?!). Why not try on this boozy, brown-buttered, buttermilk-rich rendition for size?

3. Light & Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Of course Samin Nosrat—cookbook author, podcaster, decorated chef, lasagna buff—gave us one of the puffiest, flakiest biscuit recipes around. The trick is to keep everything colder-than-cold (yep, the buttermilk too!).

4. Snoop Dogg's Buttermilk Waffles

A little bit of tangy sweetness and a lot of fluff make these some of the tastiest waffles we've ever tried. A piece of shattering-crisp fried chicken on top wouldn't be out of place (and luckily, Snoop also has just the recipe.)

5. Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread

Here's an exceptionally fragrant and tender loaf of bread, thanks to rolled oats and buttermilk. It's equally great for sandwiches and slathered with butter and jam.

6. Overnight Oatmeal Pancakes

More pancakes! More oatmeal! But a completely different kind of breakfast. You can get this dish started the night before, when you're clearing up dinner, and wake up the next day to a hearty meal in, oh, about 10 minutes.


Salads & Such

7. Basil Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

This herby, puckery, oh-so-balanced dressing will give your vegetables a boost without overpowering them.

8. Buttermilk Bagna Cauda

What happens when you take an already great thing—garlicky, umami-filled bagna cauda—and add buttermilk to it? Very good things. This dressing is creamy without being overly rich, piquant and not bracing. The best of both worlds, if you ask us.

9. Endive With Bacon and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Bacon and ranch go together like...well...bacon and ranch. Peppery, slightly bitter endive and a whole mess of herbs add lightness and brightness to the mix.

10. Napa Cabbage Wedge Salad With Apples & Buttermilk Dressing

If bathing in this buttermilk-Parmesan dressing were socially acceptable, we'd be all overinto it. But for now, we'll just drench thick wedges of Napa cabbage and half-moons of apples in the stuff (and possibly drink the rest).


Mains & Sides

11. Buttermilk White Beans With Eggs & Greens

When plump white beans are marinated in garlic-laced buttermilk and wine, magic happens—the beans absorb the fragrance and personality of their marinade, and the garlicky buttermilk thickens into a starchy, velvety sauce. It's a win-win situation. Top with garlicky greens and a runny fried egg, and you're in business.

12. Buttermilk Roast Chicken With Potatoes & Cornichon Butter

Speaking of buttermilk marinades—they work like a charm for other proteins (chicken, pork, even tofu!), too. Mixed with some pickle juice, buttermilk tenderizes and seasons a whole chicken from the inside out, and encourages a super-crispy skin as the bird roasts. Bonus: The slightly buttermilky pan drippings make for a low-touch, high-reward sauce.

13. Butter-Basted Salmon With Buttermilk Garlic Mashed Sweet Potatoes

The addition of buttermilk takes mashed sweet potatoes to uncharted, creamy heights. It's the perfect complement to butter-basted salmon.

14. Punjabi Buttermilk Stew With Spinach Dumplings

Chickpea flour-thickened buttermilk forms the base of this stew, which enrobes fried, coriander-spiked spinach dumplings. Pro tip: This stew tastes even better the next day, so make sure to save a batch of tonight's dinner leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

15. Roasted Buttermilk-Brined Broccoli With Preserved Lemon

What buttermilk does to beans and chicken, it can also do to broccoli—imbues it with full-fledged flavor, and makes for an unbelievably crisp-tender texture under high heat. The preserved lemon here makes the marinade super-special, but you can use fresh lemon for a similarly tasty effect.

16. Classic Southern Buttermilk Bathed Fried Chicken

This recipe took almost two years to perfect—true and tested doesn't even begin to cover it. A 24-hour brine makes for the tenderest chicken possible (so don't skip it!).

17. Saag Paneer

A bevy of spices melds with spinach, buttermilk, and heavy cream to become what our co-founder, Merrill, likens to one of her favorite dishes: creamed spinach.

18. Instant Pot Buttermilk & Leek Mashed Potatoes

Buttery leeks, zingy buttermilk, and a big knob of butter make already creamy Yukon Golds even creamier. Technically, you don't need an Instant Pot to make this dish, but who could say no to mashed potatoes, faster?


Don't forget dessert!

19. Maida Heatter's Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Cookie Queen Dorie Greenspan, swears by this cake—a recipe from the Queen of Cakes, Maida Heatter. (How appropriate!) It's absolutely not shy about its lemony, buttermilk-y punch, just the way we like it.

20. Peanut Butter Sheet Cake With Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting

Warning: This plush, fluffy peanut butter cake with swirly chocolate frosting will put a smile on anyone's face who encounters it. Buttermilk tenderizes the batter and adds a subtle "je ne sais quois?" tang that tames the sweetness.

21. Tangy Tres Leches Cake

Buttermilk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk make up the three milks in this cake. Recipe developer (and baking pro) Erin McDowell loves that the buttermilk lightens up the base of the cake, so she can double-down on the whipped cream that goes on top. We're in.

22. Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you're feeling a little "same old, same old" about your go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, take these babies for a spin. The buttermilk makes for a pleasant tartness reminiscent of sourdough bread.

23. Chocolate Buttermilk-Frosted Brownies

Buttermilk cuts through chocolate frosting's often cloying sweetness. Pile this one high on rich, fudgy brownies.

24. Roasted Strawberry Milkshake With Buttermilk & Mint

Step 1: Roast sweet-as-can-be strawberries till they fall apart. Step 2: Blend with ice cream and buttermilk for the most refreshing drink of early summer.

25. Peachy Buttermilk Sherbet

Peaches and cream, remixed. You don't even need an ice cream maker for this one! Just blend some ripe-as-heck peaches and tangy buttermilk up for a smooth, creamy base.

What's your favorite way to use buttermilk? Let us know in the comments.

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Brinda is the Managing Editor at Food52, where she also edits all of Food52's cookbooks and covers the latest and greatest books on the site (drop her a line with recs!). She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants. Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

10 Comments

Chitra R. May 22, 2020
How about the creamy buttermilk rice ( salad ) with all the seasonings !
 
mdelgatty May 15, 2020
Wow; that's a lot of recipes! In my rural Southern-Manitoba Mennonite childhood, we used excess milk to produce what in low German was called 'thick milk', by letting the milk sit out at room temperature until it fermented and coagulated into a silky smooth curd. We ate it with all kinds of things: cucumbers, beans, hard-boiled eggs, even leftover pasta. The 'English' kids at school made fun of us because we ate 'sour milk' and it wasn't till long after I hit adulthood that I realized every agrarian culture has a fermented milk product; before there was refrigeration, you didn't just let it go to waste!

The world changed, and with urbanization 'thick milk' was no longer available. So buttermilk became the substitute; I go through times when I crave it, and am just now getting over a craving time! But I have maybe a cup left of my latest special request (to my daughter, who's been shopping for me since I am lying very Covig-low) and I expect it will go into one of these recipes! Looking forward to having time tonight to check them out and decide which one...
 
mdelgatty May 15, 2020
CoviD, dang...
 
Queen O. May 8, 2020
And of course leftover buttermilk can also be frozen, which I do in 1 cup size. I may thaw some out for a couple of these recipes...
 
mdelgatty May 15, 2020
That I did not know - tnx!
 
rox L. May 16, 2020
I read an article a couple months ago that stated not to freeze buttermilk so I stopped freezing it; I don't recall where though.
 
rox L. May 16, 2020
Thanks for all the tasty recipes. I have a quart and I'd better get cooking.
 
mdelgatty May 22, 2020
Do you remember why?

 
rox L. May 23, 2020
I just did some research and haven't found any info to say not to freeze. (I must have dreamt it) The only problem I read was the buttermilk thins a bit and a slight difference in taste. America's Test Kitchen said to blend the buttermilk after thawing to re-thicken. Sorry if I misinformed with my comment.
 
mdelgatty May 23, 2020
Thanks; that's really helpful. Being of a scientific bent I've been planning to do some experimenting myself. I thought it might thin out, but don't quite see how blending it will re-thicken it. Another part of the experiment!