VERONA • Just about everything Mack Pettit knows about Southern cooking he either learned directly from his grandmother or from her recipes after she passed.
Rebecca Pettit, who was featured as a Cook of the Week in 2003, lived down the hill from Pettit and his parents, Mimi and Marty, in Verona.
“My grandmother had a bell she’d ring when it was suppertime,” said Pettit, 34. “You’d hear that dinner bell and you knew she had fresh food ready. I learned from watching her and being her official food taster.”
Pettit was in the Navy for seven years and when he’d come home on leave, he’d get in the kitchen with his grandmother. After she died, Pettit’s mother and aunt became his teachers.
“For five or six years, I worked every Thanksgiving and Christmas and if I wanted my favorite holiday foods, I had to learn to make them from scratch,” he said. “I’d call home and talk to my mom or aunt or Facetime them to see if I was making something correctly. They had all my grandmother’s recipes.”
Pettit left the service in 2015 to come home and help out with the family business, Kingfisher Lodge, where he’s the general manager and in charge of the catering department.
“We use all family recipes – catfish batter, brisket rub, smoked Gouda mac and cheese,” he said. “Before a new food rolls out, we have a tasting. We call in family and close friends and they don’t care about hurting your feelings. They’re there to tell you honestly how it tastes.”
One thing Pettit enjoys making “for fun” is ribs, which he learned to cook from his dad.
“That’s what I practiced most in the Navy,” he said. “In Chicago, it would be snowing outside and I’d be smoking ribs. But they’re tricky because everybody likes them different. Some like sauce, some like plain, some like spicy, some want them to fall off the bone.”
Eighteen months ago, Pettit got married and he now tries new recipes to please his wife, Jessica.
“She likes a smoked tuna dip she gets at Gulf Shores, so I find six or seven recipes and make them all for her to try and see if we can find one that gets close,” he said. “To me, cooking is relaxing. I don’t mind cooking, doing the dishes, cleaning up. You don’t have to think. Just have some Jimmy Buffet music blaring and I’m a happy boy.”
2 pounds chicken tenders
Salt and pepper
1 box of fettuccine noodles
1 pint heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups grated Romano cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Season the chicken tenders with salt, pepper and garlic. Season the flour with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and fry in canola oil, in batches, about 7 minutes a batch or until tender. Set aside.
Boil fettuccine noodles until done, about 9 minutes. Drain and run cold water over them to keep them from over-cooking. Add a bit of olive oil to them and toss to keep them from sticking.
Heat heavy cream and butter in a saucepan. Once mixture starts bubbling, add the cheese and stir continuously to keep from sticking and burning.
To serve, put fettuccine on bottom of a large serving bowl, top with sauce and place chicken on top.
Note: For timing purposes, the chicken takes about 20 minutes to fry, the noodles take about 9 minutes to boil and the sauce takes about 15 minutes to prepare. The sauce will thicken the longer is stays off heat.
CHICKEN ON A STICK
Salt and pepper
Cut chicken, onions, pickles, peppers and potatoes into bite-size pieces. Thread pieces onto wooden skewers. Place skewers in buttermilk and let sit for a minimum of 10 minutes. Combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika in a large shallow dish. Remove skewers from buttermilk and bread in flour mixture. Fry in hot canola oil until chicken is done.
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup seasoned salt
1/3 cup paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 slabs pork spare ribs
Combine sugar, salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper in a bowl. Rub 1/4 of the spice mixture on the ribs and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Heat the smoker to 225 degrees using hickory chips. Rub the ribs with most of the remaining spice mixture and cook for about 4 hours (check the smoker often to make sure the temperature doesn’t fluctuate wildly.) Once the ribs are nearly coming apart and they bend easily when you pick them up with tongs, they’re done. Sparingly sprinkle the remainder of the rub over ribs and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.
BEEF TENDERLOIN WITH COMPOUND BUTTER
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin fillet
Fresh cracked black pepper
Combine softened butter, parsley, thyme and garlic, then roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Rub olive oil on the beef and season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot, add beef and sear both sides for 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer skillet with beef to a preheated 350-degree oven and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove skillet from oven, place compound butter on top, return skillet to oven and cook beef for 2 more minutes. The butter will melt as the beef finishes cooking. The timing is for medium-rare beef. Use a meat thermometer if you want beef more rare or more done.
SMOKED BRISKET GRILLED CHEESE
White bread or Texas toast
Smoked brisket, shredded
Shredded Gruyere cheese
Shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Heat a skillet over medium heat and liberally apply squeeze butter over the bread. While the bread is cooking in the skillet, place some shredded brisket and shredded cheeses on each piece and top with additional bread slices. Flip the sandwich over at 3 minutes or whenever you reach the desired look for the bread. This is best served hot.