I know that I can add vinegar or lemon juice to milk as a substitute for buttermilk. If I need a non-dairy "buttermilk", (for crispy fried chicken) would it be better to use soy milk with the lemon juice or vinegar, or should I use coconut milk, or neither?
I guess what I'm asking is what about the buttermilk makes the chicken so yummy , and how can I come close to replicating that, without dairy? Thanks
If you marinate meat in buttermilk for a few hours or overnight it will have some tenderizing effect because the lactic acid and enzymes in the buttermilk start to break down the muscle fibers - really, only slightly.
But if you are just going to dip the chix in buttermilk and then into flour, the buttermilk doesn't have time to have any chemical effect and will just act as a nice thick medium for holding the flour - better than a thinner liquid would. Imitation/non-dairy sour cream may or may not have enzymes - I don't know. It will definitely contain a little acid of some sort. But it would very similar to buttermilk in its ability to hold the flour/breading on the meat and deliver a similar flavor to buttermilk. You could, if you want, thin it with a little water.
There are many people on this site that know more about the science of food, and I hope they will correct me if I'm wrong.
WHAT BUTTERMILK DOES TO CHICKEN
As far as I can tell, the acidity of the buttermilk tenderizes the chicken by initiating the breakdown of its tissue. Not so much (or so acidic) that is digests the chicken, but just enough to make it less tough.
OTHER ACIDIC MARINADE OPTIONS
A lot of marinades use lemon juiceor vinegar to tenderize, since they're also acidic. I wonder whether using orange juice might not have the same effect as buttermilk on chicken.
APPLICATIONS OF BUTTERMILK BEYOND CHICKEN
I know I use either buttermilk or vinegar or orange/lemon juice when I make pie crusts in order to have a more tender product. However, in baking, dairy (such as buttermilk) also has an effect on baking products. So I'd think very carefully before substituting a non-dairy ingredient in place of a dairy ingredient in baking.
BUTTERMILK IN FRIED CHICKEN
I don't know enough about buttermilk fried chicken as to whether you leave enough buttermilk still on the chicken for you to taste it. But as far as tenderness goes, marinating chicken in a mixtue which includes vinegar or orange/lemon juice is a nice alternative, but remember, these are all more strongly flavoured than buttermilk, and will have an impact (quite possibly pleasant!) on the meat.
POSSIBLE SOY MILK AND YOGHURT SUBSTITUTES
I don't know if adding lemon juice to soy milk actually curdles it like normal milk, a typical substitution for buttermilk. Some people who are lactose-intolerant don't have problems with yoghurt, or yoghurt from goat's milk. I'd try these. Soy yoghurt might also work, since it's designed to naturally be a bit acidic.
I believe your best solution would be brining the chicken. It always comes in a close second to buttermilk for chicken. Brine it.
I've used full-fat soy milk with a teaspoon of vinegar per cup, as a sub for buttermilk in baking, and it works well. I think buttermilk fried chicken is overrated and like to use kosher or brined chicken instead for a really succulent result.
It may be heresy to some, but I grew up in the deep south, and I stand my ground. :)
Yoghurt is very similar to buttermilk. With chicken, to give a tangy flavor, you could try lemon juice. Many tandoori chicken recipes start with marinating in lemon juice, then buttermilk. I think lemon alone would work well as long as you use a modest amount.