A Rock City Staple: Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those stereotypically Southern foods, like fried chicken and greens, that are ubiquitous but rarely well done.  Boxed mixes promise an easy product, but none are particularly good.  Shoot, many are sweet.  Sweet cornbread?  That’s not okay.

Luckily we’ve got a good recipe.  It’s from Georgia Weaver, a sweet lady in Clarendon, Arkansas.  Sweet ladies are okay.

You’ll need:

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  • 10 inch well seasoned skillet
  • 2 tbsp bacon grease
  • 1.5 cups cornmeal (I use white, don’t think it matters so much)
  • 0.25 cup AP flour
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 pinches baking soda (something like a scant 1/8 tsp)
  • 2 eggs
  • Buttermilk, ~ 1 pint

Set your oven at 375°F.  Take a goodly knob of bacon grease and put it in your skillet, and put the skillet in the oven while it is preheating.  If you don’t have bacon grease handy, be ashamed of yourself.  Get bacon, cook it, and pour the drippings in a jar and keep it in the fridge.

[Note:  I am particularly proud of this photo.  You see how this hunk of grease seems to be floating in the cruel black vastness of space?  That’s what I cook with.   That’s what you want from a well-seasoned skillet — you want to look into it and be forced to contemplate the hideous abyss, where succor is a dream long forgotten.]

Now while the skillet is heating, assemble the rest of the ingredients except for the buttermilk in a bowl.  Make sure your baking powder is fresh.  Old baking powder has ruined many a baking project.  If you don’t know when you used it last, just buy some more, it’s cheap.  Then, pour in buttermilk and stir until the batter is ‘not too thick’.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a big heaping spoon of good plain yogurt plus whole milk.  Or if you run out of buttermilk, whole milk to make up the difference will work fine.  We never have buttermilk, but always have yogurt.

This particular step is never exactly the same, so don’t just measure out a pint and dump it in.  In my way of thinking, ‘not too thick’ means no peaks, and all traces that a spoon went through it go away in just a couple of seconds.


 

Now, when all that is done and the oven is preheated, take your skillet out of the oven, and move the hot grease around in the bottom of the skillet so that the sides get a decent coat.  Then, pour the excess grease (it’s hot!) into the batter.


It’ll sizzle.  That’s good.  Now, stir the hot grease into the batter, and then pour the batter back into the hot skillet.  Did I mention everything is hot at this point?  Now is the time, if you like such things, to scatter around a bit more cornmeal in the bottom of the skillet.  It’s not strictly necessary but it probably makes it turn out a little easier.  Put it right back into the oven, and set your timer for 35-40 minutes.

When it looks nice and wonderful, you can take it out.  This is about how I like it:

Turning it out can be an art.  I basically just pound it around on the stovetop if it doesn’t want to come right out.  I’ve only rarely had to cut it out, but it has happened.  Now you can pair it up with field peas, okra, fresh peppers and onions and call it dinner.  Don’t forget butter and pepper sauce.

Well.  Not much more to say here.  Just over here eating cornbread.

 

Yup.

Okay.  So.  That’s the long and short of how to make cornbread.  But don’t be fooled- this traditional stuff can be very versatile.  More versatile than most people think, and I think it’s a niche that needs exploring.  Obviously, strong cornbread will make a strong dressing (or stuffing, for those of you who aren’t so local).  But consider it as a vehicle for a quiche instead of a pie crust- if you have half a pan left over, crumble it in the bottom of a small casserole and pour your usual quiche mix over it.  You’ll be quite surprised at the results.  The texture is wonderful, and it is still good even left over and cold- a far cry from usual quiche. It’s cornbread strata, basically.

Everyone has had jalapeño cornbread, which simply has jarred peppers and some of the juice mixed into the batter.  Sometimes the adventurous will put corn in it.  But consider this:  you can substitute masa in for the cornmeal.  It will pair very nicely with all tex-mex and chili like this, and far better than with just a few jarred jalapeños thrown in it.  Chipotle powder could be mixed in.  In fact, my next little project will be to fry up a pound of chorizo from our beloved H.A.M., pour it in the batter (with masa substituted), and top it with cheese and green onion.  And if that doesn’t taste good, then I don’t think anything will.

In fact, I bet there are all kinds of stupid haute things you could do with cornbread.  I would love to try it with some blue cheese.  As a newly minted food blogger, I’m legally obligated to combine it with pumpkin since fall is approaching.  And if you’re like me, nothing will bring you greater pleasure than learning how to execute a perfectly traditional dish, and then creating a daring perversion of the original.

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A Rock City Staple: Cornbread