Southern meals typically include either biscuits or cornbread. Biscuits are well-known as breakfast offerings but they also take their place along side lunch and dinner fare.
People who didn’t grow up eating typical Southern food, would have similar expectations for how a biscuit should look, taste and feel. Those same people may expect cornbread to be yellow, slighty sweet and leavened.
To those folks, I say, “Let me introduce you to hot water cornbread. ”
There’s nothing more rustic than hot water cornbread. In a different culture, it would be considered peasant food. The ingredient list is short: cornmeal, hot water and salt. The cornmeal is pure ground cornmeal, not cornmeal mix. It contains no leavening so it doesn’t rise like cornbread might be expected to do.
The texture of the final product depends strictly on personal preference. If you like a soft and dense center, make the batter more thick. If you’re big into crunch and really don’t care much about a soft center, make the batter thin. If the batter is thinned out enough, the edges will take on a lacey appearance and get very crisp. This version is called lacey cornbread, for obvious reasons.
My favorite brand of cornmeal is Great Smokey Mountain (www.smokiesinformation.org) which I order online unless we happen to take a trip to The Great Smoky Mountains and visit the store at Cade’s Cove. It’s stone ground and has a wonderful taste and texture. Cornbread this simple can only be good if the cornmeal is good.
Make a mush of hot water, cornmeal and salt the consistency of thick oatmeal.
Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil that is at least an inch deep. Cast iron is the best cornbread cooking implement around. Different textures can be achieved by changing the ratio of cornmeal to water. It’s hard to give measurements. Start out with the batter a little thicker, fry up a piece or two. If you like the texture, continue on. The thicker the batter, the softer the insides.
To make Lacey Cornbread, thin out the batter with more water To help get lacey cornbread even crispier, flatten out the batter with the edge of a spoon after it’s dropped in the hot oil. Lacey cornbread cooks very quickly. Stay focused while your cooking it! Don’t answer the telephone or get interested in a TV show. It’ll burn up, fast. Fry on one side until brown, flip and fry on the other side until brown. Remove and drain on paper towels or a rack. Sprinkle with salt while still warm.
My grandmother and mother often made a cornbread in a “cake” instead of small pieces. For this method, you want to add a thin layer of batter to 1/2 to 1 inch of hot oil. Make sure some oil is on the top of the batter to help it brown. Place in a 400 degree oven and bake until the top browns. If the bottom and sides have browned, but the top hasn’t, place the skillet of cornbread under the broiler to get it brown.
I love the laceyness of lacey cornbread. Everywhere you see a hole, you see crispiness. Crispiness is good eatin’. I am creating my own language and starting with laceyness and crispiness.
There’s a lot to love about this humble cornbread. If I owned a restaurant that served Southern fare, I’d serve lacey cornbread on every table. It exemplifies so much about Southern culture. It’s simple, but serves it’s purpose. The best part for me is remembering it coming out of Mama’s and Granny’s kitchen. And that suites my purpose to a tee.
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yield: 12 pieces
I use a small flatware spoon , not a measuring spoon. Tap down the center of each piece with edge of spoon as soon as it’s dropped into the hot grease to make the cornbread as flat as possible. It cooks quickly, only a couple of minutes on each side.
1/2 cup plain cornmeal, not self-rising
1/2 cup hot tap water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix cornmeal, water and salt. Set aside.
Heat 1/2 inch cooking oil in cast iron skillet.
Drop teaspoonful into hot grease, tapping down the center of each with spoon as soon as it hits the skillet. Turn when edges are browned and cook remaining side until browned.
Remove from hot grease when browned. Drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with additional kosher salt while still hot.
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