RUFFIN-IT: NOW LET US SPEAK OF CORNBREAD . . . .
Well, we had our traditional New Year’s Day meal of cornbread and black-eyed peas, cooked with a hambone, not because we necessarily believe that they will bring us good luck in the coming year but because the meal is good enough that we’d be foolish not to enjoy it on that day and take no chances.
I put the peas on to soak the day before, as is customary, and boiled the hambone a little while so that all the meat would have a chance to cook off before I added the peas for cooking. When I fired the bone up again, I tasted the liquid, and it seemed right-on, but I went ahead and boiled it another hour to coax out any flavor that might have been hiding up in the crevices.
When I judged that it was time to put the peas on, I fetched out the bone and poured the liquid over the peas in the crockpot and got them to going.
And now to where I have been going: making the cornbread.
Amber is a heck of a dessert cook, but she leaves most of the savory dishes to me. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good with a few recipes: spaghetti, fried catfish, lasagna, roast, pulled pork, steaks, etc.
You don’t have to be a pretty fair cook if you are patient enough to follow established recipes, and after seven years out here I’ve accumulated quite a few, mostly from the Food Channel. My former wife, Sharon, gave me a few recipes to help me get started in my new life, but I’ve rarely been able to duplicate her dishes, hard as I try. I get close enough to go on trying.
Now, cornbread is cornbread is cornbread, some might say, but that’s just a garden-variety lie: Some cornbread is better’n other cornbread, a fact that I would argue to my last breath.
However, you’d be hard pressed to make better cornbread than I do, unless you happen to be someone named Lady Causey, whose cornbread recipe I ran across many years ago in a BBQ book assembled by a friend of mine over in the Carolinas. I don’t know whether he knew Lady Causey or just filched her recipe, but he gave her credit for it, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
I’m giving her credit for the recipe too, though I confess that, as usual, I cannot resist tampering with one when I think I can make it just a tad better. I’ve rarely run across a recipe that I didn’t mess with just a little.
Now, here are the ingredients Lady Causey’s cornbread calls for:
a cup of cornmeal
two eggs, lightly beaten
half a cup of vegetable oil
eight ounces of sour cream
ten ounces of frozen (or canned) cream-style corn
a tablespoon of sugar
three teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
You mix all these ingredients together and put them in a greased black skillet and bake for 35 minutes on 350 degrees.
When it comes out, you’ll be mightily impressed. If you want to be mightilier (couldn’t resist) impressed, listen up.
That cornbread is to live for, no matter what, but you can fool with the recipe a bit and make it a lot better. First of all, I don’t know about you folks out there, but I have never dumped cornbread out of a black skillet a time in my life that a little scab of crust didn’t pull loose and make the cornbread look ugly, like it had been in a fight and lost. It’s downright irritating. Grease it any way you like, whether the skillet is seasoned properly or not, and it’ll come out marred. Doesn’t hurt the taste of it one whit, but after all that trouble, you are entitled to a picture-perfect round of cornbread.
Here’s a tip, something I learned from the Husk Restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina. I’ve never eaten at The Husk: I ran across this recipe while researching Benton’s Bacon a few years ago. You take a tablespoon of good bacon grease and put it in a cast-iron skillet you’ve heated for about five minutes in a 400-degree oven. It’ll sizzle and slide around and make all kinds of fuss. Just make sure that you coat every square millimeter of that skillet up to the edge.
Put it back in the oven for another minute or so and get it and the bacon grease so hot that the batter shrieks when you dump it in, which is what you’ll do the very second you take it out the second time and taste it. Even out the batter in the skillet and put it back in the oven for about thirty minutes on 350.
But, hey, that’s just to make the crust taste mighty fine. You’re still likely to get a few little tags of crust pulling loose. Here’s where my second tip comes in.
No matter how much I love cast-iron cookware, sometimes you gotta get practical and snatch up a non-stick Calphalon skillet, send it through the bacon-grease treatment, and let it do its thing. The cornbread will never complain, I assure you, and neither will your wife or anybody else who sees it lying there, a perfectly browned cornbread round, unmarred by scabs and tags.
As long as we’re talking bacon grease, let me suggest that instead of the half cup of vegetable oil, you heat up a quarter cup of some really fine BG, like Nueske’s, which I prefer to Benton’s because it isn’t nearly as salty, and mix it with a quarter cup of vegetable oil. This’ll give you a faint taste of bacon in the cornbread itself and not just in the crust.
Another tip: If you like a little heat in your cornbread, as we do, sprinkle some red-pepper flakes in the batter and stir it in well. A good handful of grated cheddar cheese adds another flavor dimension that doesn’t detract from the taste of the cornbread itself.
Y’all can thank me later for this recipe. Just buy one of my books. Good eating!