Southern Style Cornbread

In case you’re thinking that I’m going to be doing all these series of posts for holiday cooking, don’t worry. I won’t. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a holiday guy. But Thanksgiving is the one holiday that I kind of like because it’s a traditional harvest festival like those people have celebrated for thousands of years.

Thanksgiving is also one holiday where food takes center stage. That makes it a challenge for inexperienced cooks as well as old hands to make the meal for the whole clan.

As I mentioned in my last post, I beg you not to run the risk of stuffing your turkey, if you decide to make one. Don’t be afraid to make something else. In either case, cornbread goes well with this holiday feast. Not only does it make great dressing, but it’s darn tasty all by itself with a little butter.

My version of cornbread, also posted on our Recipes Page, is not the sweet cake-like stuff you get in most restaurants and bakeries. Sometimes that’s okay, especially if you’re making corn muffins for breakfast. But for dinner, I prefer a drier, more savory cornbread.

And I wouldn’t dream of making this cornbread in anything other than a cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one you can use a 10″ or 12″ pan, but it probably won’t get that divine crust you get from cast iron.

If you’re looking for a low-fat recipe, move on ’cause you won’t find it here. I don’t make this very often, so it’s a treat for me. And it all starts with bacon.

Buy the best bacon you can afford. If you can only afford cheap, store-brand bacon, it’s still better than no bacon at all. We all love the taste of bacon. Go for something that’s not too thick and not too lean. Hickory smoked is good, but maple flavor laden is not so good. But use what you have. You need about 5 or 6 strips at least. A couple more wouldn’t hurt.

Heat your skillet on medium-low. You don’t want it to get too hot. Remember, you’re trying to extract the grease. Fry up your bacon to very crispy. You want to be able to crumble it into the batter later. Pay attention to getting the ends crispy too without incinerating the middles. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450.

Move the bacon when done to some paper towels to drain. Keep the skillet on the stove so the heat from the oven keeps the pan warm and the grease liquid. You’re going to need 1/4 cup of it for the batter. The rest can remain in the pan, saving you from having to grease it or warm it up. Use a metal or glass measuring cup for the hot grease or you’ll get a melted plastic mess.

The recipe calls for a white self-rising corn meal. You’ll find lots of corn meals in the baking aisle. You’re looking for something that has cornmeal, baking powder, all-purpose flour, and nothing else. You can use regular yellow cornmeal and add baking powder and flour yourself, but you’ll get a grainier texture. The white cornmeal is usually ground a bit finer than the yellow.

You’ll note that my recipe calls for only 1/3 cup of sugar. You can go lower if you like, but you need at least two tablespoons. The additional flour will add a little extra lift and soften the texture a little.

Mix together in a large bowl all the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then mix in the milk before adding that mixture to the dry ingredients along with the bacon grease. This is a quick bread, so like all quick bread with leavening, mix it only just enough to get all the dry ingredients wet and combined. Let the lumps be, they’ll work out during baking. Pour the batter into the skillet and put the whole thing in your hot oven for about 20 to 25 minutes. It’s done when the top is golden brown, there’s a dark brown crust around the sides and a toothpick or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Allow it to cool completely before cutting in. For the sake of the patina you should have built up on your cast iron skillet, do not use a sharp knife to cut up your cornbread. A butter or table knife will do. Pass it around the sides first before cutting it into wedges.

If you’re going to be making the cornbread dressing, set half of it aside. You can save the rest for your big dinner or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to enjoy a piece or two right now with some fresh softened butter. You might want to plan on making two batches of cornbread so you have plenty for dinner.