Where I come from, we take our cornbread very seriously. By cornbread, I don’t mean that dry, crumbly, hard-to-swallow stuff that’s really only fit to scrub bathtubs with. I mean that lovely, soft slice of heaven that’s so moist you don’t even need to butter it…the kind that will make people refrain from making fun of Southerners, if only for one meal. That’s the kind of cornbread my momma made, and I’m going to show you how to make it now.
Take a good look at this skillet:
My mom gave me this 7″ cast-iron skillet* when I married. Her grandmother gave it to her when she married. And someone had given it to Granny when she married. Since Granny was born in 1898, I’m going to venture to say that this skillet is 100 or more years old. And it has never been washed. Repeat: never. This skillet is so seasoned that, after cooking in it, you just wipe it out with a damp cloth and put it away. That works partly because of age, and partly because of oil. This skillet has, no doubt, had so much lard in it at some point in time that it would make a rabbi plotz.
Measure out these ingredients before you preheat the oven, because this goes fast:
1 cup Martha White self-rising cornmeal mix
7 oz. buttermilk
Heat oven to 425 degrees. When it’s at that temperature, put enough oil in the skillet to almost cover the bottom, and stick the skillet in the oven. What you want to do is to get the oil so hot it is nearly smoking, but not quite.
While the skillet and oil are heating, break the egg in a mixing bowl, beat the egg, and remove about a third of it. Pour the buttermilk into the egg and stir. Add the cornmeal and beat the mixture well with a fork to introduce some air. Let it sit while the skillet gets hot; it will rise slightly in the bowl.
When the oil is at that perfect temperature, do this next part as fast as you can…
Pull the skillet out of the oven and dump the oil into the cornmeal mixture; it will sizzle. Whip the oil into the mix with your fork and immediately pour it back in the skillet and put the skillet back in the oven. The reason you can’t do this fast enough is that the hot oil left in the skillet seals the outside of the mix; that forms the crust and keeps the cornbread moist without being greasy.
Bake until the top of the cornbread is golden brown. Take it out and let it rest in the skillet a few minutes before you turn it out onto a rack or plate.
*Tips: If you have the full-sized 10# skillet, double this recipe. Don’t try to make this cornbread in an unseasoned skillet or something other than cast iron. And do not, under any circumstances, put sugar in this cornbread. If you want, you can stir some grated cheddar and diced jalapenos into the mix for a Mexican flair, but why mess with perfection?
You’ve just been given my most treasured recipe for the only thing I can cook exactly like Momma did. Don’t mess it up.
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