Alabama cast-iron bacon & jalapeño cornbread

During my seemingly never ending quest to season my cast iron skillet (got there in the end!), I had turned to my friend Russ for advise. He had been a most helpful ally in the battle to achieve seasoning glory, being ever so patient with my barrage of questions and emailed pictures with the accompanying subject line “WTF did I do wrong!?”. Russ suggested the best way to help the seasoning process along was to make cornbread in my skillet, since baking it helps form the non-stick surface. So I asked him to share his recipe, and got to cookin’.

It ended up being even better than I had expected. If I thought it was good at dinner time, man, it was even better for breakfast.

Russ is a genuine Good Old Boy from down South, living in Alabama and hailing from a family who can trace their lineage back to pre-Civil War Georgia. So as you can see, this recipe comes with an impeccable provenance. This recipe precedes grocery stores, and thus most of the ingredients are items that many rural folk grew or made themselves.

As Russ tells it:  “back in the day you had to grow your own corn and send it to the local grist mill that used a water wheel (or mules walking in a circle if you were not near a river) to power the grinding stones, hence “stone ground”. They also  kept cows for milking, churned their own butter, made their own cheese and cream. And of course they had plenty of chickens (for eggs or for frying).”

Naturally, the recipe has no doubt changed and been tweaked as it’s been passed down through generations, and out of respect for such a historic recipe (remember, you can never give the EXACT family secrets out!), I changed it up slightly myself.

Alabama Cornbread with bacon and jalapeño

Ingredients:

1-1/2 c. stone ground cornmeal (or polenta if you’re in Australia and can’t get cornmeal!)
3/4 c all purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 can cream corn (310g/11oz or close)
1c buttermilk
4-6 rashers of bacon, chopped
1-2 jalapeño peppers, diced
 
Don’t forget – the jalapeno and bacon are optional, and you can add in other flavour combos, too! Try chipotle, honey, roasted garlic or cajun spice. If you don’t want to use bacon, just put some lard or drippings in the bottom of the pan and heat in oven before adding the batter.

1) Preheat oven to 450f/230c degrees

2) Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix lightly.

3) Cook bacon in a 10″ skillet on medium heat (I’ve been told high flames are bad news for cast iron skillets). Make sure you cook it so it develops great colour and crispness.

4) As the bacon comes close to being done, add egg and most of the buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Mix. The consistency should be very thick, but pourable. Slowly add more milk as needed to achieve this consistency.

5) Add the jalapeños and the bacon from the pan, making sure you leave at least half of the bacon grease in the skillet. Stir.

6) Pour the whole mixture back into the skillet, use a spatula to push the mix evenly in the pan, then pop the whole thing in your preheated oven.

7) Reduce heat to 390f/200c and bake for around 20 mins, or until you have a lovely colour developing on top of your pone. (Yup, “pone” is the correct term for a “loaf” of cornbread!)

Allow to cool, remove from skillet, slice and eat with LOTS of butter.

You could also of course make this in a regular oven proof dish. It’s just not gunna be the same ;-)

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Posted on Nov 21, 2011

7 Comments

  1. Fenn says:

    Yum! That looks awesome. Question too – where’d you get your jalapeños? I’m really struggling to find em anywhere in Melbourne.

  2. OK Burgermary, You have officially made my list of people who know what the hell they are doing in the kitchen. (It is not a easy list to make. Bobby Flay couldn’t buy his way on to it with his stupidity).

    Cast Iron is absolutely essential to the Louisiana kitchen. Yeah, I could probably make an award-winning roux in a aluminum pan, but why would I? I have cast-friggin-iron (and lots of it!).

    Back to cornbread: Proper cornbread required cast iron. Your friend’s recipe intrigues me. Most often you see Baking soda and Buttermilk – OR- Baking Powder and Milk. I don’t recall seeing anyone use both soda and powder.

    Here are a few rules for making proper cornbread:

    1. Cornmeal should always exceed flour by at least 3:1 (e.g. 1 1/2 C cornmeal plus 1/2 C flour)
    2. Never add sugar. This makes corn cake, which is served in places where men don’t give women their seats on trains.
    3. Always pre-heat and then grease you iron before adding batter. The batter should sizzle on impact.

    Here is my personal base recipe for cornbread, it can be tweaked to add bacon, peppers, cheese, etc.

    Real Louisiana Cornbread

    Anyone born and raised in the south can appreciate good cornbread. The expression “they just don’t make it like they used to” really applies to cornbread. Far too many people have become accustomed to the pre-mixed, “just-add-water” cornbread. Real cornbread is hand mixed, then poured into a preheated and greased cast iron skillet before baking in the oven. It is not a corn cake like the box mixes. Real cornbread has a crust, density, and flavor that a mix never will. You may use the box mixes for convenience. You may even like them, but once you make real cornbread, you’ll never treat it as an afterthought again.
    Ingredients:

    11/2 Cup of Stone Ground White Corn Meal
    1/2 Cup of All-purpose Flour
    2 Teaspoons of Double Fast Acting Baking Powder
    1 Teaspoon of Salt
    1/2 Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
    1/4 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
    2 Medium Eggs
    1 Cup of Whole Milk (or Half and Half)

    Place cast iron in oven and preheat to 350-375 degrees. Sift all dry ingredients together and mix well. Add eggs and milk and stir with as few strokes as possible to incorporate. Allow batter to stand not more than 2-3 minutes. Remove hot cast iron from oven and grease well. You may use butter, oil, lard (mmm…), or cooking spray. Immediately pour or spoon batter to cast iron. The batter should sizzle slightly on contact. Place the cast iron back into the oven. Cook until the top browns and the cornbread has begun to pull away from the iron. If you have done your job properly, the bread will fall out of the iron when turned upside down. Top with a small pat of butter.

    David
    The Swine Spectator

  3. BTW – This is a base. You can add whole corn, jalapenos, cheese, garlic, bacon bits, cracklins, etc. As is, this is a killer side for Louisiana Read Beans and Rice.

  4. TarheelBorn says:

    Good job, BurgerMary. My mother was raised on a farm in North Carolina during the depression and she made corn pone much like this. She cooked it on top of the stove and, for our entertainment, shook the pan to loosen the bread and flipped the bread in the air to brown the other side.

    There are many types of corn bread. One of my favorites is a simple recipe of corn meal, salt and hot water. Make a thick consistency, like pancake batter, and drop by spoonfuls into about a quarter inch of hot melted shortening, like Crisco. Make several at a time, like “silver dollar” pancakes. They are crispy on the edges and slightly bready in the middle. So delicious. That’s called Hoe Cake.

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